In West Africa, it seems, if it's not spicy, it's not food.
Travelling to Nigeria taught me that not only is Nigeria rich in culture, but also prides itself in its food, with its dishes consisting of spicy meat and jollof rice.
Nigerians love their meat, and this was problematic for this South African who, though she ate meat, also wanted her greens.
Nigerians, it seems, prefer to see their vegetables in soups that also feature fish.
Their meat is heavily spiced, as anything but will be seen as “bland”, according to a Nigerian woman who told me she had suffered during her visit to “bland” Kenya. If it’s not spicy, it’s not food. If it cannot be spiced, you will get your chilli in a separate bowl, just in case you need it.
Jollof rice. Picture: Vhahangwele Nemakonde
“If you have a Nigerian friend who has invited you to their house and they don’t prepare jollof rice, that person is not your friend,” say Nigerians.
Jollof rice is their pap, and a meal is not complete without it. Nigerians love it and I soon came to understand why. It was the best rice I’ve ever had, because of the “burnt”, caramalised smell and taste.
Its spiciness will depend on who prepares it.
Blackened catfish with grilled plantain. Picture: Vhahangwele Nemakonde
This is the food that is confusing to the South African mind, yet makes sense to the taste buds. It looks like a banana before and after being peeled and fried. Before eating it, I was told it was sweeter than a banana. What I tasted, however, was not a sweetness I was expecting. It’s different. But it is good.
Left: Potatoes, Right: Boiled yam. Picture: Vhahangwele Nemakonde.
This is cream in colour and looks like a big boiled potato. The texture is different, and it can’t be compared because it’s harder and not sweet. It can be eaten with any soup or stew. And no, it’s nothing like dumpling.
Agege toast with soursop jam and vanilla ice cream. Picture: Vhahangwele Nemakonde
This is your typical unsliced baked bread that went to private school. When toasted, it can be had as dessert with ice cream.
Nigerians will not talk about it without salivating or sharing memories about it. Boarding school alumni told me they used to slice the bread in half and put Milo on it, then cover it with paper, iron it and thus enjoy it “toasted” and sweetened.
In Nigeria, goat meat is widely sold in restaurants. They do all sorts of things with goat meat, and I was lucky to have come across goat roll.
Goat roll, salt and yaji shrimp and plantain beignets. Picture: Vhahangwele Nemakonde
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