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We are delighted to host Yemisi Aribisala, the author of Longthroat Memoirs: Soup, Sex, and Nigerian Tastebuds. Brittle Paper is the first stop in her week-long blog tour publicizing her amazing new book of essay about Nigerian food and culinary culture.

As promised, we have an exclusive peek into the book. Scroll down to read the short excerpt, in which Aribisala makes a surprising discovery in a Calabar market. You’ll get a taste of Aribisala’s unmatched skill at making Nigerian food something quite wondrous.

You’ve read the excerpt and the synopsis of the book and have seen the book cover (above). It’s time to write any questions or comments you might have in the comment section. Feel free to ask questions or simply leave a comment about anything—Nigerian food, recipes, ingredients, food writing, essay writing, publishing, etc. Aribisala will respond to you as best as she can.

Okay, let’s go!

Synopsis:

Longthroat Memoirs presents a sumptuous menu of essays about Nigerian food, lovingly presented by the nation’s top epicurean writer. As well as a mouth-watering appraisal of the cultural politics and erotics of Nigerian cuisine, it is also a series of love letters to the Nigerian palate. From innovations in soup, fish as aphrodisiac and the powerful seductions of the yam, Longthroat Memoirs examines the complexities, the peculiarities, the meticulousness, and the tactility of Nigerian food. Nigeria has a strong culture of oral storytelling, of myth creation, of imaginative traversing of worlds. Longthroat Memoirs collates some of those stories into an irresistible soup-pot, expressed in the flawless love language of appetite and nourishment. A sensuous testament on why, when and how Nigerians eat the food they love to eat; this book is a welcome addition to the global dining table of ideas. 

Excerpt:

How to Make Meat

I am at the old woman’s condiment stall, buying uyayak pods (tetrapleura tetraptera) with bitter kolas to keep snakes out of the house, when something behind her catches my eye.

‘What is that?’ I ask.

‘Usu,’ she responds absentmindedly, gathering the pods into a bag.

Why do I bother asking these sort of questions when I always get those sorts of answers? ‘What is Usu?’

‘Usu … Usu!’ She turns around to reach for the soil-covered, nodular tuber, and my eyes grow round from shock.

‘Where is this from?’ I ask, attempting to keep my voice from expressing excitement. She is putting all my things in one place and can’t seem to do that and hold a conversation at the same time. She stops what she is doing, catches her breath and explains that it is like a mushroom. You take a bit of it, put it back in the ground and it grows. ‘Just like that!’

I know she doesn’t mean ‘just like that’. I’m staring at her with amazement because of the striking similarity between what she is nonchalantly holding in her hand and what those odd white men on the BBC Lifestyle channel rapturously refer to as a truffle: a very expensive mushroom that you cannot put back in the ground to grow just like that. Of course, if I start to ramble on about wild fungi and how one fist-size truffle can cost over a thousand euros, and how it is documented that you absolutely cannot commercially grow truffles, she would forevermore treat me like a market-crazewoman, the worst sort of crazeperson, so I keep my cool, buy a small, cleaned piece and ask her what she would cook with it, if she will cook it. I am already treading dangerous ground standing around asking questions.

She says she will. She won’t infuse oil with it or frugally shred it on top of her meal. We are in a market in Calabar but there is no market for this usu; there is no need to think about whether or not it is commercially growable or if it is the most expensive food in the world. It is just a mushroom that Igbos eat, so the mental partitioning that the locals apply to her wares when they approach her stall has relegated the usu’s value to next to nothing. Achi, ofo and ogbono have more market value than the usu.

