Before kneeling to pray, Chakib Marrakchi handed me a to-go cup of mint tea. “It’s cold out there,” he said. Nighttime would overtake the October twilight before Marrakchi could lock the doors to Cafe Paprika, which meant the Isha prayer—the last of five in daily Islamic practice and one that is typically offered at the beginning of complete darkness—would occur here in his North African restaurant along East Mississippi Avenue in Aurora.

I had been the only customer for an hour, but I had waited until after my meal of lamb tagine to ask the native of Fez, the second-largest city in Morocco, a few questions: How did he flavor the couscous? Does he steep the tea to order? But before I finished collecting my thoughts, I heard the recitations in his warm, low voice. Marrakchi was kneeling face down on a mat in the middle of the dining room, which was silent except for his muffled words—a prayer that, despite being uttered by millions of U.S. residents every day, I had never heard before.

The experience was a reminder that, thousands of miles away from Fez and every other part of the world’s second-largest continent, Denverites can only taste a sliver of what Africa has to offer here along the Front Range. Despite the enticing array of eateries that exist across the metro area, there are entire regions of Africa that go unrepresented in Colorado’s dining scene. And even the restaurants we can enjoy, nearly all of which are immigrant-run, must often find compromise between traditional recipes, American palates, and financial resources.

That narrative isn’t unusual for many restaurants that serve diasporic foods; however, because many African cuisines have not been as widely exported to the United States as, say, Chinese or Indian cuisine, business owners may feel more pressure to faithfully replicate the flavors of home, especially if they rely on an African customer base. But that can be a tricky proposition when the same restaurants also need to woo a non-African clientele that can have unadventurous palates.

Furthermore, African immigrants may face tougher financial challenges than other communities. According to 2022 reports from the Migration Policy Institute, sub-Saharan African and North African (analyzed jointly with Middle Eastern) immigrants in the United States have lower household incomes compared to the country’s total foreign-born population, despite attaining higher levels of education. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that the histories of many African restaurants in Denver seem to include more tumult than might be expected even in an already volatile industry. Relocations, multiyear hiatuses, and closures have been distressingly common. In fact, two long-standing East Colfax Avenue fixtures—Africana Restaurant & Cafe and Axum Ethiopian Restaurant—shuttered last year. Still, there is a litany of restaurateurs who, through their tenacity, have been able to endure, and their persistence has helped create a culinary timeline of Denver’s African food scene that illustrates its unique evolution and widening range of options.

Marrakchi’s restaurant is just one of those stalwarts. A few weeks after my visit, I called him and he gave me the answers I needed. He seasons his couscous with salt and olive oil, and yes, he steeps the tea to order. But I found myself wanting to ask the 64-year-old, who has run Cafe Paprika largely on his own since 2020, about more than food. How much longer will he continue to operate the 31-year-old eatery? “People beg me to stay open, [but] I can’t work all my life,” he says. Instead, he wants to pass the restaurant on to new ownership instead of closing it, a move that would allow Denverites to continue experiencing a taste of Africa here at home.

Jump Ahead:

Denver’s Best African Food Trucks

1. Taste of Soweto

Kota with a side of chakalaka. Photo by Joni Schrantz with styling by Charli Ornett
Taste of Soweto co-owners Ocean and Mpho MaPoulo. Photo by Joni Schrantz with styling by Charli Ornett

The owners of the South African food truck aim to deliver the real-deal meals of their formerly segregated hometown.

Taste of Soweto offers more than culinary thrills; it offers a taste of history. “During apartheid in South Africa, Soweto was established as a Black neighborhood outside of Johannesburg,” says Mpho “Gift” MaPoulo, who co-owns the food truck with his wife and former pastry chef, Ocean. The Soweto natives debuted the pop-up business in 2019 and transitioned it onto wheels in 2021, and although it’s not the first South African food business in Denver, it is the first Black-owned one. The distinction is important. “We are all South Africans, but there are dishes that white people grew up eating that we don’t eat, and vice versa,” Ocean says.

