Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

I just returned from an incredible weekend in New York City seeing old friends, taking the never-ending subway and speaking Yorùbá with Nigerians! My purpose in the visit was first and foremost an interview with Sahara Reporters for their new TV channel that streams live from their Web site. Omoyele Sowore, the founder and editor-in-chief at the grass roots news organization invited me to New York along with Kevin ‘Kayode’, one of the other students on my program. Moses Mabayoje, the resident director for our program came too.
Here are three videos: the first is a little sketch we filmed at a Nigerian restaurant in Brooklyn, called Buka.

The second is my interview with Adeola, the producer at Sahara Reporters; and the third is Kayode’s interview. Hopefully some of you saw it live, but if not you have a chance to watch it here. WARNING: The videos are entirely in Yoruba with no subtitles.

My interview: http://cdn.livestream.com/embed/saharareporters?layout=4&clip=pla_7006f6b4-ba56-45b9-92b2-182e1a2cff27&height=340&width=560&autoplay=false

Kayode’s interview: http://cdn.livestream.com/embed/saharareporters?layout=4&clip=pla_4dc91c50-9e69-49c5-8983-1cf0c5d21ae1&height=340&width=560&autoplay=false

Watch live streaming video from saharareporters at livestream.com

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Three varieties of malt drinks in a Ibadan supermarket called FoodCo.

When I first arrived in Nigeria I attended a lot of parties. Everyone wanted to meet us, hear us greet them in Yoruba and give us food and drink. One drink we received at every party was particularly strange to me, never having drank it before in the United States. This drink is called malt. Malt is a sweet, carbonated, non-alcoholic drink that is served at every function/party/gathering here. It is a dark liquid that leaves you feeling a bit full after drinking it. Made from barley, hops and water, it is essentially unfermented beer. It is extremely popular in Nigeria. Malt comes in many different varieties, each with a slightly different taste. I think the Guinness brewed malt drink called Malta is the best because it is the smoothest and sweetest. Amstel also makes a malt beverage. While I was ambivalent at first, I have come to love the satisfying taste of malt. Try mixing Malta Guinness with Guinness beer, it’s delicious.

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We eat butter

There are two types of people in Nigeria , those that eat butter and those that eat cassava. In modern day Yoruba, we call the former grope the ajebota and the latter, less fortunate group the ajepaki. The literal translation of these two word is “we eat butter,” and “we eat cassava.”

An ajebota (pronounced ah-jay-butta) is someone who lives a privileged, pampered life. In Nigeria, a spoiled life means having a driver to endure the hours of traffic and bad roads while you sit on the phone chatting on your BB. It means hardly minding the electricity outages because of the trusty generator that kicks in whenever NEPA happens. The term ajebota carries a negative meaning sometimes, that the person is not just spoiled, but insensitive and out of touch to realities of the world. I think the title ajebota for this type of lifestyle arose out of the fact that butter is rare in Nigeria. Most families eat one of the many unhealthy varieties of margarine. So those who eat butter and have the means to refrigerate it continuously are among the elite.

An ajepaki (pronounced ah-jay-pah-kee) is someone who lives a life with hardships and struggle. It means walking with your bucket to fetch water to take your bath every morning, spending long hours in the dark whenever the light goes. Calling someone an ajepaki is saying that person must work hard for the little he has. Paki means cassava in Yoruba. To those foreign to the plant, cassava is a tuber (in the potato family) that grows abundantly in Nigeria. Nigerians grind it up, add cold water and drink it as a snack called garri or add hot water, turn it and eat it as a meal called eba. It has a sour taste that took me a long time to get used to. Cassava is extremely cheap to buy so those who don’t have much must get by with garri and eba.

These terms are not official. They don’t have a deep meaning in the Yoruba culture and I have never heard anyone call himself an ajebota or ajepaki. They are modern day slangs that friends to make fun, tease or describe one another.

That being said, my mom from America arrived in Lagos last week. She is here for three weeks to visit me and walk in my shoes. We are having an incredible time together, and I apologize for not posting more but I have been a bit distracted. We were in Lagos for a few days and had quite an ajebota experience. From VIP tickets to Fela on Broadway, Chapmans at the News Cafe in Lekki, to air conditioned cars, my mom and I had a great time in Lagos. She is most amazed by the way cars share the roads with hawkers, wheelbarrows, and bikes weaving in and out. Even as we are back in Ibadan now her senses are on overload, taking Nigeria in. I could not be more excited that my real mom is visiting me in my new home.

