Meat is the ingredient of feasts all over Africa. Eating meat signifies celebration, abundance and family meals. Special cultures and communities’ manner of preparing meat says a lot about their ecology and lifestyles.
For example, the Hausa, who are dryland pastoralists, slice their meat finely before it is thoroughly sun-dried. In East Africa, nyama choma is the favorite Sunday feast of roasted meat with beer, fried chips and roasted bananas.
Eating meat is a sign of wealth, and something most people don’t do everyday. For many people, the meat they eat is slaughtered by the local butcher early in the morning and sold at the market, pieces apportioned off as the day progress. Supermarket meat, disassociated from its origins and wrapped in plastic, is the exception to the rule.
Many households raise their own animals, at least chickens and larger ones, if there is space. Feasting on meat, then, is done with an awareness that the animal has been sacrificed. Indeed, for meat to be halal and acceptable for Muslims to eat, it must be ceremonially sacrificed and thanks given to God.
Cows are very common as many African communities remain pastoralist. Factory farms around larger cities create more industrial conditions for animals, with hormones and antibiotics used liberally. If you search, you can find beef that has been grass fed and grass finished. You may also want to learn how to age your beef if you’re used to that particular flavor.
Chicken are the most common birds found in households and small farms. African fried, grilled and roast chicken is very popular throughout the continent. It is less common to see geese, ducks, turkeys and guinea fowl, but many households raise them commercially, especially in rural areas. To start tracking down a good supplier, ask around at the local poultry market. Many times, you can inspect and meet the birds you’ll bring home for dinner!
Camel meat is not sold commercially in very many places on the continent, but if you can find it cooked well, it is rich, gamey, buttery and delicious. Camels are not raised for meat, so they are often slaughtered at the end of a long life, hence their meat can be a bit tough and in need of long, slow and careful cooking.
Lamb and Mutton
Lamb and mutton are, for African Muslims, the feast food of choice. Every year at the Eid el Kebir, or big ‘Eid or feast, a household slaughters a sheep in memory of Abraham’s would-be sacrifice of his son Ishmael. This is a huge event that means, in Muslim cities, you can find sheep everywhere for a week or two, tethered to office fences and outside parking lots.
We prefer our mutton on the young side, closer to lamb. This can be harder to find, so it’s worthwhile to cultivate your own local supplier.