In Australian cities, Ethiopian and Sudanese eating places have launched diners to injera, that fermented flatbread marvel; whereas house cooks’ rising familiarity with Moroccan and Egyptian delicacies means ras el hanout has its place in our globalised pantries. These meals habits mirror the waves of migration over the many years – traditionally, Australians with African ancestry are largely from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.

But when new Ghanaian, Nigerian and Cameroonian meals companies are a barometer for demographic change, the West African neighborhood and diaspora is rising, and prospects are actively in search of out its delicacies and substances. That is additionally supported by the most recent census information – in 5 years, the variety of individuals in Australia who had been born in Nigeria elevated by about 50%, from 8,493 individuals in 2016 to 12,883 in 2021.

Ahmed Inusah in his restaurant
‘Palm oil can be necessary. We prepare dinner quite a bit with it’: Ahmed Inusah, chef-owner of Akwaaba restaurant in Melbourne’s St Kilda. {Photograph}: Penny Stephens/The Guardian

The principle substances in West African meals are rice, cassava, plantain and cocoyam (taro), Ghanaian chef-owner of Melbourne’s Akwaaba restaurant, Ahmed Inusah, says. However every nation and even family may prepare dinner it in another way. “I’d say West African meals is carb- and meat-based and it has earthy flavours. Palm oil can be necessary. We prepare dinner quite a bit with it,” he says. Unrefined palm oil has a wealthy, earthy, barely nutty style and provides dishes a red-gold tinge.

The Cameroonian proprietor and chef of Vola Meals in Melbourne, Ashley Vola, expands on the hyper-regionalisation of West African meals, which is influenced by colonisation, commerce and terrain. “In Cameroon, there’s the English half and the French half. Each province will even have its signature dish. From my mum’s facet, the dish is achu which is made with taro and a little bit of mashed banana. From my dad’s facet, it’s fufu and njama njama, which is a spinach-like vegetable.”

Ashley Vola
‘In Cameroon, there’s the English half and the French half. Each province will even have its signature dish.’ : Ashley Vola, chef-owner of Vola Meals in Melbourne. {Photograph}: Penny Stephens/The Guardian

If fufu – a mashed, dough-like starch dish – sounds acquainted, it may very well be due to its reputation on social media. It’s historically made with any starch resembling yam, plantain, cassava or taro – typically a mix of starches. Recipes differ, however the produce may be boiled, pounded in a mortar and pestle till it reaches a fluffy, dough-like consistency, then rolled right into a ball and eaten with soups or stews.

Goat pepper soup at Melbourne’s Akwaaba.
Goat pepper soup at Melbourne’s Akwaaba. {Photograph}: Penny Stephens/The Guardian

Right now, there are easy-serve packs of dehydrated fufu for these with restricted time, plantains or entry to a mortar and pestle. Proprietor of African Satisfaction Superstore and Restaurant in Adelaide, Aime Ruigira, can vouch for the rising reputation of the staple dish. “I began this enterprise 14 years in the past and right this moment my bestseller is fufu,” he says. “Clients inform me they noticed it on YouTube and wish to attempt it. I feel it’s fairly well-liked as a result of it’s gluten-free and nut-free so it’s appropriate for individuals with meals allergic reactions.”

One other dish greatest related to West Africa is jollof, a one-pot tomato rice dish that’s cooked in layers and varies considerably between international locations, areas and households. It is usually the reason for diplomatic incidents, outrage in the direction of Jamie Oliver’s model and good-natured ribbing amongst West Africans who all declare their model is the most effective. Vola describes her model as a tomato stew that’s thicker than passata; it may be described as a vegan paella. In different variations, the rice dish may be cooked in meat-based inventory.

Kumkum Kalam using a wooden spoon to mix a large pot
Chef Kumkum Kalam making ready fufu within the Akwaaba kitchen. {Photograph}: Penny Stephens/The Guardian

The rice dish is the headline act at Naija Jollof, a Nigerian restaurant in Sydney’s internal west by Oluwaloseyi Tajudeen Olateju and Hawanatu Wanda Koroma. “Everybody has their very own model of jollof however the principle substances are tomato, onions, capsicum and rice. The seasoning is as much as you,” Koroma says. This will embody a spread of herbs and spices together with thyme, rosemary, ginger and chilli powder.

The important thing to good jollof is its distinctive smoky flavour, which might be achieved by cooking over firewood or dehydrating the tomatoes earlier than making the stew. Koroma has an easier possibility for freshmen: char the capsicum first. “And at all times use crimson capsicum, by no means inexperienced,” she stresses.

A whole cooked fish on a plate with three small bowls of dips
‘Australians usually don’t like bones of their fish, however I couldn’t bear to vary it!’: Cameroonian borning fish at Vola Meals. {Photograph}: Penny Stephens/The Guardian

Fufu and jollof have crept into our collective culinary lexicon, however Vola has launched a lesser-known dish from her homeland: borning fish. “It’s a entire fish, marinated with spices like njansang [a nutty seed from a tree of the same name] and a sort of Cameroonian nutmeg earlier than grilling on a charcoal barbecue. Australians usually don’t like bones of their fish, however I couldn’t bear to vary it! We’re actually fortunate that we’re in part of Melbourne the place individuals reply very well to new meals.”

Though Australia’s West African neighborhood and restaurant scene is rising, cooks are nonetheless having to compromise with native produce. “We have now a stew referred to as kontomire made with taro leaves, which isn’t simple to get,” says Inusah, who substitutes silverbeet or spinach as an alternative.

Six women sitting and standing at restaurant tables
Vola Meals proprietor Ashley Vola (centre) with employees. {Photograph}: Penny Stephens/The Guardian

Due to this, Vola is hopeful native growers will spy a niche available in the market. “Components of Queensland may very well be appropriate to develop yam, plantains, okra. Possibly bitter leaf for soup.” It’s an intriguing problem, and an indication of what may very well be in our buying baskets within the years to return.

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