AFRICA’S breakfasts are a bit of a paradox.
Whilst they are an incredibly diverse set of dishes which reflect unique country histories and modern society “on the go”, you will often find that a staple ingredient has been transformed to accommodate as many meals as possible. A key trend are the different types of fried bread and hot porridges which are a clever way of repurposing certain flours, grains or cereals.
Then there are certain breakfasts which have travelled across borders with only a couple of alterations of additions, whilst others are a complete contrast in flavours.
These paradoxes have given us a plethora of different dishes to explore from all corners of the continent. Here are 15 of them:
One of the most surprising African breakfast finds is Cameroon’s spaghetti omelettes - a strangely delicious combination which has probably been made popular by the comparatively lower price of pasta in the country. This is because of the number of pasta players in the country such as Celestin Tawamba, Cameroon’s discreet billionaire, who made his fortune through “La Pasta” - a flour and pasta manufacturer. La Pasta is now the biggest distributor of spaghetti in the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa zone.
And so the spaghetti omelette has become a morning food favourite. It can be bought from carts and is made by creating an omelette, using plenty of eggs, tomatoes, onions, peppers and chilli. The spaghetti is then mixed in and it’s usually served in a baguette.
Vary sosoa and kitoza
The contemporary cuisine of Madagascar typically consists of a base of rice served with an accompaniment. Even for breakfast!
Rice is cooked with extra water to make it a soupy rice porridge called “vary sosoa” which is accompanied by incredibly tasty pieces of dried pieces of beef called “kitoza”. In wealthier households some of the French traditions have been carried on and you can often find a “bowl” of hot chocolate or coffee - sweetened with condensed milk rather than fresh milk which is harder to keep in the tropical climate.
A staple breakfast food, ful medames is an Egyptian dish of cooked fava beans served with vegetable oil, cumin, and optionally with chopped parsley, garlic, onion, lemon juice, and boiled eggs. The creation of ful has roots in the middle ages when public baths were popular and in order to capitalise on precious burning embers that kept them going, huge qidras were filled with fava beans, and these cauldrons were kept simmering all night in order to provide breakfast.
An East African favourite, Uji is a very popular breakfast meal. Sorghum, maize and millet are produced in large quantities in East Africa and has found use in composite flours as well as in various traditional foods - like Uji. This thin porridge is made from ground maize or millet, helps warm the belly and keep the hunger pangs away for a while. It is typically sweetened with honey and sugar.
This Ghanaian dish is made from “gari” - fermented and dried cassava - and eggs. At times it is flavoured with tomatoes, onions and some spices. It has also become a popular brunch item as it is a great accompaniment to Ghana’s spicy stews and sauces.
As a legacy of French rule, most Senegalese start their day with bread - known as “mburu”. These baguette breads are often sold as street food alongside a wide selection of toppings such as include jam, mayonnaise, tuna and hardboiled or deep fried eggs. But the most traditional has to be Ndambé - beans that are cooked in a spicy tomato paste to make a seriously tasty breakfast sandwich.
A typical Gambian breakfast dish, Churah Gerteh is a take on a rice pudding featuring rice, peanut butter, water and sugar.
Chai na mandazi
A simple but traditional breakfast for those on the go in Kenya is a slightly sweet doughnut-like buns (mandazi), serve with Chai Tea. They reflect part of Kenya’s history in a mouthful. Mandazi originated from the Swahili coast whilst the tea is a British colonial relic, the style in which the tea is made - brewed with milk and sugar, and at times hints of spice, is borrowed from India.
Masa (Hausa Masa)
Masa is just one of the many northern Nigerian breakfast staples. Though also a popular snack, it is similar to a pan fried rice cake and the recipes vary a little across households but the basic premise never changes - a pounded rice batter ball cooked in a pan. Usually served with honey, roadside vendors will always have them hot, crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle, and ready from 7am.
Shakshouka is a dish of eggs baked in a sauce of tomatoes, chilli peppers, and onions, often spiced with cumin. It is believed to have a Tunisian origin though it has worked it’s way onto breakfast tables across the Maghreb and is accompanied by bread to mop up its delicious sauce.
Magwinya and the Full English!
When asking South Africans what their most popular breakfast is, the answer immediately came to whether we were asking for “black or white”.
For black South Africans a traditional breakfast is “mieliepap” - maize meal porridge - or “magwinya”, the township version of “vetkoek”. Vetkoek literally means “fat cake” and is a uniquely South African deep fried bread and are usually more refined - sliced open and stuffed with grated cheese, mince or even jam. Magwinya in the townships however are a greasier delight, eaten with achaar, polony, cheese or snoek fish (a type of salted and dried South African fish).
For white South Africans the European influence is clear as they go for the African equivalent of a full english breakfast; eggs, sausages, hash browns, baked beans…the lot!
Simplified to “ful”, this is a dish common in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan - where it is believed to have originated. It is made by slowly cooking fava beans in water. Once the beans have softened, they are crushed into a coarse paste. It is often served with chopped green onions, tomatoes, and hot green peppers, as well as yoghurt, feta cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, and chilli pepper.
A nod to the French empire, Chad’s famous hot breakfast cereal gets its name from “Bouillie” - French for porridge. Similar to Gambia’s “Churah Gerteh”, it is made with wheat or cornflour and flavoured with peanut butter, milk and sugar - but with the extra addition of lemon juice.
Fitfit or Firfir
The ultimate left-over makeover, fitfit or firfir is an Eritrean and Ethiopian food typically served for breakfast using shredded old flat bread (injera), spiced clarified butter (called niter kibbeh in Amharic or tesmi in Tigrinya), the hot spice berbere or “quanta” - dry, spicy beef.
In Equatorial Guinea there are two very common ingredients: banana and coconut - and this goes for breakfast too! Akwadu is a banana and coconut bake which is more a breakfast than a dessert feature. It is a delicious and simple combination of bananas, cooked in citrus, butter, coconut and sugar.