I have watched with no small degree of amusement as different people have praised the various foods of their tribes and, subtly, or not so subtly mocked or “subbed” the foods of other tribes. Me, I’m not into all that. I have been fortunate to eat a wide variety of dishes in an amazing number of places, and all I can say is, if you can cook, you can cook. There’s a whole lot that goes into cooking other than dumping ingredients in a pot and covering them to boil. A few years ago I was privileged to spend one and a half months in a village somewhere in Anambra State, on the banks of the River Niger. And I ate fish there, practically every conceivable freshwater fish, from the pedestrian to the exotic, in all manner and fashion. I ate fish that was so fresh, it was almost literally still alive (the Igbo words for fresh, raw, and alive are the same, thank you). I ate food that was farm fresh, clean, and free of the bruising that characterizes a lot of the vegetables we eat. Cut from the farm, put in a basket, brought home, and into the pot. This made everything I ate in that village have a special taste. Some smart youths in the area, when the rainy season ended, would go out in canoes and boats to islands that had been submerged, or were little more than accumulations of silt and effluvium left by running water. They would plant short term crops on these little islands, vegetables and spices and okra and pepper. On the way, they would set traps for fish, and when they had special guests (I qualified as a special guest, but that is another day’s gist), they would go to the farms, bring spices (scent leaves or basil, nchanwu to the Igbos, effinrin to the Yorubas) and several types of pepper, and on the way back, harvest fish from the traps. The canoes were unique, and had a space inside for a basin, into which the still-living fish were transferred. Then would follow gisting and merrymaking, with plenty of – you guessed it- fresh fish pepper soup. Or fresh fish, fresh-peppper soup.:
Sometimes, a bad experience with a particular dish may put you off the dish for life, or maybe a series of bad experiences. It gets worse if the experiences are separated by a wide gulf of time and space, so you just have your perceptions of the particular dish coloured permanently.
I happen to be curious about food a lot, so I spoke to the Big Sis. She is married to a Yoruba man, and is an expert in all kinds of soups (stews) and sauces. I asked her one day about gbegiri, you know, the popular soup favored by the people of south western Nigeria, made from beans.
She looked at me and frowned.
“Let beans be beans, abeg, or moin-moin. I don’t like that gbegiri something.”
We may have different skin colours, textures, height, weight, complexions and countenances, but in two things we are all the same:
Number One –Sex: The astounding number of mixed-race individuals littering the earth is proof positive of this. Curiosity, passion, foolishness, a taste for the exotic, or whatever we choose to call it, mixed-race individuals are proof positive that a hole is a hole and a peg is a peg, and pegs always fit in holes.
Food: from the milk and blood meal of the Masai in Kenya to the raw worms of the palm plantations, from the termites and crickets of the south east in Nigeria to the steaks and hams of Europe, we are all composed of stomachs. And a well cooked meal is a well cooked meal. I’m sure you all saw pictures of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, owner of Instagram and Whatsapp, eating eba (or was it amala)when he came to Nigeria. Now, I’m very sure that prior to that time, he had never tasted amala before, or any of our soups and sauces. And yet he ate, and ate well. No ill effects afterward. None whatsoever. He even received strength to go jogging the next day. Someone who can cook can cook. One of my elder sisters is a fair hand at soups, but her real talent comes out in the preparation of stews and sauces. Even my mother agrees. And I know you’re going to quote a proverb and tell me “nobody will ever say that his mother’s soup is not tasty”, but my mother is a goddess of soups. She never cooked any soup and got it wrong, in living memory. Worst, she would not attempt it. I tasted groundnut soup for the first time after I had left my parents’ house, so I know what I’m talking about.
And sadly, regardless of what you have been told, about which tribes can cook better, someone who cannot cook cannot cook. Simple. Back in school, when being broke was standard fare and life could be calculated in terms of month ends, when the alerts and allowances from home would arrive to raise us to financial half-mast (we were almost always drooping, walahi, someone always had more money), I had reason to go to the house of a female colleague, and she, out to prove how many yards her wife material was, made us indomie. There is nothing complicated about indomie, just dump the noodles in the pot, add the spices, add water, and bring it down when boiled, right?
Wrong. I ate the indomie, but I was aghast at how bad ordinary indomie could taste. I almost wished she has saved her cooking gas and given me indomie to chew and spice to lick, then water to wash it down. My belly is a better cook than that. As if in agreement, I got home, and my belly washed me (igbo translation required). Or rather, the poor belly washed itself. Anything would require ablutions after that kind of gastric abuse.
At several points, while straining and trying to void my abused bowels, I was tempted to call the girl and inform her that her wife material wouldn’t be enough for hanky and her bride price was just handshake, but I was afraid, and besides, you do not react when you are angry. So I did my “Sit and Think”, or was it “Shit and Stink”? I forget, really, it was a long time ago.
So if you have had the grave misfortune of having been introduced to the culinary delights of another tribe by an incompetent ambassador, let it not deter you, go out, try again, and let your taste buds make new friends.
So tell me, what food mishaps have you experienced?