In Calabar, it is not unusual to run into world-renowned delicacies pretending to be nobodies: strawberries up on the plateau at the Obudu Cattle Ranch; sole peddled out of old basins on Hawkins Street; lime-green and red rambutans hawked on little girls’ heads in May. And now usu, which might be the tartufi bianchi, one of the most expensive, luxurious foods in the world. Perhaps I should say nothing about it so that Calabar is not overrun by trifolau with specially trained pigs hunting for truffles. When she says you can put the mushroom back in the ground to grow, she is talking like a genuine trifolau with knowledge of a special grove in a secret place. The place where the usu will grow is not anyplace that you know or can reach, so what value is that information to you? Nothing. 
She recommends combining usu with egusi to create a meat substitute. A beloved, triumphant meat substitute, not one in the fashion of tofu-pretending-to-be-chicken, or those vegetarian sausages you might see in La Pointe supermarket that have a sort of I’m-sorry-I’m-not-meat air about them. I am amazed by this suggestion because we like to stereotype ourselves as unrepentant carnivores who can’t bear the sight of our meals sans animal flesh. Yet here is a local substitute that we would happily eat in soup.

Hand-shelled egusi is ground with the usu in a blender and then pounded in a hand mortar until the oil begins to separate from the seeds.. The successful pounding and the separation of the oil leaves a smooth beige mound. This processing is the same as pounding egusi for the ntutulikpo soup but with the added dimension of taste and texture from the usu. Salt, pepper and onions are added if the eater desires. A large pot of water is kept boiling on the hob. The mixture is cut into equal sized pieces, shaped as desired and cooked in the boiling water until the meaty texture is attained. This boiling typically takes thirty to forty-five minutes.

There is something about boiling that doesn’t quite agree with me: I keep thinking of all the flavour and nutrients being drowned. The egusi and usu mixture should be steamed in thaumatococcus leaves, but boiling is the only way to create the texture of meat, the only way to create something that can texturally hold its own in a pot of soup as a meat substitute.

Beautiful, right?

Now write any questions or comments you might have on the comment section.

Again, join us in giving Aribisala a warm welcome!

PS: Where to get the book:

Lagos: Patabah bookstore, Shoprite Suru-Lere, Quintessence Ikoyi, Jazzhole Ikoyi, Glendora Ikeja City Mall etc.

Abuja: the Cassava Republic Bookshop stores it and they are at 62B arts and crafts Village, opposite Sheraton.

If you live in the US, the Uk, and so on, go HERE.

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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.

25 Responses to “Join Us Today as We Host Yemisi Aribisala, Author of Longthroat Memoirs” Subscribe

  1. Ainehi Edoro 2016/11/28 at 01:27 #

    Hi Yemisi. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with my and Brittle Paper readers about your work. Let me just begin by saying that Longthroat Memoirs is truly beautiful. Can you tell us about how the idea for the book came about? What was the spark? What made you embark on this inspiring journey of documenting contemporary Nigerian food culture?

  2. Sope 2016/11/28 at 02:03 #

    Yemisi, where do I get your book? Also, with this book, will you say you’ve done a total coverage of all kinds of food cooked/made in Nigeria?

  3. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/28 at 02:59 #

    Thank you Aihehi. The “Why” of the book was after-the-fact filling in of a gap in a book of love letters. You had a country that loved its food but had never put that love down in words. All around us, globally, conversations on food and culture was going on, even being showed daily to us on television and Nigerians were eating silently.

    I had been invited to do 800 word restaurant reviews for a Nigerian newspaper 234Next. I did an honest assessment of the invitation and of myself and realised that I didn’t fit the bill – didn’t have the time, the temperament, nor the necessary appearance for the role of reviewer of fine-dining Lagos restaurants.

    I counter-offered an unmapped territory of  ruminations on Nigerian food, on its person and the Nigerian’s relationship with that person called our food. I wrote two years and a few months of food articles under the title of Food Matters and the book came as kernel of a proposal after the fact. I offered the compilation in its rawest form to Bibi Bakare Yusuf of Cassava Republic Press, then we began what turned out to be five years of work on those articles.

  4. Ainehi Edoro 2016/11/28 at 03:06 #

    I really like the idea that loving food and documenting that love are two different things. I wonder what changes when we move from one to the other. What’s the significance of this shift? What changes when we move from simply loving food to translating that love into writing. Just thinking aloud.

  5. Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam 2016/11/28 at 03:19 #

    Hello Aribisala, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the excerpt. Your writing is really beautiful. I’m glad there’s a memoir on Nigerian food.