For a taste of how the MaPoulos grew up, try the peri-peri chicken wings tossed in Ocean’s signature paprika-laced sauce. Or the kota, an Indian-heritage dish, often called “bunny chow,” of beef or chicken curry stuffed into a hollowed-out quarter loaf of white bread. Having seen other African restaurateurs lose their communities’ support due to a lack of authenticity, the MaPoulos have prioritized accurately replicating their homeland’s flavors. For instance, they haven’t debuted a curryless version of kota popular in Soweto because certain ingredients have been difficult to procure.

In the meantime, they keep trucking, hoping to start selling bottles of Ocean’s peri-peri sauce this year, as well as Mpho’s homemade ginger beer, which is a hit at catering gigs. As for establishing a permanent location, they’re waiting to build a larger following. “I know a couple of African immigrants who painstakingly started brick-and-mortars,” Mpho says. “I’m not looking forward to that yet.” Mobile food truck

Must Try: Kalahari Wors
A Kalahari wors roll. Photo by Joni Schrantz with styling by Charli Ornett

No South African barbecue, or braai, is complete without sausage. The kind you’ll most often find is seasoned with coriander, nutmeg, and cloves, among other spices, and is often called boerewors, which means “Boer sausage” in Afrikaans. “Boer” refers to descendants of largely Dutch colonists who settled South Africa starting in the 1600s. Despite being the sausage’s namesake, however, they didn’t entirely invent it. (Mpho points to the included Asian spices as evidence.) As such, the MaPoulos named their version after the Kalahari Desert to inclusively reference its origins.

Whether he’s making his links with pork and beef or only the latter, Mpho keeps their fat levels at 20 percent to prevent them from overshrinking when cooked. The sausage is often served with pap, a firm corn porridge, and chakalaka, a vegetable relish. At Taste of Soweto, purchase it in a hot dog-like sandwich topped with tomato, onion, and lettuce or, if you’re hosting your own braai, frozen by the kilogram.

Fun fact: In Soweto, most large celebrations call for the slaughter and cooking of a sheep, goat, or cow, and many people deem the innards, not the meat, as the best part. The men typically butcher the animal since, per local norms, only they can handle and consume certain organs like the kidneys, pancreas, and testicles, but pots of cooked intestines and liver are popular with everyone.

2. Msosi Kenyan Cuisine

Msosi Kenyan Cuisine keeps it humble: The truck has no elaborate wrap job, and its East African offerings are less heavily spiced than many dishes found in local Ethiopian or West African joints. But when you pick up your order, you’ll walk away remembering owner Josphat Ombacho’s generous smile as he handed over your samosas or mandazi (slightly sweet fried dough). Make your midday meal—Msosi often parks on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus during lunch hours—out of tomatoey chicken stew and spiced pilau rice. Mobile food truck

3. Pikine Grill Express

Founded in 2015, Senegalese chef David Diop’s Pikine Grill Express was the first food truck in the United States representing his native country’s cuisine. In January, Diop moved its permanent location to a new spot near the Denver-Aurora border, taking the chance to also revamp his menu. While devoted customers can still find favorites like the chicken brochettes and the grilled lamb dibi, he now prepares meatless versions of mafe (peanut stew) and fataya (fried hand pies), which Diop developed in part to cater to the growing number of African and African American Coloradans he’s seen cutting meat from their diets. Mobile food truck

4. The Ethiopian Food Truck

Years before launching Konjo Ethiopian Food in Edgewater Public Market, Fetien Gebre-Michael and Yoseph Assefa were rolling up injera in their first food business together, the Ethiopian Food Truck. Look out for the vibrant vehicle—it’s green, yellow, and red, like the Ethiopian flag—between May and September at events across the Denver metro area. Whether you’re going for a tibs plate (chicken or beef simmered in spiced butter and served with a vegetable side) or a two-part veggie combo, the red lentils are a must-have component. Mobile food truck

Read more: 15 of the Best Food Trucks in Denver and Beyond

Denver’s Best North African Restaurants

1. Cafe Paprika

Braised lamb shank and chicken tagine. Photo by Joni Schrantz with styling by Charli Ornett
Chakib Marrakchi. Photo by Joni Schrantz / styling by Charli Ornett

More than three decades after it opened, Cafe Paprika’s owner looks to pass his Moroccan eatery to the next generation.

