So much of the magic in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road revolves around pepper soup—a dish universally loved by everyone in the novel, whether man or woman, ghost or prehistoric creature.

Some of the most important scenes in the novel take place in Madame Koto’s bar. Fans of Okri’s classic know Madame Koto’s bar as an underworld where men and ghosts alike come to find solace and pleasure in bowl after bowl of pepper soup, washed down with palmwine.

Whereas the world of Okri’s novel is fictional, pepper soup is not. It is an authentic Nigerian “drinking soup” consisting of meat cooked in a light broth infused with aromatic spices. Pepper soup is eaten steaming hot and engulfs the palate in a peppery flame.

In a novel where life is lived in surreal intensity, it is hardly surprising that pepper soup would be the culinary mainstay.

If you’ve tasted pepper soup, you’d agree with me that it is beyond delicious.

But, as Okri is known to have said while having lunch with a journalist, pepper soup also “enhances the appetite, expands the tastebuds, opens up the desire channels, cleanses the blood, inflames the eyes.”

In today’s post, we invite you to step out of Okri’s fictional world and live the magic of pepper soup in your kitchen.

Here is an easy recipe we found in a lovely little blog called kitchenbutterfly.com.

Bon appetit!

1.25kg of ‘soup’ (hard) chicken or goat meat, cut in bite-sized pieces
2.5 litres of water
3 tablespoons of peppersoup spice mix (Calabash Nutmeg, Alligator Pepper, Black Cardamom, Parinari excelsa)
1 stalk of lemon grass, bruised and cut into three pieces, tied into small bundles
1 – 2 Maggi bouillon cubes
Red chilli powder, to taste
Salt, to taste
2 teaspoons of ground crayfish (optional)

Direction: Put chopped meat in a large pot and cover with some of the water (about 500ml). Add a tablespoon of the spice mix, some salt, the maggi bouillon cubes, some red chilli powder, the crayfish if using and the lemon grass bundles.  Stir and allow to simmer on low heat till liquid comes to a boil.

When the liquid comes to the boil, add the remaining 2 litres of water and the rest of the pepper soup spice mix. Allow cook on medium – low heat . Adjust salt and pepper to taste and simmer till the meat is soft but isn’t falling off the bone.

Serve with boiled plantains and yams and some palm oil, if you like.

— More at kitchenbutterfly.com



Post Image by Kitchenbutterfly via Flickr.

Feature Image via The Guardian


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I'm finishing up a phd at Duke University where I study African novels, which I believe are some of the loveliest things ever written. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

One Response to “How to Cook African Literary Food | Ben Okri and The Magic of Pepper Soup” Subscribe

  1. Amaka 2015/05/19 at 7:56 am #

    The Famished Road…great book.

    Visit DNB Stories

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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