From Mauritania to Cameroon, this part of the world isn’t known as a culinary superstar, yet there are some great dishes to be found here. We always try to indulge in the local food in every country we visit; here are some of the best West African dishes you need to try that go way beyond just rice and sauce.
This traditional Senegalese dish is made from rice, fish and tomato sauce. Other ingredients often include onions, cabbage, carrots, cassava and peanut oil. It’s a one-pot dish into which you can throw any vegetables you have to hand. Filling and tasty, this dish is commonly featured on every daily menu because it’s always a good option.
We tried a few versions of these West African dishes during our visit to the old colonial city of Saint-Louis. There’s a great little local restaurant here called La Linguere. You’ll find some great food here at very affordable prices. You can usually choose the protein, such as chicken or fish.
Thieboudiene is one of the popular West African dishes every visitor must try.
FOODIE TIP: The best deals (and food) in local eateries and restaurants are always found during lunchtime or between 12-2 pm.
A thick stew made of mashed black-eyed peas (although any other beans will do) It’s cooked in red palm oil and pepper. Most recipes will include a little tomato paste, chilli, fresh garlic, ginger and spices to add flavour. It doesn’t look very appealing, but it tastes great.
This is one of the popular West African dishes from Ghana and it is often served with fried plantain. It’s tasty – particularly the bits that cook a little too long on the bottom of the pot.
We tried this dish in the vibrant little city of Kumasi in Ghana. There’s a fantastic restaurant/bar here that was super popular with both locals and visitors alike. Ike’s Bar & Grill is huge and the service was good, it has a nice atmosphere and they have evening entertainment. Catch an Uber there and enjoy a night out.
Yassa is a crowd favourite. Chicken or fish pieces are marinated in dijon mustard and lemon juice, then braised with caramelized onions and slow-cooked until the meat is perfect. Served with rice or couscous, this is a very comforting meal and a must-taste when it comes to West African dishes.
We enjoyed this meal a few times during our stay in Senegal, however, the best chicken yassa we ate was cooked by our wonderful host in Dakar, Senegal.
Chicken Yassa – Fantastic West African food to try
Skewers of spiced cuts of meat such as beef, mutton or chicken are grilled over a charcoal fire or BBQ.
Often served with chunks of raw onions, spicy sauce for dipping and extra seasoning, this dish is best enjoyed in a local eatery alongside a cold beer.
Suya – Food of Western Africa
5. Jollof Rice
Every West African country has its own version of this dish and it is the essential dish of all West African dishes. We’ve tried it in many West African countries and we think Sierra Leone,The Gambia and Nigeria were the tastiest.
Essentially jollof rice is a one-pot rice dish made with tomatoes, tomato paste, spices (such as nutmeg, cumin and ginger) and vegetables. Meat or fried plantain can be added to this dish if you wish.
Jollof rice – Popular West Africa food – and much loved in many countries
Fufu is very much a staple food, common in many West African countries. It is prepared by mixing and pounding separate equal portions of cassava and green plantain flour thoroughly with water. Other flours can take the place of cassava flour, such as semolina, maize flour or mashed plantains.
Once the dough is prepared, fufu is then rolled into balls and dipped into sauces or eaten with stews of meat, fish, or vegetables. To us, fufu to West Africans is like bread to Europeans, or rice to Asians – it’s a true staple and absolutely a must eat when exploring West African dishes.
Fufu – West African food
7. Groundnut Stew (Maafe)
This iconic West African dish can be found in many countries in the region. Commonly made with chicken, scotch bonnet peppers and either groundnut or peanut butter, it’s a stew that is satisfying because of the combination of sweet, savoury and spicy flavours. In the coastal regions of Senegal, fish is eaten with Maafe and traditionally served with white rice, couscous or fufu.
Our favourite peanut stew experience was in Cotonou, Benin at a local restaurant called Saveurs du Benin. This place had so many delicious local dishes on the menu, that it was hard to choose.
In the end, I chose this dish called Igname Pille with peanut stew (as pictured below). It was a dish to remember and cost around $6.
Igname Pille Maafe – West African dishes like this taste much better than they look.
8. Ewa Agoyin
A popular street food dish in Nigeria, made of smashed white or brown beans served with pepper and palm oil sauce. The beans are cooked until very soft, almost mashed and eaten with ground pepper and tomato sauce which is very spicy.
This can be found at small food places set up on the side of the streets at any time of the day – with other West African dishes.
Very cheap and tastes even better with a cold beer or local juice.
Have you tried any of these West African dishes? Please share your favourite West Africa food with us below.
Ewa Agoyin – West African food
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We’ve got some comprehensive blogs about travelling in West Africa as we spent quite a bit of time here. It was one crazy adventure – you can read more details in the recap of our travels in West Africa blog.
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Rach is a self-confessed travelling foodie. Her passion for food and culture has seen her eat her way through 190 countries. She's currently on a big food adventure to visit EVERY country in the world!
When Rach isn't travelling, you can find her at the beach, drinking coffee or wine with friends or chowing down on the best eats around her home city of Melbourne, Australia.