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A look at African cuisine: from single dishes to Desmond Tutu sausages

Taste / -

Uno sguardo sulla cucina africana: dal piatto unico alla salamella di Desmond Tutu
© Jim Sugar_Corbis

A vast continent which runs through the two tropics and the equator, with its deserts, savannas, forests, lakes and oceans: it is virtually impossible to describe a single, culinary and gastronomic tradition of Africa. A look at its cuisine and gastronomy, its ingredients and curiosities.

Every region of the immense African continent is a reserve of traditions and knowledge that are influenced by different cultures: the Sahel zone with its Arab culture, and central-western areas with its Indian and southern European influences brought in through colonization. The food of African cuisine is mainly based on carbohydrates and proteins, and dishes with copious amounts of vegetables and fresh fish or meat cooked with spices and herbs that give aroma and decisive flavors. The main meal is lunch, which is consumed in the interval between 12.00 and 16.00. The menus for this meal comprise mostly meat (especially chicken, lamb or beef) or fish stew accompanied by rice, ingera - a thin pastry made with a soft and tender grain called tef, fufu - a kind of porridge made from cassava flour, corn and millet. Authenticity, conviviality, ritual: a journey through three African dishes.
 
The muamba de galinha
The muamba de galinha with funge is a typical dish of Angola and one of the most popular dishes in the country. Its background includes chicken or hen meat, palm oil, okra, chilli, onion, pumpkin and garlic. The chicken is cut into pieces and seasoned with salt, garlic and chili peppers, then cooked with onion. The dish is then served with funge, a kind of porridge made with cassava flour.
 
Zighinì
Zighinì can be found at the table in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia and is a spicy stew of chicken, beef or lamb cut into pieces and cooked with onion, tomato, vegetables and a mixture of berberè spices (hot peppers, ginger, cloves cloves, allspice and coriander) served on a bed of injera. To be eaten by hand with a piece of injera which collects the meat and vegetables and scooped into the mouth.
 
Braai
In South Africa ther is a traditional barbecue, called braai, whose name comes from the Afrikaans word "braaivleis" which means grilled meat. It is so ingrained in the culture that over time it has been identified with National Day: on September 24, when South Africa celebrates Heritage Day, the day of the culture and diversity of the beliefs and traditions of South Africa and one of the traditiona is to organize informal barbecues in the backyard. In 2007, a media campaign sought to rename the national day "National Day of the braai." That same year, the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1984, celebrated his appointment as a supporter of the South African Braai day by saying that this cultural and culinary event is a unifying force in a divided country. Wearing an apron he was grilling a boerewors, a sausage spiral, typical of South African cuisine.
 
Expo 2015 will also be an opportunity to take a journey through the flavors of the world: in the Pavilions of the Countries, tasting the dishes of every nation, discovering new ingredients and learning about the preparation that goes into certain recipes, even the most unusual ones.

The food truck revolution at Expo Milano 2015: 10 street foods you have to try

Taste / -

lista 10 street food img rif

Street food is the heart of every culinary culture. The most famous street foods in Italy are pizza, cuoppo from Naples and arancine from Sicily, but at Expo Milano 2015 you can also find Laotian rice on a stick and takeaway ramen.

Street food is increasingly fashionable. This “come back” that it's made is certainly a welcome one, considering that, at the end of the day, street food is the heart of the most genuine and truly traditional Italian cooking: we all remember Sofia Loren in the film directed by Vittorio De Sica, “The Gold of Naples” as she makes pizzas for the locals. Although pizzas are Italy’s most famous street food, nowadays we cannot ignore the food truck revolution, which has come over straight from the States: in these “kitchens on wheels” tasty dishes using high quality raw ingredients are prepared and sold directly to the public, so that a direct and honest rapport can be built up with the customer.
 
