Pap is a soft porridge or staple that can be prepared to either be mushy, hard, or watery. It is the one food that is undoubtedly found in most if not all African homes. Pap is prepared using different ingredients and served in different shapes, textures, and colors across countries, cultures, or households in the diaspora. Perhaps because of its cost efficiency, easiness to be prepared, or flexibility in how it is served; pap is loved by all who consume it.
Pap has obtained several aliases- according to the ingredients and methods used to prepare it- across tribes and/or countries.
Funge is the Angolan version of pap. Instead of using maize meal, Angolans use cassava flour. Preparing it is simple; have water boiling on the stove, whisk cassava flour and cold water with a wooden stick while awaiting the water to get hot. When the cassava and cold water are well whisked, pour that mixture into the boiling water, and whisk some more.
Cover the pot and wait for not more than 15 – 20 minutes (if the pot is smaller). Due to cassava’s natural gluten, the funge would have a sticky texture when the waiting time is reached. It is then poured directly onto a plate, or firstly shaped into an oval using a spoon or container in that shape, and served.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, pap is prepared differently and has different names across tribes and regions. In Lubumbashi, it is referred to as bukari and is prepared much like funge but they use maize meal instead.
In some parts of Kinshasa, they mix maize meal and cassava flour, and it is called fufu. The process of preparing it with these two ingredients makes it slightly complicated, ergo making it necessary for the cook to know what they are doing, to avoid ruining the pap. The mixture of the two different ingredients gives it a yellowish whitish color. Some people prefer using more of the cassava flour and less maize meal.
It is very common in Baluba households to store the leftover pap, and recook it the next day to avoid throwing away or wasting food. This too is a complicated method. In other parts of Kinshasa, they use yellow maize meal, and in turn, the pap is yellow.
In Zambia, pap is prepared with ground maize and is called nshima. Much like bukari, the preparation of nshima starts off with adding the maize powder into boiling water in a pot and stirring until the mixture becomes thick. This step is followed by covering the pot to let the mixture simmer for 10 to 15 minutes (again depending on the size of the pot), then adding maize flour and stirring until it is hard enough. Let it simmer a little longer, and use an oil saucer to mold into the cook’s desired shape.
There are three different types of pap in Nigeria.
Semolina– this is a type of flour made from collecting ground durum wheat. This form of pap is cooked similarly to nshima, and bukari. The only difference in the process is the type of flour used. This pap is called semolina.
Garri- this is flour obtained from the starch of freshly harvested cassava. This pap is not necessarily prepared on the stove, or in a pot. Garri is soaked into warm water and left unobserved for a few minutes.
By the time the cook checks on it, the garri would have absorbed the warm water that it was soaked in. The cook will then start to whisk that mixture until it becomes thick, and resembles ready to eat pap. This pap is called garri, and it is the fastest to prepare.
Fufu– this is the combination of plantains and cassava. Raw plantains and cassava are chopped and boiled to softness. That mixture is placed in a container and crushed or pounded into a soft porridge, and later served in shapes of the cook’s choice.
South Africans have gotten overly creative with their way of either cooking or serving pap. Take for instance the Limpopo Province. Maize meal is soaked with water in a bucket and left to ferment for a day so that it can be sour. That mixture is then added to boiling water and left to simmer. A few minutes later, maize meal is added and whisked then left to simmer a little longer. When deemed ready by the cook, it is molded into small round shapes and served.
In other parts of South Africa, pap is prepared with butter, salt, and black pepper, and served as soft porridge with no shapes whatsoever. Depending on the person serving or consuming it, it is either served with milk or with vegetables and any meat of their choice. It can either be consumed as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or supper.
The above-stated names and methods only make up the tip of the iceberg of the significance of pap across Africa and even the African diaspora. Nonetheless, it is vividly illustrated that pap is more than just a soft porridge or staple, and is a versatile continental meal that is loved and appreciated by its consumers.