    Is it available in Nigerian bookstores?

  6. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/28 at 03:28 #

    It was in the midst of writing on Nigerian food that I collided with the diversity of it- I mean the force of the diversity because an average Nigerian like myself who isn’t particularly well traveled has no real way of conceptualising how culturally diverse, how vast Nigeria is as a country and as a unit that interfaces with itself through different dimensions, languages, religions, cultural beliefs. And this might answer Sope’s question – There is no way a book of 352 pages can include all of the food of Nigeria, all of the ingredients, all of the methodologies of preparing the food. Longthroat Memoirs, Soups, Sex and Nigerian Tastebuds was a first step and an eye-opening introduction even for the writer of the book. A few weeks ago, someone from Delta State gave me a whole new recipe for making Gari. I was rather stunned, not by the discovery of the existence of “a new way” as much as by the system itself and the complexity introduced into making what I regarded as “simple Gari”. This stumbling on new information on Nigerian food has been happening non-stop for as long as I have been writing on food. And as I mentioned in the book, because Nigerians have gone so long without talking about our food in an in-depth way – there is a lot of discovery and work and writing ahead.

  7. Socrates 2016/11/28 at 03:36 #

    This is interesting I must say considering how food is important to nigerians but never really discussed in depth this way. Which part of the country will you say interested you most with its th of food? And why?
    I hope this encourages more use of different Nigerian types of food I O literature.

  8. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/28 at 03:36 #

    Hello Chioma. Thank you. Longthroat Memoirs, Soups Sex and Nigerian Tastebuds can be bought in the following places in Lagos: Patabah bookstore, Shoprite Suru-Lere, Quintessence Ikoyi, Jazzhole Ikoyi, Glendora Ikeja City Mall etc.

    In Abuja the Cassava Republic Bookshop stores it and they are at 62B arts and crafts Village, opposite Sheraton.

    Thanks again.

  9. KT 2016/11/28 at 03:39 #

    Hi Yẹ́misí,

    Thank you for writing the book and for putting many of the stories, myths, and tastes around Nigerian food on the page. It’s a very Nigerian book.

    My question isn’t much about the content of the book itself as much as it is about style. To describe food successfully, especially food of this Nigerian kind – with its styles and eccentricities – requires not just an intimate knowledge of the food but also the right facility with words. Reading you, one almost gets to see and smell the food itself, which is hard to do (for me, anyway).

    So my question is, what are your literary influences? What books or writings do you think prepared you for this kind of task? And how easy/hard was it for you to find a voice that is authentically yours and at the same time very useful to this epicurean end?

  10. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/28 at 04:01 #

    Hello Socrates. I have to say south-south Nigeria, because they really do have the most cleverly put together soups and pottages, and the largest number of unique ingredients that I had never heard of nor seen well into my forties. There is also an attention to detail, to the creation of condiments that exists there, that really endeared me. The rationales of the meals are daily parlayed, relatively easy to acquire by immersing oneself and asking questions – Who Beniseed soup is cooked for: What Egome from Northern Cross river says to a man when a woman cooks it for him: The potential of suggestiveness inherent in sucking out a cooked Nfi (a periwinkle) from its shell: The endorsed propriety at a formal dinner of loud sucking noises made when pulling Nfi from its shell…

    Having said that because Northern Nigeria/Arewa food isn’t addressed yet in Longthroat Memoirs, my curiosity and interest are turned hundred-percent in that direction.

  11. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/28 at 04:57 #

    Hello KT – this is a difficult question when you’ve had such a long process of writing one book, or even a longer one of developing a voice to write in. I have been writing unsuccessfully for close to three decades. I have fiction that I have written for many years and haven’t finished writing and may never finish writing. These failures were very important preparation for my essays that worked and were accepted and published. I wrote for 234Next for over two years and that helped me build a discipline of putting words down and leaving them and trusting them. My writing for The Chimurenga Chronic has been my most enjoyable because The Chronic allows me to express myself, and they treat my words and idiosyncrasies of expression with a lot of respect- this is just a boon if you can get it. I’ve always been drawn to the plain-spoken form of the memoir and find myself going back to Frank McCourt and Maya Angelou’s books. In a similar vein I love all of M.F.K Fisher’s food writing and Isabel Allende’s Aphrodite: A memoir of the senses. I love the historical detail and stimulation of Mark Pendergrast’s Uncommon Grounds – The history of coffee and how it transformed our world and Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire – How cooking made us human.

