Like I say to guests at my supper clubs,
“Don’t expect a rendition of The Lion King!”
Why did I start this blog?
I started this blog as a space to share, inspire and to have honest conversations about food. To encourage you to consider and share your expectations, experiences, misconceptions and thoughts on food, heritage, identity and culture. African food is an important part of my life, my work, my existence and I have shared it over the years through supper clubs, cookery classes, on television, and through my recipes. Beyond hosting feasts and teaching, much deeper exploration and conversations are often missed. There is never enough time to share deeper thoughts, observations and to get feedback from you all. This blog is an opportunity for just that just like food club where we travel the world one plate at a time cooking together virtually every week. Do join us here to receive reminders of our weekly menu themes.
What do you think of when you think about African Food?
Some say there is no such thing and they are entitled to their opinion.
My opinion is quite different and I am living proof that one must not be shackled to other people’s ideas of authenticity or identity. I live on the Sussex coast of England, from where I have grown Lerato Foods & Naturals, a cookery school and gourmet foods company with a heavy focus on African foods. I like to think I started my teaching path on television, presenting and producing a cookery show as well as presenting breakfast television in Nigeria. In the United Kingdom, I started supper clubs a few years ago, where strangers come together for a mysterious dinner party. I met so many of you through these dinners, we shared stories and marvellous feasts together. My cookery classes attract those who want to learn to cook African food or African inspired food - with more emphasis on greens, spices, pulses with highly adaptable recipes to suit most lifestyles. I look to the past to celebrate tradition, for inspiration, to understand what was, how it came to be, what could be as we create new traditions, more efficient and healthier cooking habits.
I grew up in between Nigeria, Republic of Benin and the United Kingdom. I always felt comfortable in ‘both’ cultures, ignoring the fact that Benin & Nigeria are different countries and cultures in order to make my point. I grew up on plantain, sausage and baked beans for breakfast on Saturdays, fluffy Akara - black-eyed bean fritters on Sundays. It was not until I started sharing my recipes that I came across opinions about the measure of my ‘Africanness’. My name Lerato - which means “love or song of my soul” in African Bantu language from the Sotho/Tswana region in Southern Africa also did not help matters as I am a West African with a Southern African name. The controversy!
There was a time I almost fell into the trap of trying to prove my Africanness to the ‘authenticity police’. But I came to my senses soon enough. I wonder how anyone - African and non-African alike has the audacity to measure my Africanness based on the fiery heat or lack there-of in my chilli sauce or the lack of zebra printed table cloth on my dining table. As soon as I stopped caring I found my voice again and I have gone on to proclaim loudly my love of African food and how you too can love and enjoy it in a way that suits you.
There is such a thing as African food, just as there is African fashion, African culture and there are African people. It’s that simple. But there is also much more to it. The multiplicity of African people, our heritage, geography and the undeniable influences as a result of invasions, colonization, globalization and more means the meaning of African food is ever-changing, ever-evolving whether one accepts it or not.
Fufu, Pap & Plantains
I adore plantains and they are simply known as plantains everywhere, while pap to me, as a West African means custard made with a wet paste of fermented corn. Thoroughly enjoyed with Akara. To my South African brothers and sisters, pap is a cooked porridge made with maize/cornmeal similar to polenta.
Fufu is typically cooked and pounded cassava or cassava and plantains, or cooked cornmeal called posho in Uganda, nsima in Malawi and ugali in East African countries such as Kenya & Tanzania. South African pap can also be considered a type of fufu.
My mother cooks her fufu with wheat flour and so I don’t think I am taking too many liberties in considering mashed potatoes as fufu. This is a battle for another day perhaps one that includes mashed potatoes with groundnut stew or braised spinach, sweet peppers, scotch bonnets and smoked fish…my version of fufu and efo riro as this sauce of tart and nutty amaranth greens and peppers is called in Yoruba land.
I must confess, while I adore plantains and pap, I don’t typically eat fufu unless we agree polenta and mashed potatoes can be called fufu!
I have much more to say, recipes to share, people to meet. For now, I welcome you on this great journey with me.
What does African food mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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