We have learned to eat with chopsticks as they do in many Asian countries. Guacamole, ceviche or arepas are as easy to find in almost any Spanish city as tortilla or croquettes. Not to mention how everyday dishes like kebab, hummus or curry are to us. Today, the European palate is perfectly familiar with flavors from other latitudes and has even integrated them into its restaurant menus. However, there is one continent that remains an absolute stranger when it comes to gastronomy: Africa.
Centuries of colonialism and exploitation have left us with a partial, biased or completely null idea of the continent. Africa is our neighbor, but we barely know it, which is why we know so little about what is eaten in the 54 countries on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar. To combat this lack of knowledge and show its gastronomic diversity, Mayra Adam Chalé created Mi Cocina Africana, a catering and dissemination project on social networks focused 100% on the culinary richness of this continent. “We think that practically in Africa we don’t eat it. The mentality is still ‘we have to help them eat, we have to save them, poor things’. It is true that misery exists, but as everywhere, and just as there is misery, there is wealth. It is a huge continent,” says Mayra as she welcomes us into her kitchen, where she prepares ndomba—or jomba—, a typical dish of the Ndowé ethnic group, which lives along the entire coastal coast of the Gulf of Guinea. . Its base is fish and modica, the ground seed of wild mango.
Mayra Adam Chalé arrived in Spain when she was five years old and grew up in Zaragoza. Alvaro Garcia
Born in Equatorial Guinea, Mayra arrived in Spain when she was five years old and grew up in Zaragoza. There she trained as a chiromassage and foot reflexologist, and then moved to Madrid, where she studied to be a pharmacy technician, which she dedicated herself to until a few months ago, when the recipes she shared on social networks began to arouse the interest of thousands of people—on Instagram, he has 45,000 followers. And although My African Kitchen materialized four years ago, Mayra likes to say that its origins lie in her childhood in Zaragoza. “From the inside I lived in Africa and from the outside, in Spain. A lot of African food was cooked in my house, but when I left home I realized that there was very little representation in my kitchen. “I always made pasta, salads, paella, fabada… but nothing about African food.” It was the pregnancy of her first child that changed everything: she only craved African dishes.
Before becoming interested in the recipes of this continent, Mayra had already made connections with her country of birth. At 24 years old, she decided to travel to Guinea to make contact and meet the family she has there. She acknowledges that this trip was a shock, but “there was something there that said ‘I’m home.’” That first trip was followed by a second and the decision to move to Malabo for a while. After two years, on one of her visits to Spain she met her current partner, with whom she decided to move again, this time to Holland. They have lived in Utrecht with her two children for the last six years, until recently, when the whole family settled in Madrid.
After her first pregnancy, she says, she “forced herself” to cook African dishes at least once a week, so that those flavors would not be foreign to her children. “And also to be that link between Africa and them. They are mestizo, growing up in Spain and Holland, everything around them is totally European. The only way I can bring a little bit of Africa home is through food.” While in Utrecht it was very easy for him to find the ingredients for his recipes, in Madrid it is more complicated. He usually goes to stores in Lavapiés, Usera or Fuenlabrada, but he recognizes that he does not always find what he is looking for. Therefore, from Holland he came with a good shipment of African products. He has placed them almost in a still life style on the counter: there are several types of peppers, including Selim pepper and alligator pepper, egusi – the African melon seeds with which the sauce of the same name is made -, smoked fish, cassava, baobab , cereals such as fonio or sorghum, and even black velvet tamarind, a variety of this fruit with a black covering reminiscent of velvet.
And where does one start cooking dishes that they have never prepared before? Well, for picking up the phone and calling your mother to give you a hand. There was only one small problem: “In my house we are cautious, my mother is one of those who say ‘you do it until it’s good’ or ‘when you see that she knows how she should know, she’s done’.” So learning to cook Guinean dishes from her house required Mayra to do a real job of translating these intuitive measurements into the standardized language of recipes. For dishes from other countries on the continent, he draws from many different sources: “You always have Nigerian or Senegalese friends, acquaintances who you know cook well… Now, for example, I want to go to Palencia, where the sister of a friend of mine lives. from Gabon who cooks incredible.”
To buy ingredients for recipes, Mayra usually goes to stores in Lavapiés, Usera or Fuenlabrada, in Madrid, but she admits that she does not always find what she is looking for and, sometimes, she purchases them in Holland. Alvaro Garcia
A culture through recipes
During our conversation, I can’t help but notice the omnipresence of the mortar throughout the preparation. “It is the emblem of Afro cuisine, the star utensil, common to all ethnicities. It is our processor, our blender, our everything. And majado is the base of many of our dishes.” While he carefully wraps the fish in banana leaves before putting it in the oven, I remember the first message I sent him to propose this interview. I used the term “African cuisine” and she quickly transformed it into a plural: African cuisines, because the culinary variety of the continent is enormous. “What we eat in central Africa has nothing to do with what we eat in the Horn or in the north. We have many common ingredients, but as in Europe, French, Italian and Spanish food are very different.”
