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.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.