    Towards the end of editing Longthroat Memoirs, I found Mabel Segun’s fantastic book on Nigerian food. It is called Rhapsody, a celebration of Nigerian cooking and food culture. I am glad I didn’t find it before all my own words were put down because I wouldn’t guarantee some contamination.

    In my grandfather’s library many years ago, I found a 1956 version of Guy Endore’s The King of Paris on the life story of Alexandre Dumas. No one is really sure if this book is fiction or non-fiction but the anecdotes told in it are amazing. Dumas was a large man – a lover of food and an extravagant cook. The book tells us that Dumas toured Switzerland on foot and visited a Stagecoach Inn in Martigny where he was convinced by the innkeeper to order a Bearsteak with butter sauce…If I tell the rest of the story I will surely spoil the anecdote but what a story and what a twist in the tail. It made me want to write and tell a good story.

    In Longthroat Memoirs, Soups, Sex and Nigerian Tastebuds, I talk about sitting in a Farafina Writers’ Workshop session one day and hearing Binyavanga Wainaina say two words – “Snail Tree” and how it was like a struck match that made me run off and write an essay on snails and sexuality.

    I could go on and on. How does one in fact table all of the influences that create a way of speaking over so many years. I don’t think I can successfully do so.

  12. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/28 at 06:03 #

    All kinds of magic I think happen Ainehi when we translate love into writing. A man can tell a woman he loves her till he is breathless in the secret of their rooms but there is a higher level of professing that is going to require writing something down. I think what we call a commitment. The commitment might not be important to us Nigerians because we know we love our food, but it is important to other people because we want them to stop presuming that our food doesn’t have a vocabulary, a language, a repository of ideas, stories and myths. There are all kinds of accusations levelled at the Nigerian and a lot of them are rather dehumanising. You will hear people say because Nigerians are only about this and this and this, they have no cogent sophistication interpretable through food, no logic to their lives, they don’t know their history, they have no narrative of food that connects them to the past and the future. Or their food is very basic- Jollof rice and egusi soup and fried meat – all the presumptions that can be shown to be superficial and false by speaking up and professing.

    Words that aren’t used lie down and die. If I didn’t go out of my way to probe elderly women on “why” they did certain things when cooking, I would have no knowledge but I tell you that a lot of the people I was speaking to had already lost the connection between their hands and their words so that when I asked, I had to interpret the procedure that I was seeing into words for them. I’m not sure about why this is so.

    I have a strong feeling that many elderly women that I spoke to felt pretentious monologuing as they cooked. There is a contempt to talking over pots of food “and spitting into everything”. Interestingly, holding some other conversation that is tangential might be more acceptable. A similar contempt is applied to cutting plantains against a wooden board. And then there is the contempt specially reserved for a woman my age asking questions about things she should know already.

    To be sure, silence is speech too but I believe that when we apply words to food, we build a multidimensional personality, a much needed cultural bank for all kinds of communal treasures. An official who answers to all kinds of cultural necessities.

  13. KT 2016/11/28 at 08:38 #

    Food and culture as inextricably linked, as we’d find in proverbs and aphorisms many of which we don’t even know have carried culture forward for a while. You and I were taking on twitter a while ago about “Igbá, ìkòkò baba iṣasùn” which is the Yorùbá phrasing for “etc”, something so benign-sounding in English that, in Yorùbá, becomes a whole set of cooking utensils. What have you learnt about Nigerian culture while writing this book/essays that you didn’t know before you started?

