African dishes in focus on TasteAtlas list

Do you know your rechta from your braai?

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“Best of the best” lists have a tendency to be subjective — and never more so than when food is involved. Online culinary compendium and food and travel guide TasteAtlas does like a listicle, though. A February compilation in which Filipino spaghetti ranked as one of the worst dishes in the world caused furore among many, while the 100 Best Dishes in Africa was released at the end of the month.

The latest round-up offers plenty for foodies to get their teeth stuck into, including a number of firm fan favourites in the UAE and other Arabic countries — think kunafa, shawarma, hummus, shakshuka and luqaimat, plus mechouia and lablabi from Tunisia.

That said, there are a fair few entries that might well be unfamiliar to many and, given that they’re being flagged as the continent’s finest, it seems only right to get better acquainted with some of the African dishes that made it to the top 10.

Rechta

Ranking on the Taste Atlas list: 1

Country of origin: Algeria

What is it exactly? Stealing the top spot as Africa’s finest meal — according to TasteAtlas at least — is rechta (pronounced rish-ta). This adored Algerian dish brings us thin ribbons of pasta-like noodles topped with chicken and eggs, simmered in a sauce rich with vegetables (onions, turnips or parsnips, potatoes and zucchini), and flavoured with garlic, sweet cinnamon and the warming heat of ras el hanout. A generous meal made to be shared, rechta is a particularly popular choice during Eid Al Fitr, at weddings and on other celebratory occasions.

Braai

Ranking on the Taste Atlas list: 3

Country of origin: South Africa

What is it exactly? The braai (literally meaning to grill in Afrikaans) is a South African institution, an event as much as it is a mere meal. Braais tend to be convivial, collaborative affairs; friends and family gather around the fire, chilled drinks in hand, as the braai master tends to their all-important wares and the alluring scent of chargrilled meat — kebabs, chops, beef ribs, marinated steaks and of course, boerewors (farmer’s sausage) — fills the air. While braais may be characterised by meat, sides play an important role, too — expect to tuck into the likes of chakalaka (spiced vegetable relish), the South African maize porridge staple that is mieliepap, as well as blatjang (more on that below).

Tajine zitoune

Ranking on the Taste Atlas list: 6

Country of origin: Algeria

Algerian tajine zitoun stew with chicken and olives. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

What is it exactly? An iftar favourite with its origins in Algeria, a properly made tagine zitoune (chicken tagine with olives) offers up edible proof that not all stews are created equal. Traditionally cooked in a tajine (conical earthenware pot), the chicken is slow-simmered in a fragrant sauce peppered with spices, vegetables and the all-important olives, which offer a fruity-yet-tangy note and plump up prettily in the broth. The late-in-the-day addition of either turmeric or saffron mixed with lemon juice and flour not only provides an extra layer of flavour, but also thickens the sauce and lends the dish a beautiful golden hue.

Makroud el louse

Ranking on the TasteAtlas list: 7

Country of origin: Algeria

What is it exactly? A confectionery capable of giving your favourite sweet a run for its money, these light and flourless floral cookies are made from an almond, egg and sugar dough that’s formed into delicate diamond shapes before being baked until the lightest of golden brown.

From there, the cookies are soused with orange blossom-infused sugar syrup and showered with icing sugar. The melt-in-the-mouth texture of makroud el louse is much talked about, and those in the know suggest they’re best enjoyed with a hot cup of tea.

Blatjang

Ranking on the TasteAtlas list: 8

Country of origin: South Africa

South African fruit chutney blatjang. Alamy

What is it exactly: Think of blatjang (pronounced blud-young) as the secret weapon that takes South African classics such as bobotie and braai meat to a whole new level of tasty. The Cape Malay condiment combines a fruity, jammy sweetness (usually courtesy of apricots or peaches) with the tang and depth of a good chutney (spices, onions, chillies and vinegar all feature). The result is a sauce that deserves both its reputation as one of South Africa’s best dishes and its high-ranking spot on this hit list.

Jollof rice

Ranking on the TasteAtlas list: 9

Country of origin: Nigeria

What is it exactly? A one-pan, rice-based dish of huge cultural significance, jollof is a staple at nearly every Nigerian celebration. With its fluffy texture, alluring orange-hue and complex taste — there’s smokiness from the spices, a subtle heat courtesy of chillies, depth and fragrance provided by the tomato and pepper paste all at play here — jollof is undisputedly a dish to be reckoned with. More contentious, however, are the origins of the West African staple, with the rivalry between Ghanaian and Nigerian versions being much documented and highly contested (let’s just say TasteAtlas made a bold move by attributing the dish solely to Nigeria).

Updated: March 05, 2023, 4:00 AM