Fictional worlds, promoted in many TV shows, movies and video games, can feel for fans as real and significant as places with real zip codes. Remember Hogwarts, a magic-filled, honey-lit boarding school in the world of Harry Potter books and movies; the distant Star Wars galaxy; or even the beautiful amazing town of Stars Hollow in The Gilmar Girls.
Wakanda, a rich, technologically advanced country surrounded by mountains of comics and blockbusters “Black Panther” 2018, plays an even rarer role. It’s not just the setting for action in a favorite franchise; it has become a symbol of African grandeur, a mythical place that feels like a real homeland for many people, not just for comics with King T’Challa’s posters on the bedroom walls.
This week, the mythical country is watching its culture expand with The Official Wakanda Cookbook, a collection of recipes sanctioned by Marvel’s Black Panther.
“I definitely felt a combination of pressure and pride,” says Nanny Banda, a freelance writer and chef who created the cookbook. “Knowledge of the Black Panther and what Wakanda means now in the social sphere is so important not only to black Americans, but to people of African descent around the world.”
The gang, which has long studied the dishes of the African diaspora, has developed more than 70 recipes and a history cookbook: it is written from the perspective of a young woman who was snatched from her mother’s stall in the capital market to become King T’Challa’s royal chef, a woman , who, like Banda, was influenced by older women in her family.
Aside from the challenges of satisfying avid fans and respecting the cultural stone, the gang faced another, more practical challenge. Often the author of a cookbook who writes about the region of the world is concerned with staying true to the dishes, ingredients, people and history of the region. But what does it mean to be faithful to what doesn’t really exist?
The gang says that before signing the project they watched the film but did not read many comics. And so they delved as well as explored a deep well of fan websites, seeking to understand the characters and landscape of Wakanda. Food does not occupy a prominent place in either comics or film, so it was necessary to demonstrate creativity.
Some ideas came easier. Wakanda has a lake, Banda notes, so fish recipes will do. Foods and ingredients available in sub-Saharan Africa (where, according to the comics, Wakanda is located) such as cassava, mango and goat (you can substitute lamb, instructed by Banda) occupy a prominent place. Vegetable dishes are also featured – in the recipe for eggplant and herbs, the narrator notes that “many vacationers eat a predominantly vegetarian diet”, perhaps a reference to a point in a film in which a M’Baku leader threatens to feed a CIA agent before his children reveal the threat, just a joke. “I’m kidding,” he says. “We are vegetarians.”
An important part of the kingdom’s history is that it is incredibly technically advanced, so Banda wanted several recipes that included gadgets such as a sous vide machine or dehydrator to present it.
One such dish, smoked mushroom dried, was inspired by Dora Milage, an elite team of vacationers. “I imagined it would be something to feed, but it would be good,” Banda says.
Jennifer Sims, editor of the Gang at Insight Editions, publisher of Wakanda cookbooks, as well as dozens of other cookbooks on pop culture, says that from the beginning she did not want to create a cookbook that would be usually “African”. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t trying to present Africa as the only food culture,” she says.
To create a cuisine that is fictional but feels specific, Banda relied not only on researching African dishes but also on family recipes. One dish, stewed cabbage with tomatoes, was fried directly from the last meal that Banda cooked with her aunt, who, like Banda’s father, was born in Malawi. “We talked and laughed, and it was a special moment,” said Banda, whose aunt died in 2020. “I thought about her a lot while I was writing this.”
One of the more difficult conditions imposed by the story of the Black Panther was that Wakanda, unlike many other African countries, was never colonized – according to her legends, it has long been hidden from the rest of the world to protect itself and the precious metal . contained, from outsiders. And so Banda had to find storylines to explain Western influences.
The Captain America’s visit to Wakanda explained a simple trout dish and coffee with cocoa ice. Travels to New York the hero of the narrator, a fictional palace chef, to explain a dish of pasta. And the current king, T’Chala, was educated in America and Europe under a fictitious name, and some dishes are described as food he discovered abroad.
Banda and Sims worked closely with the Marvel team to develop the dishes and stories around them. “We would talk about whether they feel it will be part of Wakanda,” Banda said. “I wanted the dish to have integrity, but there was also integrity in terms of narrative.”
The gang developed the recipes while being with their 90-year-old grandmother in Amherst, Massachusetts, during the pandemic. And all the while they believed in how important the Black Panther story was to its most loyal fans. “I never thought about Black Panther fans hoping they would see the time and thought it was part of it,” Banda says.
Not only fans of the Black Panther are the chefs that publishing houses are thinking about today. The Wakanda cookbook is part of a growing trend of cookbooks for pop culture based on popular franchises with loyal fans. Insight Editions CEO Raul Goff said he first saw the potential of the genre after the success of the 2016 World of Warcraft cookbook, based on the popular online role-playing game.
Since then, the publisher has released dozens of titles related to games such as “The Elder Scrolls” and “Street Fighter”, as well as movies and television, including “Star Wars”, “Friends”, “Downton Abbey” and future culinary books on “Seinfeld” and “Emily in Paris”.
Goff sees in these books more than just a gift you give for Christmas to your nephew, a game-obsessed, or a friend of Crowley’s. He says cooking helps fans connect with the stories and characters they love, the way no t-shirt can. “This is another aspect of immersion in this world, whatever it may be,” he says.
Are there any shows for which he couldn’t imagine a cookbook? Maybe “The Walking Dead,” this reporter suggests? Probably nothing appetizing in the fight for survival after the zombie apocalypse.
He laughs. “We did it,” he says. “It was a cookbook and a survival manual. The fans liked it. “
“Okay, what about Dexter?” I challenge him by throwing in the title of the show, whose protagonist-serial killer spends his evenings carving human flesh.
There is a pause, but Goff does not want to give up completely. “Dexter,” he says, “it would be difficult.”