My mom and I at Eko Hotel in Lagos to see Fela the Broadway musical, which was amazing!

My mom and I with our host in Lagos, Charis Onabowale, better known as Mama Cass. Here we are at a wedding.

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Nigerians are particular about food. They prefer to eat at home and hardly eat out at restaurants. They like food that is plenty, has lots of pepper and is piping hot. If they eat outside the house, they like to eat something familiar, food they know is good quality and satisfying. Hence the success of the Nigerian fast food restaurants that serve pounded yam and traditional soups like egusi and efo riro. So when a Nigerian finds him or herself in traffic in Lagos, or running around all day without time for a real meal, he needs something portable, dependable and filling. The answer: the packaged beef roll.

Beef rolls. Gala, Meaty, Chopsy and Bigi

Beef rolls are the most popular, practical snack for the hungry Nigerian. Take ground beef, add a little pink food coloring, wrap it in a doughy, salty, pastry-like bread,

A sausage roll display.

throw it in a plastic wrapper and bam, you have a snack sold on virtually every street corner in Lagos, every traffic jam, and expanding to markets all around the country. Galas roll off the conveyor belts in the factory in Lagos by the thousands everyday and wind up in boxes on top of young boys’ heads selling them in the middle of bumper to bumper traffic. Unlike other snacks on the highway packaged by someone sitting in a market, Gala is a snack Nigerians know they can trust.

Step 1. Grab the roll. Step 2. Slam it against your knee like shown to open it. Step 3. Consume.

The beef roll phenomenon started with Gala, the first brand of packaged beef rolls. Gala was the one on the market and was sold exclusively in Lagos until the 2000’s. My friends in Ibadan tell me that whenever their parents went to Lagos, they always looked forward to the parents bringing back Galas.

Before biting. Notice the different colors and shapes.

In the last six or so years, my friends say the beef roll market has greatly expanded, and Gala is sold in other cities besides Lagos. You see young boys in Ibadan hawking Galas from boxes on their heads in the middle of traffic or the side of the road. Women stack them like Lincoln Logs at their stalls. There is not one place you don’t see Gala or it’s imitations, Meaty, Bigi, Chopsy, etc. I think the consensus is that Gala is still the best, the original beef roll. All my friends detest Bigi, claiming it’s way too hard and the meat is bright pink.

After the taste test.

When I first tried a beef roll, sitting in absurd traffic in Lagos on the way to the U.S. Embassy, I was very apprehensive. The thought of pink ground beef that just does not look natural, wrapped in a thick pastry shell didn’t sound too appealing to me. We Oyinbos threw it around the back of the van like a hot potato. After six months of Nigeria-fication, I accept the beef roll when I am hungry and cant get my hands on other real food. I even enjoy it.

I hear the best combination is Gala and SuperYogo (yet another Nigerian treat). People say La Casera or Fanta with Gala is delicious too. Next time I’m in traffic, I know what I’m eating.

Me conducting the taste test.

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Lizard for lunch

Lunch deconstructed: Lizard's tail bone on the right, pieces of the meat on the left and vegetable stew with pepper stew in the middle.

The other day the directors of our center treated us to lunch, pounded yam with lizard stew. We didn’t have to go far to find the lizard since one of the boys who does maintenance at the center killed it with a sling shot in the yard.

The lizard

To be precise, we are a Monitor lizard, a massive reptile with a strong tail and really polka-dotted skin.]According to the Wikipedia page, people in Malaysia and India eat monitor lizard because they believe it is an aphrodisiac…. Well wasn’t exactly aroused I stood over the pot, spooning out ladles of pepper stew and big chunks of lizard. I am an adventurous eater though, so I took the lizard head on. First I slid the skin off (set that aside for later), then deboned the thing, then pulled off the pieces of meat. It actually tasted like chicken. It was tender like chicken and didn’t have any sort of reptile-y taste. Overall it was a good experience, and now I can say I’ve tasted lizard.

