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Nigerian Diet


Nigerian Diet

“You are what you eat” is a phrase that is used and utilised so much back home in England, it was the name of a TV show, it is used in commercials and there are books by the name, so if it is the case then what can you possible say about Nigeria. The national diet of this fertile land is so amazingly limited and for me as an Oyibo it is uneatable.

From what I can see and from what I have experienced here in my first months is that the diet is so amazingly limited. But Nigerians will very rarely go beyond it. There are about 16 dishes from which to choose. And in truth a lot of them are just versions of the same thing. Pepper soup is everywhere, it is a serious staple of the diet, and for the locals variety comes in the form of changing one element of the dish. Chicken, fish, goat or beef are the main varieties of this soup, but the soup aspect is very much the same and tastes of nothing but the pepper or pepe. It is hot, exceptionally peppery, over-poweringly so. You taste pepper and just about nothing else.

What I find strange and disappointing is that every dish on the Nigerian menu tastes of pepper. Afang soup, Egusi Soup and the others use only a small variety of ingredients, but different ones and then whack they hit it with pepper as a seasoning. But rather than lift the other flavours the seasoning just totally over powers the entire dish. What is also alarming is that this habit hits every dish a Nigerian seems to cook. The process of seasoning seems to have been translated as smother it with pepper so that all you can taste is the pepper. Whoever it was that first imported pepper into Nigeria must be a very rich man indeed.

But if we go back to the phrase, “you are what you eat”, then what is Nigeria. Hot, spicy and peppery, or limited, unadventurous and unimaginative. I have to say the latter is a little harsh, but equally I do sometimes wonder just how Nigerians survive when they leave to go and live in another country, it must be quite hard for them. I know for me, eating while I am here in Naija has been a real issue, a real challenge and maybe it will prove to not be a bad thing, because I can see I am losing weight.  But I did not come here for some form of crash diet, and it is something that has really disappointed me, when I came I really wanted to learn and taste a new diet, a new and different food culture. But there is no culture in Nigerian cuisine.

What has also surprised and disappointed me is how they won’t change it, or challenge it. Afang is cooked one way and that is it, as are all the dishes. I do think it would be a real super chef challenge to come here and see how the likes of Ramsey or Heston would get on with it. Heston trying to reinvent Egusi Soup would be something I would dearly love to see, but only after watching Ramsey eat a bowl of Afang as if he were on his TV show, Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, now would be something the world would want to watch.

On a personal note I have still not given up my desire to play with this food, to have a go at reinvention, to seeing what I can and cannot get away with. I just feel something has to tried at least once, and maybe even twice. The basics are there, the textures and basic ingredients are sound and are open to manipulation, but if it is that my Nigerian friends are what they eat, and are limited and unadventurous then will they even give it a try, I guess I will just have to try it and see

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© 2008 Paul Kavanagh. All rights reserved.