Top 10 low-cost recipes of tastiest African street food

Adapted to cook at home fast and easy

From Accra to Bangkok and Mumbai to Mexico City, informal street trading is a way for many people to make a living. The FAO notes that ‘selling snacks and meals on the streets is an important way to obtain income.’

Most vendors are people who would otherwise be unemployed. In some African countries over 80 per cent of those selling food on the street are women. This is a vital part of the economy, as women nearly always spend the cash on their families.

Local people and tourists can enjoy the colorful sights, delicious smells and bustle that surrounds the food hawkers.
Here, the way to find your favorite food is to go round the stalls and see for yourself what is being cooked. You order what you want and the various stallholders will bring the dish to you. The food is cheap and so good that quite often you will find luxury cars pulled up nearby.
The recipes listed here have been adapted to make them easy to cook at home, and you can find most ingredients in the shops or specialty stores.

Ethiopian lentil stew

Ethiopians may fast up to 200 days a year, during which time they don’t even touch meat. This has led to many delicious vegetarian versions of so-called wats (stews). This one – “misir wat” – is very popular, cheap, light and lemony.

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Ingredients (for 4 serves):

1 cup / 225 g lentils
1-2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
3 cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg, grated
juice of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon parsley or cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper

Preparation and Cooking:

1 Put the lentils in a pan with enough water to cover, and bring to the boil. Skim off any froth with a spoon, and then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes until they are cooked and crumbly. They should have absorbed most of the moisture; if not, drain off the excess.
2 Now heat the oil in another pan and sauté the onions, adding the garlic after a few minutes when the onions are translucent.
3 Next, add chili powder, the ginger, cloves, nutmeg and lemon juice. Stir well to combine the ingredients. Pour in a little water or oil if the mixture begins to catch.
4 Spoon the lentils into the spice mix and season. Cook over a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors expand, stirring frequently so that the mixture does not burn. Again, add more liquid if necessary. Garnish with parsley or cilantro and serve with breads or rice.

Spicy fried bananas from Ghana

Plantains or bananas are often fried without batter. Kalawule – is one example, originally from Ghana and often sold by street vendors from trays in the evenings. A similar snack, but using sugar rather than spice, is Zitumbuwa from Malawi. If using dessert bananas you can shallow-fry them.

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4 firm bananas, cut into chunks
½-1 teaspoon grated fresh or powdered ginger
½ teaspoon cayenne or chili powder
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
palm or peanut oil

Preparation and Cooking:

1 In a bowl, mix the ginger with the cayenne or chili, pepper, salt and a few drops of water to combine the ingredients. Stir.
2 Now put in the chunks of banana and coat them well.
3 Heat the oil in a deep-fryer or wok and cook the banana pieces in hot oil until nicely golden. Drain well on kitchen paper.

Kenyan Maandazi

Originally a Swahili snack, maandazi – East African fried breads similar to donuts – are ubiquitous in tea shops all over the country. Like most things, they are best when fresh from the pan and make a delicious accompaniment to chai masala (spiced tea) for breakfast.

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¾ cup / 180 ml warm water
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups / 200 g plain flour
¼ cup / 60 g sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon margarine, melted
1 tablespoon warm milk
1 tablespoon beaten egg
pinch of salt
oil for deep frying

Preparation and Cooking:

1 In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and spice.
2 Mix the water, milk and egg together with the melted margarine. If you prefer not to use the milk and egg, substitute water.
3 Gradually add this mixture to the flour, kneading into a smooth, elastic dough. Adjust with more flour/water as necessary to obtain the right consistency. Place the dough in a clean bowl and leave aside for about 15-30 minutes.
4 When ready, roll the dough to about ½ inch/1 cm thick. Then cut into triangles or small squares.
5 Heat the oil in a deep pan or wok. Slide each dough shape in (only fry as many as can float without touching each other). Once the bottom side is golden brown, turn them over and continue frying.
6 Remove the shapes with a slotted spatula and drain well on old newspapers or kitchen paper. Serve warm or cold, but do not store for more than half a day as they tend to go stale rather quickly. Sprinkle with icing sugar and cinnamon before serving.

Malawian Ginger Beer

This popular drink is by no means unique to Malawi or Africa – it is a favorite in some form or other in all the tropical regions. And some may remember a different drink: fizzy ginger beer in ‘hot’ British summers, in its familiar brown stone jars with the wired stopper tops.