In Italy you can find some of the most traditional foods, like those of Farinel on the Road, which serves miasse, basically cornmeal wraps like a polenta flatbread, filled with specialty salami and cheeses from the Valle d’Aosta and Piedmont regions, or those of Ape Scottadito, selling arrosticini (grilled mutton cubes on a skewer) and fried stuffed olive all’ascolana to tourists in San Benedetto del Tronto in the province of Ascoli Piceno. But there is more, because street food brings creativity to the fore: Cucinando su Ruote (Cooking on Wheels) from Turin offers vegan hemp dishes on wheels, and Matilda sells Medieval recipes from the 13th Century. Below is a guided tour of the street food you can enjoy tasting at Expo Milano 2015.
 
Double-fried fries
A cone of steaming hot fries: street food for foodies and one of Belgium’s most famous dishes. These fries are different from all others and their secret is that they are cooked twice. The potatoes are cut into large pieces, fried, cooled and then fried again: this makes them very crunchy outside and soft and fleshy inside. Indeed, when you try them, you are struck by the sweetness and consistent texture of the inside, which explodes after you have bitten into the crunchy, toasted outside. Making fries is an art in Belgium and this is confirmed in the Pavilion of Belgium: not only the taste, but the color too is a joy to behold, as they are a perfect golden color. There are three sauces on offer: traditional mayonnaise, with its soft, rounded taste; ketchup, which is sweet and less acid than usual and, for those who like more original tastes, Andalusian sauce, which has a mayonnaise base, enriched with chili pepper and spices for a more aromatic taste and a finale with a kick.
 
Where: Pavilion of Belgium
How much: 4 euro

Mixed Neapolitan Cuoppo
The cuoppo is one of the pillars of traditions in Naples. It is a piece of greaseproof paper, also called “straw paper”, which is rolled into a cornet and becomes the perfect “container” for little fried treats to snack on while strolling around Naples. But not only there, because this tasty street food is also an important player at Expo Milano 2015 thanks to the cuoppo misto from Frie n' Fuie – which  means “Fry and Run”. It contains a variety of fried tidbits, according to the cook’s inspiration, but always includes zeppole fritte, or fried leavened dough balls, rice arancini, which sometimes have saffron added, and rissoles, which range from the classic meatballs to those with broccoli rabe, tomatoes or olives. The cuoppo was already cited in literature in 1884, as Matilde Serao mentioned it in “Il Ventre di Napoli” (the Belly of Naples): in those days it contained mostly fried whitebait and a few panzerotti (fried pizza pockets).
 
Where: Frie n' fuie, near the Pavilion of Brazil and in the street food area near Cascina Triulza
How much: 5 euro
 
Rice on a skewer
The gastronomy of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos is typically Asian, with lots of fresh vegetables and spicy flavors. The main staple is rice, which is boiled and served with vegetables, fish, chicken, pork or beef. A fun street food, which children will certainly love, is the rice on a skewer which is on offer at the Pavilion of Laos at Expo Milano 2015. It is made of rice, simply steamed and without any added flavors, squashed into a medallion shape and put on a skewer, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and then fried. An unusual way of eating rice and a simple, tasty and nourishing takeaway dish. Those who prefer stronger tastes can try the Luang-Prabang sausages, made of soured pork and spices including a substantial dose of black pepper.  
 
Where: Pavilion of Laos - Rice Cluster
How much: 3 euro

Bitterballen
You don’t have to sit down at table in order to enjoy a great helping of meatballs. At the Pavilion of the Netherlands, in the large space where all kinds of food trucks are parked, surrounded by music and tables in the open, Dutch Fries and Meatballs stands out over the others. Its specialty is takeaway meatballs, which you can buy in the three-piece format, but we advise the large size to be fully satisfied. They are extremely crunchy outside and soft inside, and curry flavored. If you add a cone of fries – fresh, organic, hand chopped and fried while you wait, they make a complete and substantial meal.
 
