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boiled, mashed carbohydrate

Fufu, et cetera

Boiling cereal grains (or similar foodstuffs) to make porridges or dumplings is a very old cooking technique, even older than baking bread. Wild grains were probably made into porridges in Neolithic times, before the advent of agriculture.  mortar and pestle in senegalPorridges have been consumed all over the world since ancient times. From the historical record we know of the Roman puls, and the Greek maza and sitos. From nursery rhymes we learn of pease porridge and Goldilocks eating the bears' porridge. With us still are oatmeal of Scotland, polenta of Italy, tsampa of Tibet, and grits of the southeastern United States.

The African porridge is Fufu, and similar foods, which are the starchy foundations of meals all over Sub-Saharan Africa. The most traditional and typical meal in sub-Saharan Africa is a soup or stew or sauce served with fufu (or one of its variants). Whatever they are called, these foundations of the African meal are usually prepared in a process that involves pounding, boiling, and stirring a starchy staple until it is a very thick, sticky mass -- much thicker than mashed potatoes (which are their nearest counterpart in the typical European-American meal). The main ingredient of these fufu-foods is usually a grain, such as millet or corn (maize), or a tuber vegetable such as manioc (cassava) or yams. Plantains (which, though starchy, are a fruit) are sometimes used. Sometimes the main ingredient is fermented or made into a flour before cooking. These foods are variously referred to as dumpling, mush, pap, or porridge, but none of these names is a perfect fit, hence the West African word fufu is the most often used outside of Africa.

Banku & Kenkey
Baton de Manioc & Chikwangue


The porridges made from grains can be thinned with water, milk, or curdled milk to make a porridge that is eaten at breakfast, given to infants as a weaning food, or served to elderly and ill people; additional water or milk can be added to make beverages. Honey or sugar can also be added. Sometimes the mixture is fermented. These porridges and drinks, known by different names in various parts of Africa, are called akuma, burukutu, mahewu, ogi, pap, pito, and uji. A similar mixture of Couscous, milk, and sugar called Caakiri is a snack or dessert in Western Africa.

Mary Henrietta Kingsley

Fou-fou, Kank, M'vada, Agooma

Mary Kingsley wrote Travels in West Africa (Everyman, J. M. Dent, London; Charles E. Tuttle, Vermont, 1993) in 1897, after traveling along the Atlantic coast region of Central Africa. She had her share of baton de manioc, the fufu-like food of the area, and she makes the point that it is similar to other foods.

The sweet or non-poisonous manioc I have rarely seen cultivated, because it gives a much smaller yield, and is much longer coming to perfection. The poisonous kind is that in general use; its great dahlia-like roots are soaked in water to remove the poisonous principle, and then dried and grated up, or more commonly beaten up into a kind of dough in a wooden trough that looks like a model canoe, with wooden clubs, which I have seen the curiosity hunter happily taking home as war clubs to alarm his family with.

The thump, thump, thump of this manioc beating is one of the most familiar sounds in a bush village. The meal, when beaten up, is used for thickening broths, and rolled up into bolsters about a foot long and two inches in diameter, and then wrapped in plantain leaves, and tied round with tie-tie and boiled, or more properly speaking steamed, for a lot of the rolls are arranged in a brass skillet. A small quantity of water is poured over the rolls of plantain, a plantain leaf is tucked over the top tightly, so as to prevent the steam from escaping, and the whole affair is poised on the three cooking-stones over a wood fire, and left there until the contents are done, or more properly speaking, until the lady in charge of it has delusions on the point, and the bottom rolls are a trifle burnt or the whole insufficiently cooked.

This manioc meal is the staple food, the bread equivalent, all along the coast. As you pass along you are perpetually meeting with a new named food, fou-fou on the Leeward, kank on the Windward, m'vada in Corisco, agooma in the Ogowé; but acquaintance with it demonstrates that it is all the same--manioc . . .
[The Ogowé or Ogooué is the largest river in Gabon, and the largest river between the Niger and the Congo on the Atlantic coast of Africa.]

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