Now that Nigeria is a whole sixty-years-old, and we can’t talk about her ‘incredibly efficient’ institutions or infrastructure without rolling our eyes all the way to the back, the least we can do is to console ourselves with the one thing we have going for us: our food! See, I’m not just talking about our famous jollof rice with its ubiquitous presence in weddings and burials. Jollof rice is now so common that everybody’s cousin who lives abroad and cannot cook a decent meal can at least boast of knowing how to make these two things: Banana bread and oven jollof rice. Emphasis on oven jollof rice!
On this jollof rice issue, it’s not like I want to completely eliminate our heritage, but the thing is, every Tom, Dick and Okoro is dragging our jollof expertise with us, the Ghanaians, Sierra Leoneans, even them Haiti people have a version of jollof rice. In fact, let me tell you, I have eaten Ghana and Haiti jollof rice, and I must admit that our Naija version, like many other things, needs to start doing push-ups to maintain its international competitive edge. Somebody should please send this memo to all our favorite caterers.
Anyway, jollof rice aside, let us at least focus on our indigenous local soups: the kind cooked with crayfish and Mangala and goat meat; boiled in red oil so thoroughly bleached that the said oil is bound to trickle down to your heart and lodge itself there. You know the most delicious meals come with a death sentence. #Sigh. God forbid sha, but you get my point: Banga soup. Ogbonno. Sea food okro but not the Lekki versions that lack character and bite; Attama and Affang and Onugbu! Are you now in the spirit?
There are many things in this country that are currently not working, but our swallow and leafy spicy soups will always be a goal! Now, this brings me to my main-main point. Isn’t it interesting, that despite how robust and rich our food variety is, it has little to no export value?
In the US for instance, you go to Asian stores and you see Nigerians strutting about their wide hips, picking out spices and rice and oils. You go to Caribbean stores, and you will find Caucasians despite their bland taste palettes, looking for ‘exotic’ flavors.’ Even the Mexicans are all over the place with their Tacos and whatnot. Yet, our precious Egusi and Ogbonno and moi-moi remain objects of suspicious scrutiny, much like another version of illegal migration.
It bothers me o. It should bother all of us, from Mushin to Orlando to Toronto. Why does it take three times the trip to an Asian store to find the closest African store? Why are people rushing back home to order a year’s supply of Ogiri and Nchanwu? When our food can be more accessible outside the homeland?
We seriously need to galvanize and find a way to put our Nigerian food on the global map, not just for Nigerian consumers but for the polish woman, the German dude and the Jamaican hipster who all claim to like exploring food and culture. There’s so much we can say about who we are and our ancestral legacy, through our food, much like what we’ve done with our music and film industry.
So maybe you are thinking: wetin come concern me? Lol. Right! I’m not asking you to pack your bags and run off to open an African store in Canada. But we can, at least, start small, by celebrating our food on our social media pages. After all, you don’t always have to post a picture of some exotic meal in a restaurant on the upside of town. Try Ewa agoyin, roasted corn and ube, afang, nsala. This is our Independence week. We fit no get many things but at least, na our food sweet pass.