Chakib Marrakchi admits that Cafe Paprika did not have the strongest start. “Before, I used to manage a restaurant [in Boulder]. I was making good money,” he says. “When I opened my place, it was different. It was hard to build it, to introduce my food to people in Aurora.” He attributes the eventual success of his casual Moroccan restaurant to positive reviews in local publications.

Things have been more difficult lately, though: He closed for seven months during the pandemic, spent more than two years serving takeout, and was only able to reopen his dining room last summer. He runs the restaurant alone on many days and will close the doors if a rush of customers means he can’t treat diners to the experience he wants to deliver. “I don’t want to be slammed. The quality will go down,” he says. “I [want to] serve the food the way I like to eat it.”

Some of Marrakchi’s best dishes include b’steeya—a Moroccan specialty of flaky phyllo dough stuffed with shredded chicken and minced nuts that’s dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon—and a wide array of tagines, spiced stews of meat (usually lamb or chicken) and vegetables. Marrakchi believes the consistency of his food’s quality and its generous portions have kept Cafe Paprika going while some of the Moroccan joints that came before his—including Mataam Fez, which was co-founded by Marrakchi’s cousin and operated from 1976 to 2018—have shuttered. He says that reputation can ensure the success of his successor, whoever that might be. He’s not necessarily looking for a new owner to keep everything the same, but he’s hoping to pass along his recipes and even help out part-time. Then, he can happily retire knowing what he worked so hard to build will continue to prosper. 13160 E. Mississippi Ave., Aurora

Must Try: Couscous
A plate of couscous. Photo by Joni Schrantz with styling by Charli Ornett

There’s perhaps no food more emblematic of northwest African cuisine than couscous, small granules of semolina that are steamed until fluffy. In fact, in 2020, UNESCO added the dish to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list, which celebrates historically rich cultural practices and advocates for their conservation.

One traditional cooking method is the couscoussière, which Marrakchi describes as an interlocking two-pot vessel. Steam from boiling water in the bottom pot rises through holes in the top one, where the bits of wheat cook. At Cafe Paprika, Marrakchi seasons the couscous with only salt and olive oil, letting other dishes spooned atop the grains—try the tagine with preserved lemon and olives—deliver flavor. For a real taste of Moroccan ritual, stop by the restaurant on a Friday, Muslims’ weekly holy day, which Marrakchi also describes as “couscous day” for the country. “Everybody goes to the mosque,” he says, “[and] every household cooks couscous.”

Fun fact: Islamic dietary laws label foods as halal (permissible) and haram (forbidden). Adherent eateries can avoid certain banned ingredients, such as pork, by merely leaving them off the menu. For other items, like blood, which can linger on regular supermarket meat, chefs must source specifically halal products. At Cafe Paprika, Marrakchi uses protein that follows both halal and kosher prescriptions.

2. Sahara

Step into the spacious, sand-colored dining room of Greenwood Village–based Sahara, which opened the same year as Cafe Paprika, for belly-warming fare from its co-owners’ home countries: Morocco, where husband-and-wife duo Mohammed Ettachfini and Loubna Zouiten have roots, and Lebanon, from which chef Jihad Younan hails. Start with the sanbousak—spinach- and feta-stuffed hand pies—then opt for the kebab combo, which includes a brochette each of lamb, chicken, and shrimp (with hunks of tomato, zucchini, and onion tucked between the pieces of protein), saffron rice, and tahini sauce. 9636 E. Arapahoe Rd., Greenwood Village

