Soul food: African American cuisine

Marcel Shamshoum discusses African American food and more!

Marcel Shamshoum
28th October 2019
photo: wikimedia commons
It all started in 1619, the first ever Africans brought to the Americas were slaves. The Dutch ship carrying 20 Africans arrives to the shores of Jamestown, Virginia. Despite the dire circumstances in which they arrived in America, with them they brought a whole host of culture, including authentic African music and food.

After years of slavery, discrimination and poverty, finally in 1863 African slaves were freed when Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary emancipation proclamation. Today, after many generations, proud African Americans live in the US with an amazing culture behind them that was built by their ancestors who fought and many died for freedom. It is  no wonder why Black Heritage Month should be a celebration; it honours and remembers a rich, historical and deep culture reflecting authenticity as well as intermixing of cultures.

In the 1960’s the phrase soul came about to describe black culture at that time, for example “soul music”, “soul brother” and obviously - to refer to the African American cuisine - "soul food." This type of cuisine originates mainly from Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama also known as the Deep South. During the slave era, African slaves were given miserable food supplies that were low in quality and nutritional value. Nevertheless, Africans stuck to their roots and maintained their traditions and food culture with the resources available. With time, African cuisine was merged and influenced by many other different cultures namely French, Spanish and American.  This explains the richness of this style of cooking as well as the heartiness. Many famous dishes like 'gumbo' for example uses French techniques.

“While all soul food is Southern food, not all Southern food is soul"

Many might say that southern food and soul food are the same. But Bob Jeffries, author of the 1969 Soul Food Cookbook wrote: “While all soul food is Southern food, not all Southern food is soul." He continues to explain that: "Soul food cooking is an example of how really good Southern [African American] cooks cooked with what they had available to them.” So, it’s all down to simplicity, seasonality and love.

One might ask, what does soul food consist of? Well, a typical soul meal would usually consist of an entrée; this could either be fried or smothered chicken, fish or pork. Then you’ve got your sides; these may include stewed greens, black-eyed peas, and candied yams. Cornbread is also a very popular accompaniment to your dish, to wipe up, or "sop," your gravy with. And finally the dessert; that could be a nice banana pudding or a beautiful warm cobbler.

Soul food is not simply American cuisine, like other cuisines soul food has a deep respected history that should be celebrated not only by Africans, but also by the world. Enslaved Africans have gone through bitter times where they experienced hatred, racism and poverty, and from this rose the beautiful African American soul food we now know of.

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