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Ingredients (2-4 serves):

½ cup grated fresh ginger
½-1 cup / 110-225 g molasses or sugar
3 cups / 700 ml water
4 cloves
juice of ½ lemon

Preparation and Cooking:

1 First, boil the water. Then put the ginger into a bowl and pour on the boiling water. Cover and leave for at least one hour – overnight if possible.
2 When ready, strain the liquid off through a sieve or use a muslin bag. Press the ginger pulp to extract the flavor.
3 Add the molasses or sugar, the cloves and the lemon juice. Stir well to mix the ingredients. Taste, and adjust the flavors as desired, adding more water if required.
4 Leave the ginger beer to cool before serving.

South African Koeksisters

‘Cooked sisters’ – the ‘sisters’ may relate to the fact these donut-type snacks are usually plaited, suggesting close family ties, or girls with braids. Koeksisters originated in the Cape, introduced by the ‘Malays’ who were brought in as slaves from the 17th century, mainly from Indonesia. The Cape Malay cuisine blends dried fruit and spices to create wonderful flavors.
By the way, this is your fat and sugar allowance for the week!

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Ingredients (16 makes):

1 cup / 100 g flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon mixed spice
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
2 oz / 50 g butter or margarine
1 tablespoon beaten egg

For the coating:

½ cup / 110 g sugar
½ cup / 120 ml water
juice of ½ lemon

Preparation and Cooking:

1 Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Cut the margarine or butter into the mixture or rub until it is like breadcrumbs.
2 Now stir in the beaten egg; mix well and then knead the dough a little. When that is done, place the mixture on a floured surface and roll it out to ½ inch/1 cm thick.
3 Cut the dough into circles, triangles or make small balls. Set aside.
4 For the syrup coating, boil the sugar and water until thick, stirring all the time. Add some drops of lemon juice and ½ teaspoon cinnamon.
5 Heat the oil in a wok or deep-fryer and when it is hot, slide the koeksisters in carefully. Cook until golden; remove and drain on kitchen paper.
6 Place them on a plate, coat with the syrup and leave to cool.

Tanzanian Mango Fritters

Tasty snacks of pieces of fruit, vegetable, meat – fritters turn up on just about every street food menu in the world – from tempura in Japan, to pakoras in India and apple fritters in Britain. They are popular snack food in Africa where they are often made with bananas, maize, pineapple or vegetable chunks. Mango is a tangy surprise.

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2 mangos, peeled and cut into chunks
¾ cup / 75 g flour
1 egg, beaten
2-3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons sugar

Preparation and Cooking:

1 Begin by making the batter. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the sugar.
2 Take the bowl with the beaten egg in it and gradually pour in the milk, stirring as you do so. Then add this to the flour and sugar mixture.
3 Coat the mango pieces in the batter. Heat the oil in a deep-fryer or wok and when hot cook the mango pieces until they are just brown. Drain on kitchen paper.

Tanzanian Kashata

This popular snack, somewhere between candy and cookie, is of Swahili origin. It is usually made with peanuts or grated coconut, or both, and cooked on the stove or over a fire, not in an oven.

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Ingredients (8-12 makes):

¾ cup / 55 g grated or desiccated coconut
½ cup / 55 g peanuts, roasted and coarsely chopped
1 / 3 cup / 55 g sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preparation and Cooking:

1 Sprinkle the sugar on to a frying pan and cook it over a low heat, stirring, until it melts and begins to brown.
2 Add in the coconut, peanuts and cinnamon; mix well.
3 When the sugar begins to set, remove the pan from the heat. To test for setting, put a drop of water into the pan when the sugar is beginning to turn golden brown. When the drop sets into a hard ball, remove the pan from the heat.
4 As the mixture cools, remove from the pan while it is still soft. Shape into walnut-sized balls and leave to cool.