3. Golden Falafel

Falafel should be crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and flecked with fresh herbs, says Zakaria Chamseddine, who, along with his wife, Halima, operates Golden Falafel in Hampden. The Chamseddines’ Moroccan-spiced version of the chickpea fritter follows through on that ideal. As such, you should dine in at the tile-adorned restaurant so the falafel stay crispy and dunk them in a garlicky tahini-yogurt sauce or swipe them through parsley-crowned hummus. Both come with the falafel plate along with a healthy helping of fattoush, a cucumber-tomato-radish salad. 6460 E. Yale Ave., Ste. G20A

4. Sudan Cafe

The offerings at Sudan Cafe, a counter-service breakfast and lunch spot in Aurora, perfectly reflect the country’s geographic position between North and East Africa. You’ll find ful, an Egyptian staple of stewed fava beans, spiced with Ethiopian berbere and molokhia—a spinachlike North African vegetable—served with injera. Regardless of the region that your meal represents, pair it with cardamom-laced Sudanese coffee, which co-owner Solomon Bulcha serves in individual-size jebenas (traditional long-necked coffee pots). Each jebena holds roughly two espresso cups of strong, steeped coffee, which you can sweeten to your liking.
10375 E. Iliff Ave., Aurora

Denver’s Best West African Restaurants

1. African Grill & Bar

Peanut soup with fufu, beef kabobs, and grilled tilapia at African Grill & Bar. Photo by Joni Schrantz with styling by Charli Ornett

In its 20th year, a stalwart of Colorado’s dining scene continues to awaken local palates with the lively flavors of West Africa and beyond.

African Grill & Bar’s two-decade legacy emerged from modest beginnings. “We bought our first plates from a dollar store,” says Theodora Osei-Fordwuo, who has co-owned the West African eatery with her husband, Sylvester, since 2004. Trailblazing Colorado’s culinary representation of the Osei-Fordwuos’ native Ghana and other African countries, African Grill & Bar has hopped from locations in Aurora and Green Valley Ranch to its current Lakewood outpost, but the mission—normalizing African food for Front Range diners—has never changed. “A lot of people have the notion that [African food is] something weird, or it’s something spicy,” Theodora says. “So, just to be able to get people to come through the door, it’s an issue.” That’s why the Osei-Fordwuos deliver a diverse menu—which, along with West African classics, loops in dishes from the continent’s southern and eastern reaches—that ranges from grilled fish and beef kebabs to more than 15 soups and stews.

For the uninitiated, the egusi soup, which contains spinach and is thickened with ground melon seeds, and the rich peanut soup (both come with a choice of protein, like chicken, goat, or oxtail) are especially popular and good intros for newbies. The Osei-Fordwuos’ memorable flavors are still difficult to find in the Centennial State, which means some of their loyal customers drive more than an hour for a taste of their cuisine. But many other Denverites haven’t fully incorporated West African food into their everyday dining-out routines. In fact, even after 20 years, African Grill & Bar is still waiting on its first full house. Theodora remains hopeful: “[Having faithful customers] makes us see that one day, it’s going to be more beautiful.” 955 S. Kipling Pkwy., Lakewood

Must Try: Swallows
Plantain fufu. Photo by Joni Schrantz with styling by Charli Ornett

Fufu, ugali, banku, amala—there are countless versions of (and names for) the large balls of mashed starchy vegetables and grains often eaten with flavorful African stews. While their core ingredients and methods of preparation vary wildly from culture to culture, they are often grouped together and called “swallows” in English. On any given day, African Grill & Bar offers seven iterations of them.

For newcomers, Theodora recommends starting with yam or plantain fufu. The former is less sticky and generally easier to chew, while the latter is starchier and stiffer, making it more suited for thinner dishes like soups. A particularly labor-intensive swallow is the tamalelike kenkey: Theodora ferments a corn flour dough for several days, divides it in half, cooks one half with some water in a pot, mixes that with the raw half, wraps the mixture in corn husks, and then reboils the parcels. The entire process requires seven hours spent over the stove, but it creates a soft yet sturdy swallow with a pleasantly sour taste.

