Black-eyed peas: A taste of Africa in the Americas.


It is a delicious dish popular in southern parts of the US, one with an inviting aroma and an interesting name. Hoppin' John-made with black-eyed peas and rice, chopped onion, sliced bacon and salt-is a dish like no other.

Inspired by West African cuisine, Hoppin' John, jambalaya, and feijoada are some of the dishes made from beans, meat and vegetables mixed with rice that are common among people of African descent in the Americas and around the world.

From West Africa's shores to South America and the Caribbean-black-eyed peas (also known as cowpeas) have become a potent symbol of the cultural ties that still bind Africa and its diaspora. Cakes made of peeled and mashed peas deep-fried in palm oil are sold on the streets under many similar names on different continents. In Brazil they are called acaraje, in Nigeria akara.

While black-eyed peas are also part of the diet of people living in places such as India and Myanmar, they're mostly consumed in West African countries, particularly Benin, Guinea Nigeria and Senegal, as well as in the Caribbean, Brazil and the southern United States, which has long had a large African-American population. The peas are said to have been taken to the Caribbean and the Americas on slave ships.

Kangni Alem, a Togolese novelist and playwright, told Africa Renewal that he couldn't believe it when he chanced upon women in Brazil selling acaraje on the street. He was visiting Bahia's capital, Salvador, widely known as the 'West African capital of South America,' while on a cultural escapade.

'For once, I thought I was in Lome,' Mr. Alem said, not so much because of the makeup of the population but because 'they were frying the bean cakes right there,' he marveled. He was so impressed that he later wrote about the encounter in his novel Les enfants du Bresil (The Children of Brazil).

'Poor man's meat'

Black-eyed peas are part of the daily diet of millions of people in Africa. They are either boiled and eaten with rice or fried in tomatoes and onions and eaten with a combination of rice and fried plantains. They can also be ground into flour for porridge.

Called niebe in parts of the Sahel, the

black-eyed peas are dubbed 'miracle peas,' or 'poor man's meat' in most of sub-Saharan Africa because of their high nutritive value and their ability to grow in harsh conditions.

According to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the black-eyed pea...

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