It is hard to imagine two culinary traditions so different and yet so intimately related through history as the cuisines of the United States and West Africa. Yet African cuisine remains a total mystery to most of the American public. Now that Americans have learned from Thai, Indian, and Mexican cuisines how to tolerate searing hot chilies, the time is perhaps ripe to discover the varieties of West African cooking, which are just as regional as Asian, European, and Latin American cuisines. We will learn how, over the centuries, Africans have been able to combine native ingredients with imports from Asia and America to develop a highly distinctive, rich, and all too often overlooked culinary tradition.
Robert Launay, PhD, is Professor of Anthropology and a member of the Program of African Studies at Northwestern University. He and his wife lived for several years in Ivory Coast living and eating with an African family without electricity, running water, or cooking gas. He has published two books and many articles about West Africa. He has also published descriptions of food in European travel literature. His latest book is an anthology of early anthropological writing with as many descriptions of food, eating, and drinking as he could sneak past his publisher.