  14. Ainehi Edoro 2016/11/28 at 09:00 #

    KT’s question is making me thinking about food in African fiction. Again why you work of establishing a discourse around Nigerian food is urgent. I’d say food has suffered the fate of sex in Nigerian fiction. In assembling the African fictional world, writers seem to see food as a non-essential element. Aside from the cursory description/dictionary explanation provided for eba, for instance, there is hardly any attempt to take food seriously and explore its evocative power. I like using Things Fall Apart as the classic example of a novel that we credit with so much representational value but that almost completely excludes the question of food. There are the usual references to people cooking and eating mounds of pounded yam and roasted cricket but nothing memorable, nothing like Pip in Dicken’s Great Expectation going and on about godawful bread his sister forced him and her husband to eat. Lol.

  15. Pa Ikhide 2016/11/28 at 09:16 #

    Yemisi,

    I love the way you make the connection between narrative and Nigerian food. It is all in the narrative and who is presenting it. Narrative as food, food as narrative. Many presentations on food suffer from what I call mimicry of Western presentations and have been parodied on social media. I have complained loudly about how African writers have italicized and explained common English terms like egusi and ugali. Your work as a writer, using food as the template is inspiring. Could you explain why and how you decided on this approach of appropriating the presentation and narrative as our own?

  16. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/28 at 09:43 #

    I agree Ainehi. I remember the children’s books I read very long ago- and how at least half of the enjoyment of reading them and remembering them had to do with descriptions of sweet things, and pastry and the granting of life to food so that it can do all kinds of things like grow and explode in your mouth or change colour, take on both repulsive and attractive characteristics. That imaginative manipulation of food is not fully explored in Nigerian children’s books nor in adult ones. And what a loss. Ijapa stories make a skin-deep attempt at inserting food in stories but you are also right that you would be told of big juicy mangoes that Ijapa bribed Aiyekoto with but you probably won’t be treated to “…tangy-sweet, dripping juice, yellow/orange/ threads caught between your teeth, delicious green skin you were compelled to chew…” I wonder if there is a residual belief of indecency in that kind of effusiveness in talking about food.

  17. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/28 at 10:52 #

    Well Pa, I think firstly one needs a good dose of annoyance and scandalisation. And then one needs cognisance of people who are writing food – the food you and me eat – writing it well. Because they exist and have been writing for a while. Then one needs respectful engagement with our food that has no inferiority complex in it. An engagement that is sincere and loving.

    I had already met enough people who called paw-paw papaya, said okro was “okra” and slimy; said Nigerian food had no appeal, was ugly and smelly. Ogbono soup was pungent or ogbono soup smelled like soap. I had met the Nigerians who pretended not to eat anything Nigerian but went home and ate bowls of gari that three of four people would happily eat…in one sitting. I had met the kind who lived in the United States and said they couldn’t move back to Nigeria because they couldn’t buy their particular kind of sausages there. I’d collided with disparagement from inside and outside Nigeria.

    I had tried to feed my children white rice, canned cereal, potato crisps, vienna sausages, battery chickens, stock cubes, cow’s milk. They fell ill often and I promptly went back to the food their bodies recognised – Gari, soup, fresh vegetables, fufu.

    I’d had a love affair end on the back of hating fudge and eccles cakes…and the other person hating don’t-cut-my-leg-chicken and plenty pepper. The thing is, I’m middle aged and too old to be deceived even by myself. The narrative is mine because it is going inside my stomach and I have words to say exactly what is happening. I am sufficiently scandalised and annoyed by the generalisations and self-loathing and bad words to be determined to find and use my own words.

    When I talk about cognisance of people writing well, I am talking about people like Siddhartha Mitter who wrote a beautiful piece on Okro – My mouth hung open at first reading and I thought “This is so beautiful.” I spend many hours just looking at the pictures in Pierre Thiam’s books. His pictures of Senegalese food and people are stunning, his food gorgeously plated, true to the country and palate and his recipes work.

