How Food Demonstrates the Unity of Black Culture
Black culture is diverse, and food is a great reflection of that diversity. With a significant population in several countries around the world, each country’s cuisine speaks to their unique history. At the same time, food also helps us recognize points of unity between different cultures that go beyond skin colour.
Read on to explore popular dishes that can be found in multiple regions of the black diaspora, and learn about the subtleties that make them unique!
Jollof Rice: Ghana vs. Nigeria
Jollof rice is a popular dish that is thought to have originated in modern day Senegal Before the African continent became subject to colonial borders, it was rich in cultural exchange, which allowed dishes such as jollof rice to travel throughout West Africa and evolve into several regional varieties.
Jollof rice is a one-pot dish consisting of rice cooked in tomato sauce and an assortment of peppers, herbs and spices, such as ginger, thyme, and bay leaves. Meat is usually added, but don’t worry if you’re vegetarian; the true star of this dish is the spices!
If you search the hashtag #jollofwars, you’ll find some entertaining posts by Nigerians and Ghanians fiercely claiming that their country makes the best jollof rice. Although this is just a fun rivalry, it’s true that both countries make their jollof rice a little differently.
Nigerians usually use long-grain rice, while Ghanaians use basmati rice. Long-grained rice is studier and provides better flavour absorption, while basmati rice is more aromatic.
The type of rice used impacts the method of cooking. Nigerians cook their rice in a combination of water and tomato sauce. However, because this dish requires a long simmer, and basmati rice can get soggy quickly, Ghanians omit the water and cook their rice directly in the tomato sauce.
Nigerians traditionally cook jollof over firewood and let it brown a little at the bottom to give it a smoky flavour. This is called “party jollof,” as it’s usually only cooked this way for special occasions.
Be warned: no matter who is preparing the dish, it will be spicy! Although most recipes will call for at least two hot peppers, if you want less heat you can stick to one pepper and add cayenne pepper as it cooks to slightly increase the heat level.
Nigerian: Eleanor’s Dish
Ghanaian: In Amma’s Kitchen
Rice and Peas: Jamaica vs. Haiti
Being two of the most represented Caribbean countries, Jamaica and Haiti have a lot in common when it comes to culture. Both islands were inhabited by the same Indigenous tribes and now have a predominantly black population as a result of the transantlatic slave trade. Their shared African and Indigenous roots are the reason why Jamaica and Haiti also share some of the same traditional dishes today.
One of the staple dishes in both Jamaica and Haiti is rice and peas. Rice and peas is an example of two Caribbean countries that kept the traditions of their shared ancestors strong: the recipes for Haitian and Jamaican rice and peas are almost identical!
Even the seemingly inaccurate name of the dish is the same in both countries. Haitians and Jamaicans both refer to this dish as rice and peas (Haitian Creole: diri ak pwa) because the dish was originally made using pigeon peas, but both countries now mostly use kidney beans. This dish consists of rice and kidney beans cooked in a mixture of coconut milk, water, and thyme.
The only true difference between the way the two countries prepare the dish is the spices used. Jamaicans use allspice in their rice and peas, while Haitians only use whole or ground cloves to flavour the dish. Either way, you will find this rice delicious on its own or served with your favourite meat dish!
Jamaican: Recipes from a Pantry By Bintu
Haitian: Savory Thoughts
Curry Chicken/Chicken Curry: Trinidad vs. India
In the 19th century, many Indians were sent to British colonies in the Caribbean, to become indentured servants due to the poverty and famine that was rampant in India at the time. Trinidad and Tobago were two of the islands that they relocated to. Many indentured servants ended up staying in the Caribbean, and kept parts of their culture with them, including their cuisine.
Over time, Indian culture mixed with that of the African descendants who shared the islands as a result of the slave trade. Today, the Indo-Trinidadian and Afro-Trinidadian populations are relatively equal, with a substantial number of people identifying as mixed. The result has been a number of unique traditions and flavourful dishes that reflect Trinidad's diverse history and racial mixture.
If you see this dish on a menu and you’re not sure where it's from, the name will give it away. Chicken curry is Indian, whereas curry chicken is a Caribbean dish, and while chicken curry usually uses boneless chicken, curry chicken always leaves the bone in.
Although the spices used do vary by individual, the biggest difference between the two countries is the use of the scotch bonnet pepper, which can be found all over the Caribbean and Africa, and is a staple in Caribbean cuisine. You won’t find a Trinidadian making this dish without it!
Tip: Serve the Trinidadian version of this dish with rice and peas for a full Caribbean meal!
Indian: My Food Story
Trinidadian: Cooking With Ria
No matter what country is preparing these dishes, they’re bound to be as rich and flavourful as black culture!
Shana Cesaire is a proposal specialist and writer. She was born and raised in Calgary, but is in touch with her Haitian roots thanks to her parents who made sure to bring their culture with them to Canada.
Writing her master’s thesis, “The Invisible Canadians: Social Identities and New Black Canadian Literature,” fueled a passion for social activism and anti-racism. She aims to use her writing to spread awareness and give a voice to groups who often go unheard in Canada.
When not working or spending hours on Twitter (usually simultaneously), she can be found listening to music from her vinyl collection or trying out new recipes with her partner, as food is definitely her love language.