Nigeria’s bean cake or ‘Akara’ is food for Brazilian gods

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In Africa, there are several types of local food and one of them is the bean cake (Akara in Yoruba dialect).

Interestingly, the so-called Akara by the Yorubas, kosai in Hausa, acarajé in Brazil and kose in Ghana is not just a street food or traffic food, but also serves as a religious function or better put serves as food for the gods.

It is famous among the Yoruba people of south-western Nigeria and Sierra Leoneans. 

In Nigeria, it is eaten with bread, ogi or eko, a type of cornmeal made with fine corn flour. It is popular also in the traffic, usually called “go slow food” especially for those who spend most of their time in traffic. Often enjoyed with bread. In Ghana, it is used as a breakfast dish, eaten with millet or corn pudding. 

The dish, extracted from peeled beans turned into a ball and then fried in palm oil or vegetable oil, is found in West African and Brazilian cuisines. The dish was sold to the Americas, especially Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia by the West Africa enslaved exported from Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Mali.

Also, the basic ingredients are the same, but the style differs as there are variations to suit specific tastes.

Acarajé is created with cooked and mashed black eyed peas seasoned with salt and chopped onions molded into the shape of a large scone and fried in palm oil in a wok-like pan in the presence of its customers stuffed with spicy pastes made from shrimp, ground cashews, palm oil and other ingredients.

In the Yoruba tribe, akara plays a crucial role when a person dies after the age of 65 above. It is deep-fried in large quantities and distributed across every household close to the deceased and guest. Back in the days, the cake serves as a sign of victory when warriors returned victorious from war. Wives of the warriors fried large quantities and distributed them to fellow villagers as gratitude for the safe return of their husbands.

In Sierra Leone, bean cake aside being a street snack, is usually prepared after the birth of a child, a wedding, funeral or party.

Although, acarajé is also sold on Brazil’s streets but here it is variously produced with dried shrimp, pigweed, mutton, fufu osun sauce, fried beef, dried shrimp and coconut. The seller’s dress in all-white cotton with headscarves and caps. The bean cake is reported to have made its way to Bahia in the 19th century.

Proceeds from its sale were used sometimes to buy the freedom of enslaved family members until the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888 while serving as a means of family income. It also has a notable presence in Sergipe and the markets of Rio de Janeiro.

Acarajé serves as both a religious offering to the gods in the Candomblé religion and as street food. They vary in size depending on their type of offering to a specific deity: large, round acarajé are offered to Xangô; smaller ones in form are offered to Iansã. Small, fritter-size acarajé are offered to Erês, or child spirits. Acarajé is used in Candomblé rituals in the states of Pernambuco, Sergipe, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Alagoas and Maranhão.

In 2004, Acarajé was enlisted as a federal immaterial asset (patrimônio nacional imaterial), by the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage; the function of baianas in the preparation and sale of acarajé was recognized in the same act.

Africh Royale

Africh Royale

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