    The irony is that there are many naturalised Africans like Fran Osseo Asare of Betumi blog and The Ghana cookbook who have created and are still creating beautiful images and words on food from African countries in which they live. More recently we have the work of Nigerians like Ozoz Sokoh and Iquo Ukoh and other bloggers.

    And then I have met so many proud women who don’t have urban hang-ups about the food they love – They don’t necessarily have access to the internet or social media and are not influenced by what is trendy. They are the olowosibi who I mention in the book that have spent a lifetime cooking pots of soups and know their way with their eyes closed around flavours and textures and palm oil dilutions. The pride in our food isn’t gone. It was inhibited for different mysterious reasons or excluded from narrative, or unspoken, or left behind in villages but has been slowly but surely finding its way into daily parlance.

    All I really had to do was take the sum of my experiences and write them as truthfully as I could. I know it sounds simpler and shorter than the process it has been, but there it is.

  18. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/28 at 11:04 #

    Too many things to recount KT – Where does one start and end? From these cooking utensils that you mention that must be handled with protocol – a woman can sit on a mortar, a man cannot. A man cannot put a woman’s mortar and pestle outside otherwise he is evicting her. A mortar cannot travel without holding a coin. A man cannot open a woman’s pots without her express permission. A man who has acquired snake bite medicine cannot eat cooked palm fruit. In Yoruba parlance, a woman doesn’t cook, she “lights a fire”…we’ll be here all day breaking every innocent gesture in English into thousands of significations in Nigerian languages.

  19. Ukamaka Olisakwe 2016/11/28 at 11:49 #

    Yemisi, thank you for this education!

    I have just learned more about usu. I was introduced to this condiment by my grandmother who insisted you cook her egusi soup with it. I didn’t like it initially, but learned to love after I found the distinct taste it gives to the egusi, plus it also thickens the soup.

    I read first excerpts of your book from the screenshot Kola Tubosun posted on his Instagram and I was hooked. Not only does it introduce people to Nigerian delicacies, it seems to tell the stories behind the stories of how we make what we eat, and why. This is deeply resourceful and it has inspired me to capture details of how we make the food in my stories, and not simply writing how we eat them.

    My question: what prompted you to write this book?

  20. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/28 at 12:21 #

    Thank you Ukamaka. I didn’t start off writing a book at all, and I believe that if I had decided that I was writing a book before I built the volume of articles, my confidence would have failed me. I wrote one article that I presented to 234Next every Thursday and after two years and a few months, I realised I had what looked like a book. Through many edits and reedits the realisation slowly crystallised that the book was a cultural document, a collection of stories, a dialogue with other Nigerians on food… very importantly a book of ideas on black food coming out of a country in Africa, written by a black Nigerian woman, edited and produced by a feminist Nigerian publisher – a rare unheard of thing, especially in the context of a publishing world where “new African fiction” was the rage. So you see that all the pieces didn’t fall into place in the natural way. To pinpoint that prompt and the resolution to write and hope to be published – that is quite hard, but Bibi Bakare Yusuf and I did sign a document that we were publishing a book in 2011, so perhaps that point was the one of no return.

  21. Dami 2016/11/28 at 12:44 #

    Hi Yemisi,

    I enjoyed reading the little excerpt, can’t wait to get a copy of the book! Being from the southwestern part of Nigeria, you probably know as much as I do about our somewhat limited but awesome culinary options, so I’m really looking forward to an amazing ride through Nigeria’s culinary diversity in the book.
    So my question is, in the course of writing, did you conduct any research on the historical perspective of how the different regions in Nigeria came to develop or acquire their food preferences. What for instance drove the acquisition of such a wide range of food groups amongst certain ethnic groups and why did some just stick to the basics?
    Thanks!

  22. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/28 at 13:16 #

    Hi Dami, its an interesting question that you ask – it would probably have been counterintuitive with regards to using a conversational style to go anthropological in my research and writing. I wanted to engage the man on the street. And I wanted to avoid lecturing as much as possible – something that could easily have pushed the book into something like academic writing. Love letters and lectures would be very hard to balance. I can make all kinds of educated guesses at the answers to your questions. They would be interesting to explore too and are relevant but Dami isn’t it by far more interesting to just abuse the Yoruba and tell them to up their game! Na wa o.

