Cameroonian cuisine is one of the most varied in Africa due to its location on the crossroads between the north, west, and centre of the continent; added to this is the profound influence of French food, a legacy of the colonial era.
The Cameroon is well known for the climatic, geographic and ecological diversity that allows local farmers to grow a wide variety of crops. Rain forests, deserts, steppes and seashores are home to 253 ethnic groups originating from most of Africa. This enormous diversity, combined with the European influence is reflected in the Cameroonian cuisine which consists of a combination of exotic and local spices, indigenous plants, meat and sea food – truly unique and truly delicious. Due to the French influences and because the country finds itself on a crossroad, the cuisine of Cameroon is one of the most varied and exciting in Africa – with the French influence, a legacy of the colonial era, ensuring a magnificent African menu.
The national dish of Cameroon is ndolé, a dish consisting of braised bitter leaves, spices, nuts and either fish or goat, depending on where you are in the country. Thanks to the French, bread & pasta can be found on most menus and thanks to the British and their love of puddings, the Cameroonians have a great dessert menu.
The staple food of Cameroon is traditional & consist of yams, plantains, potatoes, rice and cassava which is usually accompanied by beans, maize and millet. Locals prefer maize to rice. Because of the fertile soil, fresh fruit and vegetables are easily available, both local and imported species! One can easily find okra, eggplants and cassava leaves at the market – not forgetting a vegetable known as bitter leaf.
Locals eat mainly fish because poultry and meat is tad too expensive and usually reserved for special occasions. Bush meat is commonly consumed with the porcupine and the pangolin the most popular but unfortunately exotic bush meat is also eaten in some regions.
A common local menu would feature Brochettes, Sangah and Ndolé which is made with loads of spices and consists of meat, shrimp, pork rind, bitter leaf and peanut butter). In the larger cities, however, most restaurants offer a huge variety of Western, Indian and Chinese food and the American junk food outlets have made their mark, offering burgers and host of unhealthy fast food to willing public.
Among Cameroonian specialties are :
- Brochettes – a kind of barbecued kebab made from either chicken, beef, or goat.
- Sangah – a mixture of maize, cassava leaf and palmnut juice
- Ndolé – a spicy stew containing bitterleaf greens, meat, shrimp, pork rind, and peanut paste.
- Curries, soups and fish dishes abound, as well as meats on skewers.
- Insects are eaten in some parts of the country (particularly the north).
Meals and Snacks
Because of the high rainfall and good growing conditions in many regions, Cameroonians grow a wide range of crops. Meat and fish are also plentiful (for those who can afford them). With an abundance of home-grown produce, the country’s cuisine is known as one of the widest in west Africa.
In restaurants, French-style dishes are particularly popular, drawing on a range of ingredients. Cafes and small eateries – sometimes called ‘chop’ bars – focus on chicken, fish and chips. The chips can be made out of potato, yam or plantain.
For family meals, Cameroonian cooking often involves preparing a sauce of meat, fish or vegetables to accompany a carbohydrate staple of rice, millet, corn or tubers, such as taro or cocoyam.
In the north, meals are often based around maize and millet and peanut or palm oil sauces are common. In the south, yams, cassava and plantains are more often used in dishes.
Street vendors offer barbecued kebabs of meat or fish (known as brochettes), often with a spicy sauce such as Maggi. In the south, fried plantains and cassava are sold. Sweet snacks such as doughnuts and pastries are also popular.
Though coffee is grown as a cash crop in certain parts of Cameroon, locals more often drink the instant variety. Coffee stalls open up early in the morning, serving locals with bread and fillings for breakfast. Later in the day, tea and green tea are more popular as a hot drink.
When it’s time to relax, locals often head to the buvettes, small bars serving beer, lager and soft drinks. However, if you’re looking for a bit of peace and quiet, these bars aren’t always the best place, since music or television often blares out.
Popular home-brewed beverages include millet (bilibili) and corn (kwatcha) beer. Palm wine (matango) is also popular in the south and along the coast.
Regional Cameroonian Cuisines
Cuisine of the Centre and South Eastern Regions
Here the plantain is probably the staple with maize coming a close second and rice being reserved for high days and holidays- among the specialities are:
- Kwem – young cassava leaves with the juice from palm nuts
- Nnam ngon – marrow puree cooked with plantain leaves
- Nnam owondo and Ndomba tsit – parcels of meat enclosed in plantain leaves
Cuisine of The Northern, Extreme Northern and Adamaoua Regions
Cereals and millet are the staples here but maize is eaten almost everywhere, especially in the western part of Adamaoua. The most commonly eaten meat is beef from the huge herds that makes Northern Cameroon so wealthy but they also eat insects (termites, the karite caterpillars and so on) and small hunting animals like field mice, squirrels, frogs and local rats.
Cuisine of The Littoral Region
Cocoyams, cassava, beans, kalokaschia, leaves, grains and nuts are cultivated and thrive here; in some parts they even grow spontaneously. This province is home to a plethora of cultures and culinary traditions – like, the Bassas and Bakokos who adore palm nut (mbanga) soup that has been made with either fish or meat and they eat it with cooked cassava rolls. The Dualas tribe have a thing about the bitterleaf soup when it’s cooked with squash pips or peanuts and they enjoy it with a spot of boiled plantains on the side. The regional speciality of the Littoral Province is Ekoki: a dish made with beans known as vigna beans and it’s made with voandzou (matobo) seeds and is served with plantains or cocoyams. Yellow soup served with cocoyams is another speciality that get’s the juice flowing.
Cuisine of The Western, South Western and North Western Regions
Here fufu is the staple food – it’s made with maize and eaten with almost everything. Over and above maize, tubers like yams, cocoyams, sweet potatoes and cassava are traditionally eaten and something found very often on a family’s daily menu is a dish made with tubers and bananas cooked with a combination of meats (like goat, sheep, pork, beef, chicken and bush meat). These dishes are known as kondre and they are served with maize fufu or yellow soup. A large variety of leaves from the kolokashia, cocoyams, cassava and beans serve as vegetables. They are usually cooked with palm oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. In some parts of this region the locals eat more exotic dishes that consist, amongst others, of snakes, and insect larvae (considered delicacies) . Sauces play an important role and no meal is complete without a sauce of some kind. There are two kinds of sauces that feature most prominently – a sauce known as Nkui and a delicious groundnut sauce that is often a basis for fish or meat dishes