Fun fact: In many parts of Africa, it’s customary to eat with your hands, but when you do so, make sure to only use your right hand. Islamic etiquette dictates that the left hand be reserved for bathroom practices, and even countries with relatively small Muslim populations (like Ghana) tend to follow this guideline. It’s worth giving it a try here, if only to improve your dexterity.

2. Akwaba Restaurant

The name of Linda Essoh’s restaurant means “welcome” in languages indigenous to Ghana and Essoh’s native Côte d’Ivoire (sometimes called the Ivory Coast), which makes sense: Essoh’s generous hospitality is on display the moment you walk through her doors. In 2021, Essoh relocated Akwaba from the now defunct Afrikmall to airier digs on East Colfax Avenue, delighting those who crave her West African flavors. For a real taste of Côte d’Ivoire, order the sauce kplala, an herbaceous Ivorian soup of molokhia leaves, and the attiéké, a fermented and grated cassava dish reminiscent of couscous. 16251 E. Colfax Ave., Ste. 210, Aurora

3. Sweetpepper Kitchen

Jollof rice is one of those dishes that has as many variations as there are people who make it, but the recipe from Shade Adebayo, who runs Sweetpepper Kitchen in Aurora, is a must-try. The four-year-old Nigerian food truck infuses its umami-rich version with ingredients like habanero peppers, chicken bouillon powder, and thyme—all flavors that complement stewed proteins such as chicken, goat, and cow’s feet. Flavor seekers should try the snails braised with red peppers and onions. Don’t expect escargot: These fist-size mollusks make for multiple meaty bites and have a rich, earthy taste. Mobile food truck

4. Le French

There’s no doubt about the main culinary influence of Aminata and Rougui Dia’s Le French, an upscale Denver Tech Center brasserie with a second, six-month-old location in Hale. However, the two sisters, who were nominated for a James Beard Award this year, infuse their most palate-provoking dishes with their Senegalese heritage. Go for plates like the poutine poulet yassa, which replaces the brown gravy typically in the Québécois fries dish with chicken braised in a lemony onion sauce, or the pastels: fried, tuna-stuffed hand pies served with tomato-onion chutney. Multiple locations

Denver’s Best East African Restaurants

1. The Ethiopian Restaurant

A combination of meat and vegetable dishes from the Ethiopian Restaurant. Photo by Joni Schrantz with styling by Charli Ornett
Negussie Denku and Elleni Mekonnen of the Ethiopian Restaurant. Photo by Joni Schrantz with styling by Charli Ornett

There are roughly 20 Ethiopian restaurants on the Front Range—most of which are concentrated on East Colfax Avenue and South Havana Street in Denver and Aurora—but only one can say it was the first.

Before Pete Contos stamped his first name on what was once known as just the Kitchen and before the Ogden Theatre swapped out popcorn and Rocky Horror for well drinks and rock stars, Negussie Denku and Elleni Mekonnen made a business decision that would forever change Colfax and, really, the entire Mile High City. Having recently emigrated from Ethiopia, the couple opened Denver’s first Ethiopian restaurant in 1985. “They imagined it as a hangout for all their Ethiopian friends,” says Nardos Negussie, Denku and Mekonnen’s daughter, who works at the Congress Park eatery once a week. “[Many others] had no idea what Ethiopia was.” Locals of all backgrounds, though, quickly caught on to the delicious fare.

Full-flavored vegetable and legume stews are central to the cuisine—a necessity considering the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church’s frequent and essentially vegan fasts, Nardos says—and the Ethiopian Restaurant has always prided itself on its tikur gomen (collard greens). Proteins have their place, too: Spice-laden chicken and lamb dishes, traditionally cooked over an open fire at holiday feasts, simmer throughout the day. Veteran customers will go for the yebeg wot, chopped lamb seasoned with berbere, a chile-forward Ethiopian spice mix. No matter the order, though, meals are almost always served on tangy, pancakelike injera, whose batter is typically fermented for days before Mekonnen, who still serves as the chef after nearly 40 years, drops it onto the griddle. 2816 E. Colfax Ave.