Where: Pavilion of the Netherlands
How much: 7.50 euro
 
Basmati rice arancine 
Basmati rice is a long-grained rice originally from India, which has a distinctive fragrance and flavor. The arancina, on the other hand, is typical Sicilian street food comprising a round or cone-shaped ball of rice which is stuffed and fried in boiling oil. When fried, it takes on a golden color reminiscent of an orange (the fruit in Italian is called arancia). At Expo Milano 2015 the friendship between Italy and the countries producing basmati rice is sealed by the Risotto Basmati stand, where you can try a basmati rice arancina: the filling can be the classical meat sauce with peas, or with mushrooms or with raw ham and mozzarella.
 
Where: Rice Cluster 
How much: 5 euro
 
Popi, polenta on the road
Polenta is a dish which goes back many centuries in northern Italy, made from cornmeal cooked slowly in boiling water until it becomes a smooth, creamy porridge. Polenta is usually turned out onto a large wooden chopping board and left to set for a few minutes. It is served cut in slices, perhaps with a rich stew, or with mushrooms or cheese. But if you have a sudden craving for polenta while visiting Expo Milano 2015, the answer is called Popi. Here “polenta on the road” is a reality and you can choose between the classic polenta fingers, or those flavored with rosemary or chili pepper. If you are looking for a more substantial meal, you can accompany your polenta fingers with meat or chicken kebabs, chicken wings or a shank of pork.
 
Take away ramen
When you think of Japanese food, you immediately think of sushi and sashimi, but their hot dishes can also be delicious. Ramen is a traditional soup made of wheat noodles in a meat or fish soup with soy sauce added to it. The richest version contains slices of pork, creamy egg yolk, greens and spring onion, which gives it a fresh, crunchy taste. Other street foods include tasty chicken wings, a Japanese fried specialty to use up rather than throw out the less valuable part of the chicken, and the famous gyoza, Japanese ravioli stuffed with pork which acquire a marked, toasty flavor when they are grilled. And if we’re going for Japan, let’s go all the way, with drinks too: to accompany your takeaway dishes you can choose between the classic green tea, a lychee-flavored drink or cold sake.
 
Where: Zen Express
How much: 12 euro
 
Los granos de mi tierra
You can eat healthily in “street food mode” and Los granos de mi tierra is proof of it. It is a small van offering tasty ancient grains which have high nutritional value. These include quinoa, the “wheat of the Incas”, which is gluten-free and rich in protein and essential amino acids; amaranth, a plant originating in Central America and the seeds of which are full of vitamins and fiber, and which is also gluten-free; wholegrain wild rice, bulgur (cracked wheat) made from sprouted durum wheat which is prepared in a particular way. These foods go perfectly with vegetables or new versions of sauces, such as light pesto or a lighter version of fish sauce. Plenty of these sauce and grain combinations are suitable for people with coeliac disease or for those who choose vegetarian or vegan diets. There are also creamy vegetable soups, mixed salads, fruit salads and fresh fruit smoothies.
 
Where: near the Pavilion of China and the Pavilion of Qatar
How much: 8 euro
 
The “starred” Panini of The Rolling star
No longer the preserve of traditional or exotic food offerings, street food is becoming more and more gourmet. At Expo Milano 2015 you can enjoy the buzz of tasting award-winning food even by visiting a food truck: the place to go to is The Rolling Star, an old Citroen H van, made over with a brand new kitchen, “driven” by the chef Felice Lo Basso, from the one Michelin-starred restaurant Unico in Milan. Here there is a choice between three haute cuisine takeaway offerings: a meat panino with pulled pork cooked for 14 hours, with a horseradish and apple sauce; a prawn panino, filled with a shrimp tartare in cocktail sauce; and the vegetarian panino with a veggie burger topped with peppers and burrata cheese.  
 
Where: near the Pavilion of China
How much: 8 euro
 
Nasi goreng
Nasi goreng is a typical street food that you find everywhere in Indonesia: its name means “fried rice” and it is a takeaway dish made of steamed or boiled rice which is then sautéed in a wok, with chicken or beef, vegetables, shrimps and little strips of plain omelet. It is a tasty and nourishing dish which everyone can enjoy, as it is not too spicy.  It can be accompanied with ayam kalio, chicken seasoned with lemongrass and spices, cooked in coconut milk, tahu balado, or fried tofu, and mie goreng, wheat noodles sautéed with meat and mixed vegetables.
 