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alternates to fresh milk in nigeria

Peak evaporated milk and Nido powdered milk, two alternatives to fresh milk in Southern Nigeria.

Two and a half spoon-fulls of creamy white powder, a half spoon-full of sugar, add filtered water and constantly stir–pam! a bowl of milk. Add Corn Flakes and enjoy.

You cannot find fresh milk around southern Nigeria. In the north dairy cows are plentiful, but in the south you only see skinny, gangly cows used for meat. At some select grocery stores that sell a lot of imported food you can find cream sometimes. Instead of selecting from the varieties of nutritious white liquid in the refrigeration section of the grocery store, we grab bags of white powder or cans of evaporated milk from the pile at the market. If you have never tried evaporated milk with cereal, please don’t. It tastes like thick vegetable oil mixed with non-dairy creamer. Fresh milk would also be hard to keep in southern Nigeria because refrigeration is not consistent, just like the electricity to power the refrigerator comes and goes every few hours. I have gotten used to powdered milk for now, but nothing can replace a glass of chilled skim milk.

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booli roasting

Bòòlì roasting on coals. She constantly turns each plantain to ensure it roasts evenly..

The plantain is a versatile fruit. Fried, boiled or roasted, this tropical fruit retains its deliciousness in all of it’s many forms. The preparation I want to consider today is roasted. In Yoruba we call the roasted plantain bòòlì. Simply place a plantain on the grill, turning it constantly until it starts browning. Booli is commonly eaten with palm oil, ground nut oil or ground nuts, epa. Wherever you see booli, you will almost always see someone selling epa. You can find a woman or man grilling plantains all over Ibadan. I usually go to Orogun or Mokola to get my favorite snack (ipanu). Bòòlì is so delicious. O dún gan an ni. Bòòiì jé ipanu ti mo féràn jú. Make sure to drink water or juice with it because your stomach will feel heavy if you don’t.

Selling bòòlì, roasted plantain, right outside the UI gate.

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Amala and abula

Pounding a big bowl of amala on the right, ready to serve into bowls. The orangy liquid is gbegiri and the green is called ewedu. Together they make the delicious combination of abula.

Do you take amala? is one of the first questions any Nigerian person asks me when they meet me for the first time. When I respond “Of course, I love to eat amala and abula,” they erupt into a fit of laughter and tell any Yoruba person in the near vicinity that this Oyinbo just said she likes to eat amala and abula. Amala, or oka (if you are using really deep Yoruba) is one of the fundamental Yoruba foods. Amala is made from mixing yam flour with boiling water and stirring it very fast (ro amala) on fire. Slicing a yam, drying the skin and grinding it makes yam flour. In the picture above, the amala is already made but the woman selling continuously mixes it to keep it soft.

A bowl of amala and abula on the left and gbegiri and amala on the right, ready to be filled with your meat of choice.

A bowl of amala and abula on the left and gbegiri and amala on the right, ready to be filled with your meat of choice.While we were in Oyo, another city within Yorubaland, we went to a typical amala joint. An amala joint could be a few bowls on a table under a wood stall, a road side shack or a more formal restaurant. You cue in line for your amala tell them which soup you want on top then move down the line to select your meat. The meat selection process is quite intense. You stand in front of a massive bowl filled with different shaped meat pieces in a reddish orange pepper sauce and point to the pieces you want. Nigerians like to pick and choose their food. The server calls out the price of each piece as he drops them into your bowl. You can choose from goat meat, cow meat, sometimes chicken or other types of strange meats I have not tried. Then you have the different parts of each different animal. It was an overwhelming process for me, so I just stuck with no meat. You take the bowl back to your plastic table covered with decals for one type of beer or another and wash your right hand with the jug of water provided. Then you dig in, literally, to the steaming heap of amala surrounded by the pastel orange and green mixture of ewedu and gbegiri that we call abula.

The amala joint is a unique and delicious food experience. I would love to see Anthony Bourdain critique one.

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Meeting Mama Cass

Last Sunday, the first day of our Lagos Vacation, we attended the best church party I have seen yet–an Ikeja church’s harvest party. Following the longest thanksgiving service I have experienced (and that’s not very many), the church goers convened under the shade of a massive tent where caterers in black and white outfits squeezed between tables serving heaping plates of rice, dodo, fake pounded yam and steaming hot amala.

