Black Foods in South America & The Caribbean

by Rianna Wilson

We’re back for another installment of ‘Black Foods In…’ and today we are looking at foods eaten in South America and the Caribbean.

So how did Black foods (and people) end up in South America and the Caribbean?

I think the answer is simple, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade — the forced kidnapping of Africans who were brought to the Americas during the 15th century and on. These Africans brought with them their culinary skills and knowledge and adapted it to the foods native to their new homes. They also brought with them their cooking methods such as; frying, boiling/simmering, roasting, and steaming (usually wrapping foods in large leaves from different fruit trees). These methods are still used throughout South America and the Caribbean (Alexa, play Chi Ching Ching – Roast or Fry).

Our favourite foods in focus

Rice and Peas – Jamaica

In Ghana there’s a dish called Waakye, it is the ancestor of Rice and Peas. The cooking method and ingredients may differ but the similarities are impossible to ignore. Think of it as a long-lost great-uncle.

Cast your mind back to the post about foods in Africa, we spoke about how grains like rice were a staple due to the ease of being able to grow it cheaply. This same principle followed Africans to Jamaica and so the dish of Rice and Peas was born. For bonus points, I hope you also remember the three base ingredients  of African cooking. Two parts of the three  feature in almost all Caribbean dishes – onions and peppers/spices. No dish worth its salt (see what I did there) can exist without these two ingredients; and though it is a fairly simple dish, Rice and Peas is no exception to this rule.

Why use beans but call them peas?

There’s always confusion when non-Black people make this dish and so you often end up seeing white rice with green garden peas, rather than flavoured rice with kidney beans. Why use beans but call them peas? Maybe it’s because you can also use gungo peas (formally known as pigeon peas) and red cow peas to make the dish. In all honesty, it just seems to be a tradition that has been passed down through generations without much explanation.

Ackee – The Caribbean

Often visually mistaken for scrambled eggs, ackee is a soft fluffy fruit found in the Caribbean. As the national fruit of Jamaica it plays a big part in the island’s cuisine, with it most famously being paired with saltfish to make an amazing breakfast dish or side dish to go with your dinner (here’s an easy recipe to try out). However the fruit has a deadly side. If it isn’t picked, deseeded and cleaned properly it can cause serious health issues, which is why many countries including the UK & US, only allow it to be imported already canned.

Mofongo – Puerto Rico

Here’s a picture for this one because I know you said “who??” after reading that word. A dish made from mashed plantain; it hails from the West African Fufu. Although it has a different consistency and flavour, you can see the similarities in the way it is eaten. The Dominican Republic have their own version which is called Mangú and is made from cassava.

Delicious mofongo 😍
Feijoada – Brazil

This is Brazil’s national dish. I know, a Black food is a South American national dish, crazy right?

The stew’s main ingredient is soaked black beans, with seasonings and various meats added along the way. When money and resources were scarce for enslaved Africans, they would have to make the best of whatever they could find. In this dish you’re likely to find a variety of cuts of meat. The dish has links back to several African countries such as Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde

Acarajé – Brazil

Also known as; Akara (Yoruba), Kosai (Hausa) and Kose (Ghana), these little balls of peeled beans deep fried in oil are the perfect snack. It travelled to the streets of Brazil with the enslaved West Africans and has become a staple in Brazilian cuisine. But the little balls of joy are more than just a tasty snack, they have important cultural and historical significance. The bean cake is reported to have made its way to Bahia in the 19th century and was sold as street food. Earnings from its sale was used to sometimes buy the freedom of enslaved family members until the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888 while serving as a source of family income.

Acarajé is also used as a religious offering in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. It is a food of many talents!

The most inspiring part of this is how heavily influenced South American food is by Black African cuisine. Really showing that they are a part of the rich historical tapestry that makes up many South American communities. Black foods in South America and The Caribbean have become staple foods and we love that for us.

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