I don’t blame myself for avoiding Nigerian food. Although street sellers are everywhere, fillets of raw meat sitting in the sun and covered with more flies than a Save the Children commercial isn’t that appealing. There are many Nigerian restaurants as well, but when we’re eating out, we tend to eat where we can ease our homesick taste buds. I do have the occasional shawarma, which is not Nigerian, and I’ve ordered the suya from our school’s cafeteria, but that isn’t anything more than spiced meat on a stick. Before I left for the summer, I wanted to have a genuine Nigerian meal without getting intestinal worms. So, I turned to Joy and the sanitation of my kitchen.
Our housekeeper has worked with expat teachers for years, and cooks for the Western palate well. The pizza Joy baked last week was outstanding. Joy and I have a great relationship. I love to poke fun at all things oyingbo (white people) and make her laugh about things she’s not supposed to, and we joke that I take over for her as the night shift (this is true- my nightly chores earn me dart playing rights). When I asked her if she could make me a Nigerian lunch she agreed, but I could tell she was suspicious of my motives. Why would I ever want to do that?
The Nigerian staple is the yam, not to be confused with sweet potato we in the States sometimes call yam. The enormous tuber accompanies many Nigerian meals, boiled and sliced or pounded into a mashed potato-like paste and eaten with your hands. Joy decided on a simple Nigerian food warm up: onion, tomato, piri-piri and egg mixture with sliced yam. Piri-piri is a hot chilli pepper pervasive in subsaharan African cuisine, which Joy cautiously toned down for my lunch. She said it was too hot for oyingbo. As the yam boiled away on the stove, she fried the vegetables in a bit too much oil and let it thicken before adding the whisked egg at the end. The starchy yam disks were lightly salted and delicious, especially when eaten with the vegetable/egg relish. I made reticent Sarah try a forkful, and suddenly I had to defend my plate from her having “just one more bite”. I’ll admit I didn’t have much promise for Nigerian cuisine, but this beginner’s lunch put me ready to explore more when we return in August.