An Austrian proverb reads, “Love nourishes the soul like food nourishes the body.” However, when it comes to food in Africa, food nourishes the soul, the mind, and the body. The food of Niger varies greatly across its vast regions, particularly when comparing the food of the north, which is influenced by the food of North Africa, and the south, which is influenced more so by the West. However, the majority of people are concentrated in the southwest of the country. The country is largely covered by the Sahara desert, and although some might think that this limits the variety of food here, the mix of flavours in the cuisine of Niger is incredibly diverse and delicious.
Traditionally, food from Niger is wholesome, warming, and comforting. Many spices still used in this cuisine were originally Arabian, brought by Arabs to Niger, whose people merged it with their local food bases to make unique and flavourful dishes. Some of these spices include ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, saffron, and cloves. As with many countries towards the West of Africa, people from Niger are unafraid to use hot spices in their food, which makes it different from other parts of Africa. As with most sub-Saharan countries, all stews are typically eaten with a form of starch, usually millet or rice, but also couscous, which is eaten on special occasions. To follow an even healthier, more balanced diet, colourful salads made with seasonal vegetables and moringa leaves are eaten before the meal.
Other staple foods include cassava, sorghum, maize, and beans. Popular snacks eaten in Niger consist of wheat dumplings, porridge, and beignets.
Niger’s national dish, Djerma stew, is one of these such foods that nurtures the soul of whoever is lucky enough to try it. It is a traditional and uncomplicated stew, but with its rich history with recipes being passed down from ancestor to ancestor, it has also evolved into its modern-day presentation. Although it can be eaten without meat, making it an easily-adaptable meal and thus a suitable option for both vegans and vegetarians, the traditional choice of meat for Djerma stew is chicken. The rest of the stew is a blend of flavours from the onions and garlic, which are first sautéed in oil, and then of the tomatoes, thyme, curry powder, paprika, and bouillon cubes. After allowing the stew to boil, vegetables and herbs are added, typically carrots, chives, bay leaves, and parsley, before peanut butter is added to enrich and thicken. Once prepared, the meal is usually served for lunch with rice.
The cuisine and diet of Niger is not only the best combination of mouth-watering and healthily balanced, but it is also unconsciously sustainable for the environment. In using locally sourced, seasonal herbs, vegetables, starches, and meats, the diet of Niger leaves a small carbon footprint, unlike many of the foods consumed in the West, which are exported from countries all over the world. Despite this, the food produce of Niger relies heavily upon rainfall, and as a result of climate change, the droughts that have impacted the country in the past have adversely affected and threatened the food supply. Thus, it is important that these culturally significant and, above all, delicious cuisines are preserved, and that we make an effort to battle global warming.