By Toy Ode
That festive season has come around again, and with it the trials and tribulations that accompany it. Sometimes we are prepared and have all the presents bought and wrapped. We have even browsed the Marks and Spencer Christmas brochure and ordered the turkey and dessert. We might have even copied the table setting from a favourite magazine to wow all those that will be there on the day. Or you could be like me. Unprepared and in the queue for gift wrapping, four days before all winds down in Dublin. This queuing will inevitably lead, for me anyway, to dinner being a last-minute thing that I attempt to assist my sister with. That basically means, if the will is there, that I make red velvet cupcakes, festive rocky road with cranberries and dark chocolate, or roast the Brussels sprouts with pancetta; all that will be part of the meal on offer on the day.
This is what I do in Dublin. Therefore, I wondered what Christmas traditions and meals are most interesting and established in Africa. Do we also do turkey and ham? Mince pies? Rich pudding? Brandy butter and Baileys whipped cream? You laugh, but do they? Here’s what is traditional in Africa during Christmas.
Ghana celebrates the big day with yam fufu, peanut soup, okra soup, Lady Finger’s soup, as well as a variety of different types of meats like chicken, goat, beef and pork.
South Africa has a more westernized menu for Christmas (I did not know it!). Christmas is a time that can be spent on the beach having a barbecue, where there will be a lot of families as it is a hot time of year. Food for the occasion includes seasoned pork and lamb. Roast turkey is the order of the day, although filled with flavours. There is also the option of duck and gammon steaks, accompanied by side dishes like Geel Rhys, which is yellow rice seasoned with lemon rind, raisins, and cinnamon. There might also be vegetables like stewed cabbage, and corn on cob, a favourite of everyone.
Egypt has been celebrating Christmas officially since 2002, although due to the Coptic calendar, they celebrate it on the 7th of January. This means that they also have a preference of foods for the big day. Preferred foods for the celebrations include traditional fares like Zalabya, which is a kind of pastry or doughnut, Kahk, a sweet biscuit decorated with a cross, made for the nativity, and Bouri, a mullet fish dish.
Rwanda sees people get together with their families to share rice, isombe, which is mashed cassava leaves, fried potatoes, grilled beef and goat meat eaten from the grill, as well as concoctions like green bananas cooked in tomato sauce. Since people in Rwanda do not eat meat as an everyday occasion, it makes the festive season even more special when the family can gather and share the delights together.
So, I reached out to my friend in Uganda to ask how his people dined at Christmas. There are a few types of dishes that different regions will prioritise, but the most common will include rice, plantain, yams, millet bread, boiled pumpkin, and ugali*. These will usually be served with a variety of stews like chicken stew or beef stew, as well as vegetables.
Nigeria has an amalgamation of cultures and traditions, and this can filter into the food preferences at Christmas. My Yoruba cousins have a variety of stuff on their table for lunch. For all, not just the Yoruba people, it seems as if Jollof rice is a must.
Jollof rice is the famous West African rice dish served at home, and at most parties. It’s delicious, and a must at the table. Fried rice also serves as a second rice option, as well as plain rice to go with the tomato stew, efo riro ( green leafy vegetable stew), and *egusi soup. Pounded yam is also served with the soup and leafy vegetable stew. Pounded yam is yam that is over cooked and pounded with a mortar and pestle into a thick mash-like paste that one can eat with fingers. It is an important part of lunch as well, especially if you have important guests coming over (although the powder form of pounded yam is faster and might be an option if time is limited). Meats are incorporated into the stews, or separate to be served in abundance in bowls. Chicken and fish are garnished with pepper sauce and fried. Beef meat is also fried. Other savoury snacks in modern day Nigeria include samosa and spring rolls. Puff puff, a deep fried bready snack that is not overly sweet, joins the snacks.
I will be doing an Irish Christmas this year, with prerequisite turkey and ham, roast potatoes, amongst other foods, and finishing off with exquisite mince pies, and possibly a giant mug of warming hot chocolate. I hope you have enjoyed the variety of meals that are available for Christmas on the African continent. There are more wonderful meals out there, and we at FOSOA would like to hear what you consider a Christmas staple. Put your nominations on our Facebook page, tag us on your Christmas meal on Instagram, or use the tag #fosoachristmas to alert us on twitter. Enjoy the season of cheer and joy, and have a wonderful Christmas.
*check out www.fosoa.ie for more on maize meals like ugali.
*Check out FOSOA’s egusi hack with Kyriah Dee on Facebook.