Gabon, a small country nestled against the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of West Africa, is known for its rich nature with 90% of the country being covered in forests and 500 miles (800 km) of uninterrupted coastline. Gabon borders the countries of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo, and consequently shares with them a range of staple ingredients, dishes and cooking methods.
Close to the equator, its lush rainforests and scattered savanna thrive and offer an abundance of delicious ingredients from which the Gabonese people have crafted their traditional dishes.
Gabon is home to over fifty distinct ethnic groups, most notably the Fang people, as well as a history of French influence and fusion from the country’s occupation by France for over half a century. This diverse group of people and ample cultural fusion has led to an equally diverse mix of popular dishes.
Here are the absolute must-try traditional dishes of Gabon along with recipes to try for yourself.
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Most Popular Gabonese Dishes
With access to sea and forest alike, Gabonese cuisine has a wide ensemble of ingredients to choose from. From the Atlantic Ocean comes fish, often smoked or grilled and put into stews or served with rice. From the land comes other meats, such as the more common chicken and beef as well as less common bushmeat including antelope and warthog.
Plantains, cassava, eggplant, peppers, and cabbage are also common ingredients, as well as many spices seen in other West African foods. Nyembwe oil, known as palm oil in English, is a staple in most dishes.
The nation’s blending with French cuisine is noticeable in the use of bread in many dishes, sometimes even being topped with the ever-popular Atanga, also known as bush butter for its avocado-like texture and tangy taste.
Centuries of exchange between ethnic groups and Europeans have created a unique cuisine that is hard to define by only one kind of cooking method or form.
Poulet Nyembew, also known as Gabonese Chicken Stew, is a stew consisting of smoked chicken seasoned in onion and spices, which is cooked over low heat in nyembwe sauce until it is tender and the consistency of a stew. It is typically served with a bed of rice, fufu, or pounded yam or cassava.
This dish is considered Gabon’s national dish and is well regarded for its simplicity and easy preparation which leads to a robust and savory taste. Though the chicken is well seasoned with garlic, onion, and a few other spices, the main star of this dish is the nyembwe sauce. It soaks into the chicken, combining with the low heat to make it irresistibly tender and juicy.
Dongo-Dongo, also called Okra Gumbo, is a soup dish most often made with okra and smoked fish, which is combined with peppers, onions, and tomato paste to create a thick sauce-like consistency. It is perfect for serving alongside starches such as rice or fufu, which help to tame the spice and salt prevalent in this dish.
It is thought that Dongo-Dongo might be a distant cousin of the Cajun-Creole Gumbo of Louisiana seeing as it has similar flavors and cooking methods.
While Dongo-Dongo is enjoyed in other countries around Gabon, Gabonese Dongo-Dongo often includes smoked fish as an ingredient alongside the okra.
Poisson Salé (Salted Cod Stew)
Poisson Salé, or Salted Cod Stew, is a stew consisting of a plethora of Gabonese vegetables such as onion, tomato, carrot, and cabbage, which are fried and combined with prepared salted cod and broth to make a flavorful stew. Other vegetables and seafood such as shrimp are often added to increase the heartiness and flavor of this stew.
The salted cod that is the main part of this dish can be tricky to work with. However, it is a staple in Gabonese cuisine, as salted fish is a convenient and economic way to increase the shelf-life of daily catches.
This dish has a salty flavor and is very aromatic.
Feuilles de Manioc
Feuilles de Manioc, or Cassava Leaves, is a dish made from grinding cassava leaves and then cooking them in their juices to make them edible, before combining them with smoked fish and your choice of other ingredients.
It is often served as a side to other dishes or eaten as a filling and nutritious snack.
Originally regarded as survival food, Feuilles de Manioc has become a well-loved staple of Gabonese cuisine, particularly popular with the many ethnic groups of the country. Different ethnic groups have their own takes on the recipe, such as the Fang tradition of using nyembwè sauce.
You will not be hard-pressed to find a brochette in any Gabonese city or town, as this dish, consisting of marinated chicken that is stuck onto a skewer and grilled over an open flame, is common street food. The use of thick and juicy dark meat leaves the chicken crisp on the outside but warm and smoky inside.
This dish showcases Gabonese and French fusion, as brochettes come from France but Gabonese takes often include different spices or the addition of salted fish.
Brochettes are usually eaten as a quick snack to enjoy while walking around town.
Kughudu (Banana Flower)
A shining example of the far-sweeping range of resources that Gabonese cuisine enjoys, Kughudu is a simple dish made by cooking and mixing the banana flower grounds nuts before adding other ingredients such as meat, shrimp, vegetables, or banana. It is often incorporated into curry dishes and served alongside rice.
Kughudu is a naturally bitter flower, so it is important that it is incorporated well with the other ingredients to avoid a sharp and astringent taste.
Poisson Fumé au Concombre
Poisson Fumé au Concombre, or “Smoked Fish with Cucumber,” is another dish with smoked fish as the star ingredient, where it is simmered and reduced in a thick cucumber sauce. Cucumber seeds are added, as well as chili peppers if you want a little kick to it.
This dish is often served with fufu or rice and is eaten as a main course.
Coming from the popular French dessert, Gabonese beignets are fluffy pastries made of fried dough dusted with powdered sugar or drizzled with honey as well. They are well-loved around the world and Gabon is no exception.
Despite the recipe’s big move from France to Gabon, it has not changed much from its original form. This sweet dessert is easy to find in Gabonese cities where French cuisine is more available.
Serving as the perfect sweet treat after a salty meal, baked bananas are sliced bananas that are dipped into a mixture of egg, orange juice, and bread crumbs before being baked.
The crunch of bread crumbs mixes with the soft melty banana, while the tang of the orange juice adds a slight acidity to the banana’s sweetness.
Baked bananas are popular in the urban and rural areas of Gabon alike and are enjoyed by most ethnic groups. Different groups might have other toppings they add, such as adding brown sugar or sour cream.
Flan, a sweet and jiggly dessert made of eggs, vanilla, sugar, and milk, takes on a tropical twist with its addition of coconut milk and coconut flakes in Gabon.
While the exact way that flan was introduced to Gabon is still unclear, it likely came to the country during the French occupation. It has since become a dessert easy to find in urban restaurants or hotels.
With a smooth and creamy inside and a flaky, biscuity crust, this coconut flan is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth.
Saving the best for last, Atanga is a plant also known as “bush butter” for its rich, creamy texture that makes it the perfect tangy topping for a fresh baguette. Atanga has been part of Gabonese cuisine for centuries and it has adapted to Gabon’s changing food culture, securing itself as the bread topping of choice.
Its texture is similar to that of avocado and using the plant takes little to no preparation. Simply open its shell and add it to your recipe or spread it across bread with a knife.
Fufu is a type of huge dumpling prepared using a mixture of cassava and green plantain flour. Both the ingredients are combined in equal portions with water and then cooked on a pan over a low flame. The prepared mixture is then moistened using lukewarm water and shaped into a ball.
It is eaten with fingers and is used to scoop up other foods on the plate, particularly sauces and soups. Fufu is a staple dish of many other countries throughout Africa.