  23. Dami 2016/11/28 at 14:24 #

    Ha Yemisi, forgive me o….I freelance as an academic occasionally, so my questions tend to stem from a researcher’s perspective. And I totally understand your point of not wanting to come across as didactic, I was only just curious as to whether you may have accidentally picked up some historical information I (and probably many others) are not aware of.
    But you’re right, it’s way more interesting to just insult the Yoruba and their oily stew.

  24. Tolulope Popoola 2016/11/28 at 17:10 #

    Congratulations on your book, Yemisi. The excerpt posted here reminds me of when I first moved to Port Harcourt. I visited the market for the first time, and I enjoyed chatting with the women selling vegetables, asking them the name of the vegetables, how to cook them, what mixes well with what, which one goes with okro, etc. They looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and interest: like, how do you not know this stuff? But it was great fun, and I got to know some of the women a bit, some of them actually enjoyed answering my unending questions…. and one of them even offered to teach me how to cook some soups!

    Your excerpt also made me think about so many of the local ingredients we take for granted because they grow effortlessly in our backyard.

    In your research and writing for this book, did you come across other overlooked ingredients or vegetables? I know in the UK, the English are waking up to the deliciousness and versatility that is plantain, something that we consider a normal food item. It would be interesting to know if there are many more superfoods that we just need to appreciate better.

  25. Yemisi Aribisala 2016/11/29 at 14:14 #

    Dear Tolulope, how well I know that look! I remember once standing in one of those aisles in Calabar Marian market and discussing with another woman and saying by-the-way that I wasn’t too hot on white smoked crayfish and the way it overwhelmed soup with its aroma. The silence, the looks, the disdain from all around me. It was as if I had sworn at the top of my voice.

    So many I wouldn’t say overlooked ingredients, but ones that I had never heard of or didn’t imagine I would find in local markets: Baskets of Rambutans for example, even poured out on the floor in front of Marian market, so cheap I stood staring and thinking of how you found them in supermarkets in the UK sold six for 2 plus pounds, carefully arranged in styrofoam, covered with cling film: Oyster mushrooms – a basket stood in the market one day and people walked past and stopped and complimented it as if it was some kind of visiting monarch: Mushrooms wrapped in banana leaf and kept near wood fires for days on end until its Umami is deep and its texture is like meat: Desiccated paw-paw, left to ooze milk and dry in the sun then stored for soup: Black dried sprouts also for cooking soup in place of meat.

    When black peppers (uziza) are harvested in Calabar they are a beautiful red colour -fire engine red- and you can imagine them arranged on a stall table. I remember seeing large coral coloured smoked crayfish – the really big ones Delta people call Isa Okpotokpo, or the Yoruba call Ede pupa; so expertly treated that they looked fresh. Their shells were tender as if the crayfish had been steamed. The aroma on them was unbelievable. Only once did I see them throughout my stay in Calabar and they were incredibly expensive. So many delicacies… many many of them that people couldn’t even give me a name for. One of my all time favourite discoveries is the “country onion”, a beige hard kernel that the Cameroonians use for cooking beans. The delicious savouriness that it gives when ground and added to cooking is something quite special.

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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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Is the Ake Festival a Bubble? | Okechukwu Ofili Calls for a Reality Check

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The Ake Arts and Book Festival is an amazing event. It assembles some of the best minds in literature and […]

Zadie Smith and Namwali Serpell on Femininity and Writing

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Zadie Smith has an uncommon ability to tell stories that capture our hearts. But she’s also shown herself to be […]

My Feminism | Remembering to Scream | By Wana Udobang

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I don’t remember the first time my father hit my mother. But I often remember my brother’s hands muzzling my […]

Greg Ruth Does Something Amazing with Okorafor’s Female Characters

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Nnedi Okorafor’s novels are universally loved. She builds her fictional worlds and fashions her characters from the most unusual elements. […]