Kenyan Cassava Chips

Lots of roast maize is available on the streets of Nairobi and most Kenyan towns. It is just white maize roasted over coals in the upturned lid of a garbage can – which is logical given that the hot coals are in the can underneath! The maize/corn can be eaten with any combination of salt, dry red pepper (chili powder) and fresh lemon juice squeezed over it – scrumptious. Available as a whole cob wrapped in old newspaper or telephone book pages and munched as you walk to or from work or stroll along the street.
The same vendor usually roasts cassava too, and runs a knife down the length of the piece of cassava to sprinkle in salt, dry red pepper and lemon before serving. From the coastal and lakeside towns of eastern Kenya comes the delicious dish of cassava crisps or chips, freshly deep-fried and sprinkled with – what else? – salt, dry red pepper and lemon juice.

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Ingredients (for 2 serves):

½ pound / 225 g cassava root
chili powder
lemon juice

Preparation and Cooking:

1 Cut the cassava into ½-inch/1-cm slices. Put them in a saucepan with just enough salted water to cover. Bring to the boil and cook until they are tender, about 30 minutes. It does not matter if the pieces break up.
2 When they are cooked, remove from the water and drain; dry with paper towels.
3 Heat some oil in a frying pan or skillet and when it is hot, fry the pieces until they are crisp and golden all over. Sprinkle chili powder, salt and lemon juice over them. Serve at room temperature with drinks.

Senegal Peanut Stew

Mafé, a traditional dish of the Wolof people of Senegal and Gambia, is one of the many variations of the African groundnut stew. The basic recipe uses meat, onion, palm nut oil, tomato paste, peanuts or peanut butter, some vegetables, chilies, bell pepper, salt, pepper and water. It is often made with lamb or mutton but can also use chicken, fish (fresh or dried) or substitute beans (such as black-eyed beans) for a vegetarian version. Chop and boil the vegetables first – then keep the stock to use in the dish.

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Ingredients (5-6 serves):

1 pound / 450 g chicken, in pieces or ½ pound / 225 g cooked beans
2 onions, finely chopped
1 cup / 225 g peanut butter
1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
6 tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1-2 chilies, left whole
2 cups / 300 g chopped
vegetables, cooked,
retaining stock (almost any veggies you have)
water or stock
½ cup palm oil/oil
salt and pepper

Preparation and Cooking:

1 Begin by heating the palm oil in a large cooking pot. Then sauté the chicken and remove the pieces when they are golden on all sides.
2 Now fry the onions in the same pan over a high heat. Next, put in the pepper, tomatoes, tomato paste and chilies. Fry for a few minutes before adding the water/stock, peanut butter and tomato paste. Stir to mix the ingredients and then simmer gently for a few minutes.
3 After this, add the chicken and the cooked vegetables. Season, and then leave to simmer, covered, for 30-60 minutes or until everything is cooked. Stir frequently and add more liquid if it becomes too dry. Serve with rice and sliced avocado or parsley.

Sudanese Ful (beans)

This dish is popular in Middle Eastern and other North African countries. In Sudan, it is the traditional all-day breakfast dish, available in tiny cafés, from street vendors and, most welcome of all, at bus stops in the desert. The ful beans are large flat brown beans (fava or field beans), resembling shiny dark brown butter beans, and ful is by no means fast food. At least 24 hours’ soaking followed by 6 hours or so of slow cooking would be considered prudent. In Sudan, the beans are left to simmer overnight in fat-bellied, narrow-necked vessels on charcoal braziers, but canned beans can be bought in Greek or Turkish delicatessens.
The Sudanese traders bash the warm beans for a few moments with the base of an old glass fizzy drinks bottle to slightly break up the beans. A plateful is served with a variety of extras. A swirl of peanut oil, a handful of chopped fresh cilantro/coriander, salt and chili powder to taste is pretty standard. But the addition of a little grated feta cheese, chopped scallion/spring onion and a hardboiled egg would set you up for the day. The ful is usually eaten with flat bread, friends eating from a communal dish.

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Ingredients (4 serves):

1 cup / 200 g fava or ful beans, cooked and kept warm
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro/coriander
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
2 scallions/spring onions, sliced
1 cup / 100 g feta cheese, crumbled
juice of 1 lemon
peanut or olive oil

Preparation and Cooking:

1 Place the cooked beans in a serving dish and crush them with the end of a rolling pin or spoon.
2 Pour over some oil and sprinkle on salt to taste. Garnish with the fresh cilantro/coriander.
3 Serve the eggs, scallions/spring onions and feta cheese separately, and hand round the lemon juice.

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