Interview: My African Food Map
One of the biggest misconceptions about Africa is the idea that it is not a place with fantastic cuisine. My African Food Map is a website that tries to change this perception, not only showcasing tasty recipes from countries such as Ghana and Kenya, but also providing easy-to-read guides on how to cook up some of these dishes in the home. FA254 spoke with Tuleka Prah, the mind behind the Berlin-based project, about what motivates her to travel across Africa, sharing the continent’s finest dishes with the world.
Tell us about My African Food Map
It was an idea that I had because I thought that there was definitely a lack of sites online that showcased African food in a way that I experienced it. I hope My African Food Map can be an archive that people refer back to when they need it. When I visit a country, I always pick the four most popular recipes. There are always loads of dishes in each country so I think four is a good starting point and since they’re popular, I know a lot of people can relate to them.
Why food? What is it about food that makes you want to share it?
I think food is a thing that people need; no matter who you are, you have your food and your dishes. I grew up in different countries around Africa and I hardly ever ate food I didn’t like. I took it for granted, and the first time I realised how important food was to me was when I was living in London, working loads, earning pennies, eating only chips and so on because there just wasn’t any time for cooking, or not enough money to buy better food. It made me crave things like jollof rice, groundnut stew; hearty, homely meals like that. I have friends from Nigeria and Sierra-Leone and at some point we would get together and eat variations of some of the dishes they grew up eating, using ingredients like rice or beans; just normal ingredients you can find in most shops. As for making this web series, it was quite random! I was looking for a recipe for kontomire, a dish my Dad would make using spinach and either fish or beef. I knew his recipe was – well, his recipe! And so I was looking for I guess a more “true” version of it. I was looking at the pictures online, which weren’t so nicely done, and I thought “wow, someone really needs to do this properly”.
How do you go about finding out about the most popular foods from different countries?
There are different ways. When I was in Kenya for example, a taxi driver picked me up from the airport. After a long conversation I asked him what his favourite thing to eat was and he just said “beef”! So I asked him “beef with what?” and he began to describe a dish and got really enthusiastic about it in the process. People actually get quite excited about their favourite food if you ask them about it. Eventually this taxi driver showed me where he gets his food from, where the taxi drivers would all sit and eat, and how the women would cook and bring their pots there and sell the food to the taxi drivers. I also learn a lot from my hosts or the people I’m staying with. I ask them about certain dishes I’ve heard about, they’ll show me what it is and then we make a plan to film the cooking and preparation process. I’ve been really lucky with that so far.
Do you feel like African culture, food, fashion and so on, hasn’t been put online in the same detail as Western culture has?
Yes, and part of that is because Internet in Africa is quite expensive and quite problematic. You often have to pay for your internet data and connection speed, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Internet culture isn’t that widespread over there, people communicate through Facebook and so on, but that idea of uploading content on the web is restricted mostly to wealthier or better off people who have the time or the money to be able to do that. If you have a look on YouTube at African food videos – very often they don’t fulfil the same aesthetic expectation or standards one might expect of food videos, like those done for Asian, European or North American dishes. I don’t see why it has to be that way. Hopefully the series of videos for My African Food Map can raise the bar a bit for other videos featuring African foods. There are many reasons why there’s a reduced Internet presence for Africans, but there are also lots of Africans in the diaspora who are still very much connected to whatever country they identify with. For my part, I just want to help make at least a part of whichever country’s culture more widely accessible and better represented.
Where are you going next?
I’d like to focus on fish, so somewhere coastal where they eat a lot of fish, an island maybe. I was thinking of going to Cape Verde, but I’m going to have trouble with the language and I don’t know anybody there, so that might be an issue.
What’s the most rewarding thing about making your web series?
Probably that it makes the people from these countries happy to see their food showcased in a genuine and unique way, that I’m not the billionth person who’s gone in and produced something that no one from those countries would identify with. It feels great when people say: “it’s nice to see my food shown in this way, that someone’s taken the trouble to do it like this”.