Tuesday, 18 October 2011

World Food Day

To celebrate World Food Day, VSO have encouraged us to blog about our experiences with food in our placements. Food is a favourite topic of Nigerians and they always like to hear which local foods I have tried. Often people are surprised to hear that I am eating local foods, but to be honest is there access to English foods in Jigawa State? What choice do I have?

When I am lucky enough to be in female company outside of the workplace the conversation is usually centred around food and how to cook certain dishes. But these dishes take hours to prepare and cook. Here is one example of when I once tried to cook cosai (a local bean cake which is actually very delicious: Mum’s favourite Nigerian food). First you are supposed to check every bean for a black spot which means there is a weevil inside the bean. Then they need to be soaked for about an hour. Next you somehow have to get the skin of EVERY bean (the beans are about the same size as green peas). Then hop on a motorbike to the nearest grinding machine. Wait in line for your turn. Return home, and begin cooking. I got too bored preparing the beans that I only had enough to make me about 8 cosai and the first 4 I actually burnt! Often my Ugandan housemate is surprised when I cook a pasta dish or something similar in about 30 minutes!

The custom is to eat the food from the floor with only your right hand. So far, I have never seen a dining table and if a table is available, such as when we eat at workshops, the participants still take their food to eat on the floor. All chop houses (local cafes/restaurants) have an area where customers can choose to eat from the floor if they wish.

Whenever you pay a visit to someone’s home, you are automatically given something to eat and drink. To eat and drink the food they give you is an honour to them. If you don’t eat enough then they truly feel very upset.

It is funny when you go to the local chop houses because you tell them what you want to eat and then they tell you if it is on the menu or not! The ‘food’ generally available in chop houses is ‘white rice, jollof rice, fried rice, pounded yam, semovita, gari.’ After you have chosen the starch first (the bit that will fill you up) you then get to choose the tasty bit of soup that goes with it.

Pepe is hot! Really hot. It burns your fingers when you chop it and it accompanies every Nigerian dish.

Tea drinking is a big thing before a meal, especially with/before eating breakfast. The interesting thing is, I have never drunk tea in my life. Until now. I love Nigerian tea. Tea without at least 4 sugars is not an option here. And more often than not, coffee is also added to the tea!

Nigerians love their meat. Meat with lots of pepe. But meat can include any part of the animal, and usually isn’t the ‘meat’ that we know in our country. Most of the time I have no idea which part of the animal I am eating (or not eating)! An Igbo (one of the 3 major Nigerian Tribes) speciality is goats head pepper soup. I managed to nibble an ear!

Buying food in the market is really interesting. I am beginning to learn what is in season and when the season for a particular fruit or veg is coming. The market was really bare for the couple of months leading up to the rainy season, so bare that it was even difficult to buy tomatoes and the price of onions quadrupled.. Then suddenly it bloomed again. You buy things by the bowl, e.g. a bowl of rice, half a bowl of flour, a large bowl of pepe! Then you are supposed to bargain for a good price.

Another interesting thing is that is it very common to share a plate of food with others. Often all the children in the family will sit around one large plate and share the food together. When arriving at an LGEA at lunchtime the men were sharing a large plate of potatoes, they did offer me to join them but then ended up giving me a separate plate (I have mentioned before that men and women don’t eat together).

Friar da nono is the local milk drink mixed with millet and spices. Often when I visit the villages they give me a bowl of the milk to drink (from the bowl, no spoon or mug). Now I am used to the taste I really enjoy it. It is more like yoghurt than milk. They are always surprised to hear that we don’t drink friar da nono in England. Don’t we drink the milk from the cows? I guess so much has been done to ‘our’ milk that it is nothing like the natural source. And usually it is cold from the fridge.

"Would you like to see our kitchen?" Not exactly what I was expecting!
3 large pots of bean porridge ready to serve for breakfast to the hungry pupils of Kudai Boarding Primary School.

The cooks preparing spagetti ready for lunch.

1 comment:

  1. The world food day is a day when all of us should get together and help the needy ones either by working for charities or contributing in one way or the other. A friend of mine took a flight to Abuja last year on the world food day and worked for charity in Nigeria. To work for charity in Africa is a blessing for the African people as there are many places where the basic necessities of life arent met coz of limited or no resources at all.