Must Try: Injera
Injera. Photo by Joni Schrantz with styling by Charli Ornett

You’ll find injera, a spongy, fermented flatbread, at every Ethiopian joint in town, but don’t expect every version to taste or look the same. While injera is traditionally made with teff, the tiny milletlike grain wasn’t available in Denver when the Ethiopian Restaurant got its start. Mekonnen developed a wheat-based variation, and though teff arrived in the mid-’90s, loyal diners were so attached to Mekonnen’s original recipe that she settled on a part teff, part wheat blend as a compromise.

Another unconventional feature remains as well: Since, at the time, the owners could only find rectangular electric skillets rather than customary circular griddles, the Ethiopian Restaurant’s injera has squared edges. Regardless, diners should tear off large pieces of injera to scoop up their entrées—it’s often the only “utensil” on the table—and relish the portion underneath the main dish soaking up its juices. “We’ve tried to stay true to our particular roots [here in Denver],” Nardos says, “which are slightly different from the rest of the community.”

Fun fact: Visit a Somali eatery, like Aurora’s Maandeeq Restaurant & Cafe, and you’ll likely find patrons lingering post-meal with a cup of cardamom-infused black tea—reminiscent of Indian chai—served with or without milk. It’s common for residents of Somalia, where alcohol is banned per Islamic law, to drink tea throughout the day.

2. Ras Kassa’s Ethiopian Restaurant

In its 36-year history, Ras Kassa’s has inhabited many storefronts: its first location at the highway turnoff toward Eldorado Canyon, a longtime residence in the heart of Boulder, and, since 2017, a colorful outpost in Lafayette where owner Tsehay Hailu has planted deep roots. Bright red, yellow, and blue walls, plus a charming menagerie of vases and framed photos, build a convivial atmosphere. Form a feast out of mildly spiced veggie stews and a bold entrée, like the assa—chile-spiked, pan-fried Rocky Mountain red trout whose crispy skin plays well with the injera—or the engudai, mushrooms cooked in African red wine. 802 South Public Rd., Lafayette

3. Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant

This sleek, 18-year-old eatery in Montclair is a date-night-ready destination for East African eats. Upon arrival, request a table near one of the namesake mesobs—large, traditional baskets used to store injera and often to serve meals atop—and settle down with a round of St. George lagers from Ethiopia’s oldest brewery. Then, split a veggie combo with red lentils, collards, and string beans, among other things, or sample the beef tongue, which is sautéed with jalapeños and onions and served with a dollop of awaze, a thick berbere-based hot sauce. 1422 Poplar St.

4. Eatopia

The most recent iteration of Eatopia opened on Aurora’s Havana Street three years ago, but the 11-year-old eatery has always been Seble Gobena’s labor of love. The kitchen head often leaves her domain, hairnet still on, to greet each table and ask how the food turned out. Meat lovers should go for the richly spiced shifinfin. Gobena starts the dish with quanta firfir, house-dried beef cooked with tomatoes and pieces of injera, then tops it with kitfo (a traditional beef tartare that can be ordered medium or well-done) and a boiled egg, then wraps it all up in more injera. 1030 Havana St., Unit A, Aurora

Read more: 9 of the Best Ethiopian Restaurants in Denver, Aurora, and Beyond

African Cuisines and Ingredients in Colorado

Illustration by Edson Ikê

It’s impossible to distill the culinary traditions of 54 countries and well over 1,000 ethnic groups into a primer. Instead, we spoke with local and national experts to help us break down some of the country-specific cuisines and staple ingredients you’re most likely to encounter in Colorado.