On her Instagram account, Mayra not only explains how to prepare homemade green plantain fufú, bobolò or thiebou yapp, she also spreads information about the history, origin and uses of different foods. At the end of the day, food is culture and Mayra’s videos are a good example of this. “Gastronomy tells history better than books, because in the end, by pulling the rope you see when the food arrives at a place, from where, why… And as a result of that you can also tell the history of the continent.” Therefore, My African Kitchen is not only a recipe account, but also a learning space. “When I made the video about the gastronomy of Senegal, three Senegalese girls wrote to me telling me that there were facts that they didn’t know. I mean, I get messages from Africans themselves telling me ‘you’re telling me things I had no idea about’ and it’s very cool. I am really enjoying discovering those stories, because I was the first ignorant of many things.” The Afro-descendant community in Spain also congratulates her non-stop for having launched this initiative. “I’m flipping. Something that I started doing at home for my children is suddenly leading me to connect with a lot of people who tell me that what I do was super necessary.” “What a joy”, “it’s like coming home” or “your page is the holy grail of African food” are some of the comments she often receives. “In addition, they really like that it is an Afro woman who is doing it, because it is true that there are many things about dance, crafts and even African food where, in the end, there is a European person behind it.”
Myths and prejudices
On the other side are the myths and prejudices that Mayra also encounters from time to time. For example, the much demonized palm oil is basic in many African dishes, but it is an oil that has nothing to do with the oil used in the processed food industry. “Many people, when they see that a recipe includes it, tell me ‘I’m going to do everything the same, but I remove the palm oil because it’s the worst.'” To begin with, the one Mayra uses is a powerful red color, resulting from the cold pressing of the fruits of the African palm and from organic farming. It has color, smell and flavor, unlike the refined oil used in the industry, which has lost a good part of its properties and nutritional value. And then there are the prejudices, from “how can you eat that?” when the dish includes an ingredient that is too foreign to the Western palate, the classic “why do you eat with your hands?” “When the theme of eating with your hands is super nice. The African understands food as part of him. It is celebration, it is contact, it is nature. And of course, you have to touch to be able to eat and feel, and for that food to nourish you and make you feel good. That contact… is eating with the five senses. That’s why we eat with our hands, not because we don’t have cutlery.”
Sea bass djomba
This recipe is typical of the Ndowë ethnic group, also known as the beachmen or men of the coast, and is found along the entire coastal strip of the Gulf of Guinea, from Cameroon to Congo, passing through Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. It is said that this way of cooking fish, wrapped in leaves, is the origin of the ‘papillote’ cooking technique.
Even going to more basic things, she has found herself having to clarify that Africa is not a country, but a continent, or explaining why the question “do you speak African?” it does not make any sense. “They are those things that say ‘let’s lay a little bit of the minimum foundation of general culture.’ From the moment you don’t understand what a continent is and the plurality that exists, the ethnic, linguistic, physical differences… It’s like you continually have to be educating.” But Mayra sees gastronomy as a fantastic tool to get to know Africa better and understand it in all its plurality. “People are telling me a lot that it’s great to receive all this information, that they had no idea that all this was happening. In some way, you are also transmitting and teaching through gastronomy.”
One of the prejudices that I myself had with African food is that it was not suitable for vegetarians. However, Mayra’s account has introduced me to dishes such as toubani (a typical Afro-vegan recipe from Ghana that is prepared with black-eyed peas) or thiakry (a dessert of Senegalese origin based on millet couscous, cottage cheese and yogurt). “There are a lot of ethnicities that are vegetarians. In fact, my mother tells me and I have also read it in many chronicles, that the consumption of meat in Africa came as a result of Western influence, of copying how it is eaten in the West. And if all regions have something in common, it is that on our plates there should always, as a general rule, be a large portion of some vegetable.” As a good cook, seeing that she was not going to be able to try the fish dish that was about to come out of the oven, she pulled an ace out of her sleeve and prepared akarà, bean-based fritters that were delicious.
Mayra continues learning every day about the cuisines of the African continent and sharing it on her social networks. She also continues to offer her own catering services and has a few future plans that will come true very soon: “By October, if all goes well, I will launch my own line of Afro food products. They will be kits with all the ingredients so you can prepare it at home, because what I like is when people cook. And then, on the other hand, I have teamed up with an African artisan and we are going to release a collection of very beautiful traditional Afro tableware.” Meanwhile, we can keep track of her in My African Kitchen to continue discovering the cuisines of the neighboring continent and expand our culinary horizons by encouraging us to make some of her recipes.
You can follow EL PAÍS Gastro on Instagram and Twitter.
#African #Kitchen #Instagram #profile #thousands #followers #shows #richness #continent #recipes