Abike and Kayode smiling with new friends among the squalor of the harvest party.

After we had eaten our fill for the meantime, our friend informed us we would be staying for three more hours, so we decided to make friends. Everyone wants to know the only white people speaking Yoruba at the party so finding people to talk to at these events takes no effort at all–they are hooked at “E ku igbadun,” greetings for enjoying yourself. I made it to the outskirts of the tent where a group of important looking men sat around small tables with Heinekens in hand, slowly chipping away at bottles of Black Label and champagne on the table. Obviously I went straight to this table, greeted the baba’s and the one woman, held out my Chapman (a special non-alcoholic Nigerian fruit drink that is delicious) and asked them to top it off with Black Label. Elated at hearing my Yoruba, they readily obliged. The woman at the table took special interest in me. She gave me her business card and told me to please call her. The white and green shiny card said “Mama Cass” along the top. I didn’t think anything of it except that I liked the design.

Chopping away at the small cow to roast it over fire and provide small chops for the party.

I put it in my bag, picked up my spiked Chapman and merrily trotted over to see the dead cow slowly roasting on a stick.

When I remembered to mention that I got Mama Cass’s card to my Lagotian friend he shrieked with excitement. I came to find out later, while sitting in Mama Cass’s office, that she, Mrs. Charis Onabowale founded Mama Cass, a popular fast food restaurant in Nigeria years ago when the concept of fast food hit Nigeria. Mama Cass stands among the ranks of other Nigerian fast food joints like Tantalizers, Mr. Biggs, Chicken Republic and Sweet Sensation. McDonald’s does not exist in Nigeria…yet (but I did see a KFC in Lagos). Mama Cass is a successful, powerful businesswoman and also a loving mother with a kind heart. She insisted on us coming swimming at her house and fed us the best jollof rice I have ever tasted.

Tejiri, Abike, Mama Cass, Me and Kayode

She is a Nigerian woman who was born in the UK and said she loves meeting non-Nigerians who come to Nigeria to live or study. Two young women, one from Peru and the other from Russia were living with her for a few days while on a yearlong internship with ISEC. I also speak Spanish quite well and through talking with the Peruvian girl realized how much immersed my mind is in Yoruba. I still was pretty proud of myself for sitting at a table and switching seamlessly between Spanish, Yoruba and English. We didn’t get to eat at any of her restaurants in Lagos and unfortunately none have reached Ibadan yet. But I plan on keeping in good contact with her through my time here and beyond.

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Kitchens all across the United States are filled with boiling pots, hot ovens, delicious aromas and anxious cooks hoping the turkey turns out right. The last Thursday in November is the same as any other day in Nigeria. People in America ask me, “do you celebrate Thanksgiving in Nigeria?” The answer is deep. American Thanksgiving involves spending the whole day cooking an outrageous amount of food, eating it with people you love and going around the table saying what you are thankful for. Every minute, every day in Nigeria is thanksgiving. People give thanks for everything, whether it be arriving at home safely, waking up, passing an exam, after eating a meal or taking a danfo ride. They will say “a dupe,” which means “we give thanks.” Nigerians acknowledge activities with thanks that many people don’t think twice about. Then you have the weekly thanksgiving at church. Families celebrate their own thanksgivings, just a special day to give thanks for your family.

Food preparation is another part of the American Thanksgiving celebration that happens everyday in Nigeria. I can speak for Yoruba culture best when I say that Yoruba take a great deal of pride in their food. Making a meal is a serious job. From start to finish, one meal takes a lot of labor and time. The Yoruba woman also takes a lot of care in the way she prepares it. Pounding yam, making the stew, it is an art and Yoruba know the way they like it. This is one of the reasons you see Yoruba people abroad always seeking out African restaurants wherever they are. Of course there will be exceptions but it is safe to say that Yoruba people love their traditional meals so much.

Celebrating American Thanksgiving is all well and good. I love the holiday myself because the food is always delicious and the company is even better. But being here and reflecting on what the word thanksgiving means in America and Nigeria is extremely eye opening. I wouldn’t trade one for the other, but I will combine the two into my own meaning of thanksgiving.

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