Plenty of Moroccan dishes pervade the cuisines of other North African countries like Algeria and Tunisia, according to Zakaria Chamseddine, co-owner of Denver’s two-and-a-half-year-old Golden Falafel, but their presence is global. For centuries, the country has participated in international commerce from the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. That means you’ll find non-native spices such as cumin and paprika in dishes like shakshuka (eggs cooked in a thick tomato sauce), and those same dishes appear at many non-African restaurants, such as LoHi’s Bar Dough.


Modern African cuisine is inextricably tied to the harmful legacy of European colonization. There’s perhaps no better example than maize, or corn, which, despite its Mesoamerican origins, is the most dominant grain on the continent today, says Jonathan Bishop Highfield, a professor of food studies and postcolonial literature at the Rhode Island School of Design. In response, African farmers developed their own varieties, while cooks transformed them using native techniques. In Ghana, for example, corn doughs are fermented and cooked in a pot (banku) or steamed in corn husks (kenkey).


Historically, two of the most important foods in Senegal have been fish and rice. Both star in thieboudienne, a one-pot meal that’s often celebrated as the West African country’s national dish. But its other ingredients, including tomatoes and chile peppers, reveal its postcolonial origins. Moreover, Highfield says, Asian rice strains have largely displaced the African rice species native to the region, in part because French settlers could produce the former more cheaply.


Fonio, a fast-growing millet indigenous to West Africa, is a superfood, according to James Beard Award–nominated Colorado chef Mawa McQueen. The gluten-free grain packed with protein and iron is just starting to hit American grocery stores, but you can also try it through McQueen’s four-year-old granola venture GrainFreeNola. Purchase the nut-free foniola on the company’s website or at McQueen’s restaurants in Aspen and Snowmass, including the West African–influenced Mawa’s Kitchen.

South Africa

Indigenous peoples, European settlers, and Asian laborers, according to Highfield, all contributed to the syncretic rainbow cuisine currently found in South Africa. Case in point: The curries and stews of Cape Malays, a creolized, largely Muslim ethnic group centralized in South Africa’s legislative capital of Cape Town, are some of the region’s most popular dishes and contain Indonesian, Filipino, Dutch, and native Khoisan influences.


If you’re partial to a morning cuppa, you’ve likely tasted Arabica coffee beans, which account for around 57 percent of global coffee production and are indigenous to southwestern Ethiopia. At Denver’s Habesha Spice, an Ethiopian dry goods and catering company, Ras Nolawi Temesgan sells raw beans from the country’s Sidama region. He suggests roasting them for five to 10 minutes in a mankeshkesha (a pan with small holes that help with even roasting) and then brewing them post-grind with spices like rue, cardamom, or cloves. Die-hard traditionalists, Temesgan says, drink it black.


More than 15,000 Ethiopians comprise Colorado’s largest African immigrant group, and their families and ancestors have long cultivated a national cuisine unlike any other. This culinary uniqueness can be attributed, in part, to the fact that Ethiopia, unlike many other regions of Africa, was never colonized by a European power (excepting a five-year occupation by Italy), Temesgan says. So while you’ll find, for instance, quality baguettes alongside native flatbreads in neighboring Djibouti, which was a colony of France for decades, Ethiopia’s buffet of flavors is almost entirely homegrown.


All chile peppers originate from the Americas, but the African bird’s eye chile has grown uniquely in southern Africa since the Portuguese brought it to the region around the 15th century. Peri-peri sauce, globally popularized by South African chicken chain Nando’s, traditionally employs the spicy pepper. Rich Ing and Lisa Lipscomb of Denver-based Mamas Peri Peri mostly use a similar-tasting Thai chile in their condiment, which Ing adapted from a recipe by his brother’s Mozambican mother-in-law. Their sauce stays true to the garlicky, lemony original but also incorporates tomato and onion to evoke the flavor of salsas familiar to their Latin American customers.

This article was originally published in 5280 March 2024.
Ethan Pan
Ethan Pan
Ethan Pan is 5280’s associate food editor, writing and editing for the print magazine and Follow his dining/cooking Instagram @ethans_pan.