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Food bloggers bring Africa's rich cuisines to the world

Filmmaker Tuleka Prah films chef Touty Sarr prepares a plate of thiebou dieune, a traditional Senegalese dish of spiced rice, inside a kitchen in Ngaparou, Senegal. (AP Photo/Amelia Nierenberg)

Filmmaker Tuleka Prah films chef Touty Sarr prepares a plate of thiebou dieune, a traditional Senegalese dish of spiced rice, inside a kitchen in Ngaparou, Senegal. (AP Photo/Amelia Nierenberg)

Published Feb 12, 2019


In the quiet hours before lunch, two women worked side by side in an airy kitchen, Chef, Touty Sarr, cleans fresh red snapper filets with a sharp knife while filmmaker, Tuleka Prah, points her camera into a large pot of simmering vegetables.

Prah has come to Senegal to document its four most popular dishes as part of My African Food Map, a blog and film archive.

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A traditional Senegalese dish of spiced rice, is serve by Chef Touty Sarr, in Ngaparou, Senegal. (AP Photo/Amelia Nierenberg)

Prah hopes to show the care and skill that goes into African dishes, such as South Africa's fried dough amagwinya and Kenya's kachumbari, an onion and tomato salad.

"The idea, at its most basic, is to present the food how people who love it would prepare it. It's like a database or a digital vault where people can open the drawer, see recipes, see some ingredients," says Prah.

Born in England to a Ghanaian father and a South African mother, she lived in six African countries during her childhood including Namibia, Kenya and what is now South Sudan. 

After finding no reliable recipes online for Ghanaian dishes — and no photos that made the beloved food look appetizing — she started My African Food Map.

She celebrates the cuisines of a continent often marred by negative stereotypes.

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"Africa is often associated with poverty, with hunger, with failures of food in a political and nutritional sense. It's an area of the world that has not been covered by the food craze." says James C. McCann, chair of the history department at Boston University and a specialist in African environmental history and cuisine. 

Other culinary historians, chefs, and foodies are fighting such stereotypes. Unique among prominent bloggers, Prah takes an almost pan-African approach.

"I always feel like I am from the whole continent. I can find myself in different aspects of different countries I visit," she says.

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Her videos often have thousands of views, and she dreams of doing her project full-time like Anthony Bourdain did. 

Filmmaker Tuleka Prah, the founder of My African Food Map, at work in Ngaparou, Senegal. (AP Photo/Amelia Nierenberg)

"The best outcome is when people say, 'That is our food, that is our dish. I was extremely happy when the first comments I got on YouTube were, 'Oh, this reminds me of home'," she says, remembering her work in Kenya. 

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To find authentic recipes and skilled chefs, Prah asks everyone she meets in a country about their favourite foods. 

She met Sarr this way, through friends of friends.

"I learned from my grandma. I used to follow her everywhere. Our grandmas, they think that taking time with the food gives it more flavour. So I take time, too" says Sarr, who wears her chef's uniform every time she cooks. 

She became a chef after money ran out to pursue her dream of being a doctor.

Sarr says she cooks by smell, sound and taste.

Filmmaker Tuleka Prah, right, films chef Touty Sarr, as she prepares a pot of thiebou dieune, a traditional Senegalese dish (AP Photo/Amelia Nierenberg)

After two hours of chopping and pounding, scraping and whipping, boiling and simmering, Sarr spread red-tinted rice across a platter almost two feet wide. She flattened it and carefully arranged the vegetables and fish in a circle for a communal meal, with some family members eating with spoons and others with their hands.

Prah snapped a picture, and then another, before putting her camera aside to try the dish.

"It's really good," she said, her mouth full, smiling at Sarr. "Really, really good."

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