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From food pilgrimages to gastronomy festivals, Africa is betting on its rich cuisines to boost tourism

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IN March, Cameroon hosted the ‘Diaspora Kitchen’ on the banks of the Sanaga River in the small coastal town of Mouanko.

The two-day culinary event featured 20 chefs and hundreds of visitors from both local and international backgrounds. The event focused on cultural exchange, with a special emphasis on the gastronomic traditions of Cameroon.

Attendees were treated to dishes that showcased the diverse flavours of the country’s cuisine, with discussions, training sessions, workshops and demonstrations revolved around only one topic: Food.

“Seeing these ingredients being used in their indigenous context as opposed to just being sprinkled for curiosity’s sake is really important. Because then we can talk about what those foods meant to our ancestors”, said food writer and culinary historian Michael Twitty, who travelled from the USA to attend the festival.

Other renowned culinary participants at the event included Chef Christian Abegan, an expert in gastronomic strategy and food security; Chef Emile Engoulou, an ambassador of Cameroonian cuisine and creator of original recipes; Chef Antoine Belinga, Executive Chef of the Sheraton Hotel in Djibouti; Chef Mashama Bailey, an American chef trained in French technique and a specialist in Southern United States cuisine, and Chef David Thomas, executive chef and owner of Ida B’s Table in Baltimore, USA.

According to the festival organisers, this is just the beginning of what will become an annual culinary festival.

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The Diaspora Kitchen is just one example of a growing trend in which more African countries are hosting culinary festivals to increase visibility and attract tourism.

Emmanuel Forson, the Ghana Food Festival founder, believes gastronomy festivals have the power to lift and promote the African tourism industry.

“If you look at it critically, food tourism is one area that could attract foreigners to Ghana besides the tourist centres and the country’s peaceful atmosphere. Our event is to provide an avenue to attract foreigners into the country,” he told Modernghana.com on the eve of the festival’s 2023 April edition.

Tourism developers are now organising food safaris that explore the diverse flavours of African cuisine, similar to existing wildlife discovery adventures in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Some travel companies such as Africa Travel Co (ATC), ETL Tour and Travel, and Landtours Ghana offer trips that skip national parks and wildlife reserves in favour of restaurant visits and food tastings at various locations.

Ingredients on display at the Diaspora Kitchen culinary festival in Cameroon. Photo Courtesy: Diaspora Kitchen

The gastronomy festivals also are becoming increasingly popular with domestic tourists and audiences, showcasing each region’s unique flavours and colours and helping to give Africa’s rich culinary art the recognition it deserves.

The Festival La Marmite in Togo, Festival Za in the Republic of Benin, Senegal Rekk in Senegal and Ivory Coast, the Adiaké culinary festival in Ivory Coast, Ghana Food Festival, EatDrinkFestival in Nigeria, and the Central African Gastronomy Week in Dakar are some of the food festivals that have been drawing larger and larger audiences.

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In Senegal, the Central African Gastronomy Week aims to strengthen cultural bounds between West Africa and Central Africa from a pan-Africanist perspective, while Nigeria’s EatDrinkFestival is a popular food jamboree bringing together chefs, restaurants and street food vendors.

Cameroon’s Diaspora Kitchen, for its part, is looking at building bridges between African Diasporas’ cuisines and indigenous African culinary art, targeting African Diasporas – in the USA, the Caribbean or Southern America – who are in a quest for reconnection with their African roots and ancestry.

According to Cameroonian Chef Christian Abegan, one of the continent’s most famous chefs, there are numerous similarities between African and African Diasporas cuisine.

“Products such as the Nybe bean or the koki bean are found in the dishes from both sides, although with different preparations and presentations. The cuisines of the Black people have similar ingredients such as leaves, fried chicken, tubers such as yams, and sweet potatoes.

The red bean dish we eat in Yaoundé, Kigali, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Madagascar illustrate this heritage. In the United States, meetings and dinners can never be without a bean-based dish and a hot sauce”, he said.