Where: Pavilion of Indonesia
How much: 10 euros including a free drink
 

Senegal and Piedmont: Cooperating Rice-Wise

Sustainability / -

ICEI Senegal

The valley of the river Senegal, lined with verdant fields and rice-paddies, is key to the country’s food security. The Turin-based NGO called CISV has just launched a project to combat not only poverty in the villages in that area, but also “land grabbing”, which is threatening the local population’s future.

Without looking at the geography, etymology tells us that Senegal lives in symbiosis with water: Sunu-gal, in the wolof language, means “our pirogues”. The boats of the Senegalese have plied not just the seas, but also the lakes, as well as seemingly-interminable rivers that provide trails of color on the increasingly bare landscape of the water-starved Sahel.
 
In the valleys carved out by the rivers, the blue of the waters merges into the green of the lush vegetation, in particular along the course of the stream that gives the country its name, the Senegal. While rising less than 300 kilometers from the coast, this river capriciously curves and bends for over 1500 kilometers and, before reaching the Atlantic Ocean, drifts through lakes, ponds, and wetlands that, during the dry season, restore the water they had soaked up when the rains came.

Land grabbing as a threat to agriculture
Thanks to damming and canal construction in recent decades, the valley of the river Senegal is the most fertile in the land, providing food for about two-thirds of the population, including rice, vegetables, as well as fruit, while livestock is raised in the fields nourished by the river.

In the near future, though, things could change drastically. Along with emigration, which starves the farms of labor, a chronic lack of capital prevents farmers from being able to upgrade their equipment and adopt more efficient techniques, and the amount of land available is constantly shrinking. The latter has been provoked by the phenomenon known as “land grabbing”, effected by European corporations, many of them Italian, to whom the Senegalese government has, to date, granted access to about 20% of the country’s arable land.

The land does not belong to the farmers
These corporations tend to plant crops that are then used to produce bio-fuels, which are later exported to the Old Continent. In Senegal, the land does not belong to the famers but to the state, which has traditionally delegated the task of its safeguarding to the local communities. This, until the temptation of monetizing it became too strong. Protests from the farmers and their families have failed: they are too weak, too disorganized and too unproductive to combat the might of the multinationals.

Italy to the aid of the rural communities
Italy, or the Piedmont, to be precise, has not just been a source of land-grabbers, in the valley of the Senegal river.
 
For the last several years, members of the Turin-based NGO called CISV have been here too. In January, they launched a new initiative to provide support to the rural farmers in the area of Ross-Béthio, in association with Asescaw, the local farmers’ association.
 
Over the next three years, they will be working to bring these farmers up to date with the latest horticultural and rice-growing techniques, while also upgrading their equipment; professional training courses will also be arranged in the villages. Their task will also include arranging access to credit, and establishing contacts with the distribution network.
 
They plan to transfer to Senegal the skills and competencies developed over many years in the rice-fields in Piedmont so as to help the farmers boost their productivity, and the quality of the produce, while explaining the advantages of organic farming. They will be speaking to the families, the small and tiny businesses, often run by women, as well as the village communities, which are the real driving-force behind farming and the rural economies in Senegal.

The objective: protecting the valley that feeds Senegal
Boosting productivity in the rice-fields and in the traditional farms, and bolstering the identity of the local farmers means ensuring an improved standard of living for many thousands of people that are currently struggling, while saving a socially-inclusive productive fabric. It also means contributing, in a tangible fashion, to providing food security and food sovereignty to the whole country, especially as this valley is the main provider of food for the while of Senegal. Moreover, creating an economically viable alternative to a wholesale land sell-off could serve as an example, and have a positive outcome in neighboring countries.
 

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