Africa is famous for the diversity of its street food, but West Africa has its own unique take on street snacks. A trip to the western part of the continent would not be complete without the tantalizing aromas of sizzling hot palm oil or barbecuing meat, and the ingenious street-side setups that will amaze you. So how better to get to the heart of West Africa than by enjoying some local favorite snacks, or small chop? Here we bring you some of the tastiest delicacies.
1. Akara (kosai)
Served with a delicious dollop of chili powder or spicy tomato sauce, these golden savory delights are just the thing for a mid-morning snack. Or do as the Nigerians do and enjoy these for breakfast. Also known as kosai in northern Nigeria, these little fried black-eyed bean cakes are wildly popular in West Africa and can be found bubbling in pans of hot palm oil on just about every street or in every marketplace. The black-eyed beans are ground up and mixed with pepper, onions and other spices before being fried in the hot oil. Akara are best eaten piping hot but can also be served cold.
Would a doughnut by another name taste as sweet? The answer is yes! Known as puff-puff in Nigeria, bofrot in Ghana and beignets in the French-speaking countries, this tasty little fried doughnut-like snack is popular for breakfast or as a snack, and is sometimes served sprinkled with sugar. But be warned: you won’t be able to stop at just one! Puff-puff also come in savory versions, so best to check to avoid nasty surprises.
3. Kebabs (Chichinga)
Made from either goat or beef (or sometimes snails!), kebabs are ubiquitous throughout West Africa. Often they are served slathered with a fiery hot tomato sauce, but sometimes they come with lashings of Maggi sauce. Another popular variation in Nigeria is suya (or tsiye in the north). These are beef kebabs with a crunchy ground-peanut crust that also combines ginger, garlic, paprika and onion powder. It’s also well-known in Ghana by the name chichinga.
4. Chin chin
A common street food from Nigeria, chin chin can either be sweet or savory. It can also be hard and crunchy, or softer and more chewy, depending on the recipe. And there are many variations. Popular seasonings include cinnamon, nutmeg or orange. The dough is cut into small squares and then fried in hot oil on the street or in marketplaces. Popular as snacks or party food, it is often given as gifts. And a bag of chin chin from a street vendor will make the longest bush taxi ride bearable.
Sugar the way nature intended! Grown throughout West Africa, sugarcane is sold in pieces as a snack by local farmers in markets or by the side of the road. You can also have the stalks ground to provide a very sweet drink. The idea is to trim back the thick skin with a penknife (or rip it off with your teeth) and then chew the inside, sucking the juice. It’s best to chomp on the sugarcane in the outdoors as you’ll be spitting out the rough fibrous interior and the skin.
Groundnuts, known simply as peanuts outside of west Africa, are a popular snack. They can either be served fresh in their shells, boiled, or roasted with a pinch of salt. But there’s also another delicious variation: Coated with sugar! A former cash crop, peanuts have made their way into numerous West African dishes, often emerging as the star.
Maize is a seasonal staple food of West Africa, and is the backbone of the cuisine (think pap served with stew). But it is often served roasted as a snack by the side of the road during the rainy season in Nigeria. It can also be accompanied by ube (purple African wood pear cactus), which has a texture similar to avocado once cooked. Maize can also be served as a boiled snack.
8. Fish pie
Also known as a fish roll, the fish pie is a popular street snack in Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria. Made from a shortcrust pastry, it is filled with sardines (or other local fish) and spices and deep fried. In Cameroon the fish pie is rolled up, but in other countries it forms more of a pie shape. Whatever the shape, it’s a crunchy, spicy and delicious snack.
9. Moi moi (moin moin)
Similar to akara in that it is made from black-eyed beans, moi moi is steamed rather than fried. The beans are ground and mixed with onions, peppers, chilis, and other spices (including dried fish on occasion) before being wrapped in banana or plantain leaves to steam. While popularly known as Nigeria’s favorite dessert, it is confusingly also known as a savory snack.
Plantain is a larger, more fibrous and greener cousin to the banana. In fact they are everywhere in West African cooking. Plantain chips are a popular street snack in Nigeria. But plantain also features in other street side snacks, including fried plantain which can be eaten by itself or forms a delicious addition to Gari (roasted cassava shavings) and beans in Ghana. And not forgetting that famous Ghanaian dish – kelewele – savory fried plantain.