Culture - Gastronomy

One key point of the food eaten in Cape Verde at the start of its history is that for a long time there were two different diets, not just due to the obvious difference in origin of the settlers (European/African), but through the deep-seated conviction at the time that Europeans could not resist the African diet, and that Africans would not get on well with the Mediterranean diet.

While Europeans continued to rely on the trio of bread/wine/oil, which arrived regularly from Portugal and Spain, the Africans lived off maize and rice, brought together with the slaves in the monthly delivery of food from the banks of the rivers on the continent.

Of course their diets were not limited to these foods, and they were supplemented with abundant production of cattle (cows and goats), legumes and fruits, produced in great abundance on the fertile banks of Ribeira Grande, as well as nuts, cheese and honey that came together with wheat, wine and oil from Portugal.

In the same way as for the language of communication, the black population had to adapt more to the changes, although food was abundant and quite varied during the first centuries of the formation of the Cape Verdean people. This was not because they lacked food, but because the cultural thread of their culture was changed. Indeed in the societies they originally came from, the West African population ate frequently (6 times a day) and in small quantities each time, and ate a wide range of foods depending on the circumstances, from family or community events to stages in life, such as deaths, births, local festivals, the start of puberty or incidence of menstruation, etc. There was a ritual element to food that was either lost or adapted to different customs originating from Portugal, which quickly moulded the range of foods for the entire population of Cape Verde.

The demand for a higher return from slave labour also meant that the number of meals per day was reduced to 3 or even two. There was no concern to fulfil the ritual element to the food customs of the Africans, which would have required bringing a range of seasonings from the rivers of Guinea, which would only be found again partially in Cape Verde when new crops were cultivated.

However it is important to note that despite this significant change to the rhythm and food regime, this always seems to have been abundant during the initial period of settlement of the Cape Verdean people in Ribeira Grande. During this phase, the biblical description of Palestine could have been applied - “a land flowing with milk and honey”.

It is well known that this abundance would not last over the centuries. It came to an end, of course, when the population started to spread across the islands of Santiago, Fogo and Maio, and the fujões (runaway slaves) were in a situation where they had to attack the organised populations in towns or the city of Ribeira Grande in order to survive.

Later, when pirates attacked the city, it went through an era of shortages, unable to defend itself and its assets.

They survived the great famines, at a rate of one or two per century, which decimated the population and made that initial period of abundance an ever more distant memory, until the middle of the 20th Century, when services for public assistance were organised, and then on independence, when an economic and social organisation was established, that considering the citizens of all the islands.

Despite these factors, over the centuries the gastronomy of the Cape Verdeans was enriched, as they benefited from a varied and increasing range of gains brought from the Orient and Brazil with the numerous ships that came to the port of Ribeira Grande. The diet of Cape Verde became progressively richer and more sophisticated, particularly with the inclusion of various spices, the influence of varied Chinese and Indian food. These influences created marinated dishes, mixing herbs with legumes, meat, crustaceans, fish and other seasonings, on a table that is now rich, quite varied and always tasty. Meals are finished off with desserts, fruit, liqueurs and tea or coffee.

There is a vast number of dishes, which are almost always delicious, coming from the Creole culinary tradition that has developed over 500 years. This presentation of Cape Verdean gastronomy can only give a summarised description of some of them, but the reader will find it is worth the effort to look for the numerous recipes published in many cookbooks.

This tradition of home cooking has gradually tended to be restored, particularly in hotels, as Cape Verde receives an increasing number of visitors, both for tourism and for business and an increasing diversity of events. An increasing awareness among Cape Verdeans of their own cultural values has also contributed to this trend, as the richness of their gastronomy is a part of this. As can be seen below, there is no lack of high quality dishes and culinary refinement for restaurants, which are increasing in number in Cape Verde.

One key point of the food eaten in Cape Verde at the start of its history is that for a long time there were two different diets, not just due to the obvious difference in origin of the settlers (European/African), but through the deep-seated conviction at the time that Europeans could not resist the African diet, and that Africans would not get on well with the Mediterranean diet.

While Europeans continued to rely on the trio of bread/wine/oil, which arrived regularly from Portugal and Spain, the Africans lived off maize and rice, brought together with the slaves in the monthly delivery of food from the banks of the rivers on the continent.

Of course their diets were not limited to these foods, and they were supplemented with abundant production of cattle (cows and goats), legumes and fruits, produced in great abundance on the fertile banks of Ribeira Grande, as well as nuts, cheese and honey that came together with wheat, wine and oil from Portugal.

In the same way as for the language of communication, the black population had to adapt more to the changes, although food was abundant and quite varied during the first centuries of the formation of the Cape Verdean people. This was not because they lacked food, but because the cultural thread of their culture was changed. Indeed in the societies they originally came from, the West African population ate frequently (6 times a day) and in small quantities each time, and ate a wide range of foods depending on the circumstances, from family or community events to stages in life, such as deaths, births, local festivals, the start of puberty or incidence of menstruation, etc. There was a ritual element to food that was either lost or adapted to different customs originating from Portugal, which quickly moulded the range of foods for the entire population of Cape Verde.

The demand for a higher return from slave labour also meant that the number of meals per day was reduced to 3 or even two. There was no concern to fulfil the ritual element to the food customs of the Africans, which would have required bringing a range of seasonings from the rivers of Guinea, which would only be found again partially in Cape Verde when new crops were cultivated.

However it is important to note that despite this significant change to the rhythm and food regime, this always seems to have been abundant during the initial period of settlement of the Cape Verdean people in Ribeira Grande. During this phase, the biblical description of Palestine could have been applied - “a land flowing with milk and honey”.

It is well known that this abundance would not last over the centuries. It came to an end, of course, when the population started to spread across the islands of Santiago, Fogo and Maio, and the fujões (runaway slaves) were in a situation where they had to attack the organised populations in towns or the city of Ribeira Grande in order to survive.

Later, when pirates attacked the city, it went through an era of shortages, unable to defend itself and its assets.

They survived the great famines, at a rate of one or two per century, which decimated the population and made that initial period of abundance an ever more distant memory, until the middle of the 20th Century, when services for public assistance were organised, and then on independence, when an economic and social organisation was established, that considering the citizens of all the islands.

Despite these factors, over the centuries the gastronomy of the Cape Verdeans was enriched, as they benefited from a varied and increasing range of gains brought from the Orient and Brazil with the numerous ships that came to the port of Ribeira Grande. The diet of Cape Verde became progressively richer and more sophisticated, particularly with the inclusion of various spices, the influence of varied Chinese and Indian food. These influences created marinated dishes, mixing herbs with legumes, meat, crustaceans, fish and other seasonings, on a table that is now rich, quite varied and always tasty. Meals are finished off with desserts, fruit, liqueurs and tea or coffee.

There is a vast number of dishes, which are almost always delicious, coming from the Creole culinary tradition that has developed over 500 years. This presentation of Cape Verdean gastronomy can only give a summarised description of some of them, but the reader will find it is worth the effort to look for the numerous recipes published in many cookbooks.

This tradition of home cooking has gradually tended to be restored, particularly in hotels, as Cape Verde receives an increasing number of visitors, both for tourism and for business and an increasing diversity of events. An increasing awareness among Cape Verdeans of their own cultural values has also contributed to this trend, as the richness of their gastronomy is a part of this. As can be seen below, there is no lack of high quality dishes and culinary refinement for restaurants, which are increasing in number in Cape Verde.

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