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A taste of Africa

Updated: 2013-06-14 07:49
By Mike Peters ( China Daily)

A taste of Africa

Niger Dambou chicken. Photos provided to China Daily

A taste of Africa

Ethiopian spicy chicken.

Diplomats' wives hope to introduce diverse cuisine to China with charity cookbook

While China has become an international marketplace, with restaurants offering fare from around the world, eateries that feature the foods of Africa are hard to find. Guangzhou, with its long-established African communities from many countries, is an exception - but elsewhere, except for the occasional Moroccan or Ethiopian outlet, the entire continent struggles for a culinary foothold.

Exotic ingredients are one challenge. Another is the vast diversity of Africa itself, where more than 50 countries have their own tastes and recipes.

"To a traveler," says Anne Marie Ngarambe, a Rwandan who is president of the Group of African Ambassadors Spouses Beijing, "it would be almost impossible to categorize African food just as it would be impossible to state the cuisine of any continent by one name."

It is precisely that diversity that the group of African diplomats' wives in Beijing wanted to celebrate this year, as they looked for a special project to support charity. So they compiled more than 60 recipes from 34 countries in a colorful cookbook that they launched at a gala dinner last month. The event raised 120,000 yuan for victims of the recent earthquake in Lushan county, Sichuan province.

"The big challenge in the cookbook," says Ngarambe, "was to express what we do in a way that readers here could understand and use."

"For myself," says Felege Hiwot Berhe, an Ethiopian, who steered the cookbook committee, "it's enough to say use this amount of 'Ethiopian spices', but for people cooking in China we needed to explain this is a mixture of thyme, cumin, cardamom and other herbs." An Ethiopian staple, the spongy flat bread called injera that is used to scoop up savory meat stews and vegetables, is made at home with Teff flour, a tiny grain indigenous to the country's highlands. It is not a market staple even in cosmopolitan Beijing or Shanghai, so the cookbook editors noted how to change the recipe if self-rising wheat flour is substituted to make the fermented batter.

Other items, such as the bamboo or banana leaves used to steam some popular dishes, are no problem to find in China. Couscous, a tiny granule of semolina flour, is widely available in grocery stores around the world. "It is served with white or red sauce which is made from lamb, beef or chicken and vegetables," says a cookbook entry from Algeria. "This basic Algerian dish is called 'ta'am' in Arabic, which means food. Couscous can be made sweet with honey, cinnamon, raisins and almonds."

A taste of Africa

Besides raising money for charity, the women of GAAS see the book as a part of two celebrations this year: The golden jubilee of the African Union, and the 30th anniversary of GAAS Beijing.

"We have created African Delicacies to be a tantalizing introduction to some of the most exciting, dynamic food from the continent," says Ngarambe. "This book on African cuisine will help to introduce the beauty, unity and diversity of African culture to the Chinese people, the best loyal friends of Africa."

To demonstrate Africa's diversity, Ngarambe points to the cookbook's different takes on a common main ingredient, chicken.

Doro wot symbolizes the timeless joy and beauty of hospitable traditional values of Ethiopian people. This spicy chicken delicacy is remarkably redolent and a special favorite, served during new year and religious celebrations for good luck and prosperity.

Chicken with nut butter is a traditional and a special favorite dish of Kibungo, in the eastern province of Rwanda. People honor friends and guests with this delightful cuisine on important occasions. The use of the hot pepper akabanga (akabanga means "the secret" in the Rwandan language) makes this dish particularly delicious and unique.

Other chicken dishes include Jollof Rice from Ghana, with ingredients including chicken, stewed tomatoes, rice, ham, cabbage, beans and onions; and Dambou from Niger, in which chicken (or fish) is fried until golden and served with semolina couscous (or rice), onion, spinach and chili pepper.

Chen Zhili, president of the All-China Women's Federation, saluted the women of GAAS for enhancing Sino-African relations over the past 30 years. "They have committed themselves to the well-being of the Chinese women and children through numerous charity events," she writes in her foreword to the cookbook. "They well deserve the title of 'goodwill ambassadors' and are a symbol of love for China."

The cookbook will open a new window on Africa for the Chinese people, she says.


(China Daily Africa Weekly 06/14/2013 page29)

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