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Taking a generous amount of Black excellence and mixing it with two parts fantasy, chef Nyanyika Banda managed to come up with an entire Wakanda cookbook.
“The Official Wakanda Cookbook” is one of Marvel’s latest projects and was carefully crafted by the Malawian American chef over the course of three months. More than 70 recipes inspired by the superhero Black Panther’s fictional nation fill the book’s pages, which hit shelves on April 12.
Banda dug deep into her imagination in order to whip up the flavorful lineup of dishes which include items like market food, desserts and even gluten-free and vegan meals.
In order to develop the recipes, Banda drew on Wakandan lore as well as her visions of meals fit for the most technologically advanced country on the planet. One of her first steps was diving deep into the internet archives on Marvel and "Black Panther," researching the background of Wakanda and the sort of lore rooted in the isolationist country’s makeup.
“The cookbook is a story within itself,” Banda explained in an interview with TODAY Food. “For me, a huge part of it was taking what I already know about African foods, and then really doing a crash course learning about 'Black Panther' and just Marvel comic universe and as a whole.”
Fans of the "Black Panther" franchise might be intrigued to know that Banda’s cookbook features a new character, too. The book is narrated by a fictional character named Ndi Chikondi, who is credited as the Executive Chef at the Royal Palace of Wakanda. Throughout the story, Chikondi relates how the book’s recipes came about and why they exist as part of Wakandan culture.
“There’s like such a long lineage of the nation of Wakanda,” Banda, a non-fictional, non-Wakandan chef who earned a Culinary Degree from Madison College. For her, one of the most surprising aspects of putting together the recipes of “The Official Wakanda Cookbook” was the amount of history there was to glean her ideas. In fact, she did so much reading and researching for this project she can nerd out about Wakanda like the best of them. Speaking to TODAY, Banda managed to rattle off a series of events in the "Black Panther" series, like when Captain America first came to visit the country.
“There’s this whole backstory of coming up with how we got to that point where Black Panther is being introduced to us, as readers as a fan base,” she explained. “So it was interesting to see that that story already existed through the world of (Black Panther’s) web fan base, so that was pretty cool to discover and learn about those.”
Flip through the pages of Banda’s new book and you’ll find a collage of carefully curated and designed recipes based on fictional concepts and stories. There are Okra Fritters, a Wakandan favorite described in the book as being frequently featured "on the family food stand menu" from where the fictional chef was born. The recipe has okra and corn folded into an egg mixture before being dropped into a bath of hot oil. The fritters can be served on their own or with the book's recipe for Muhammara. A mouthwatering image of the results is featured in the book alongside the instructions.
More examples of Banda’s ability to take Marvel lore and make food magic include the inclusion of Tamarind Cola, which the book explains young T'Challa and Shuri would drink on their special movie nights “on the newest screening equipment that was being tested.” Banda also included a sorbet, a dessert that she envisioned becoming T’Challa's favorite during his time as a student at Oxford University. “The royal chef makes a version that’s made with papaya juice (and) one that’s made with mango,” she noted to TODAY. “Wakanda’s supposed to be this isolated nation. So if there’s anything that you know might seem somewhat like it would normally have come from the Western world, coming up with a reason why they would have it (in Wakanda) was really important.”
While experimenting with the completely original dishes and their flavors, Banda tested items on neighbors and her 90-year-old grandmother. "She's impressed," Banda grinned talking about their grandmother. "She saw how hard I was working on it. So it's nice. It's nice to finally have a book in hand." Beyond drawing on the preferences of those around her and her background as a Malawian American, she kept the Black community in mind.
“The same way that Black Lives Matter speaks to people not just of African descent, Wakanda and the Black Panther speaks to people that way as well,” Banda explained. “Even though Wakanda is a very specific region on the continent of Africa, I still kept in mind all of those people that are descendants of Africa and are a part of the African diaspora.”
For Banda, this meant featuring products like the Sweet And Spicy Oxtail With Cassava Dumplings described as being inspired by a trip the book’s fictional chef took to the Caribbean. According to Banda, the inclusion of flavors and dishes that could be found in the Caribbean and Central and South America was largely about affirming Black people from across the world who in fact, feel like they are, in a way, Wakandan.
“I think that’s such a beautiful part of (Wakanda) being this fictional place,” Banda remarked. “Definitely, the impact that 'Black Panther' has socially right now for us, and this time and age was always something that I was like taking consideration to when thinking about the recipes.”
For more tips on how to make the recipes featured in the book, you can follow Banda on her Instagram @thewakandanchef.