I love food. Actually, the truth is I have always loved food. This is not some new-found love that warms your heart and creates pools of swirling sensations in the pit of your stomach. This is the arms thrown around your lover, expressions of affection gushing out unabashedly in declaration of the love you feel. You get the picture. I don’t consume large portions, but just the mention of that four-letter word can get me running like a crazed child into oncoming traffic on the streets. Growing up, I loved food and eating, but hated to cook. I came up with assorted excuses to make a speedy exit from the kitchen once the stove was lit. “The kitchen is too stuffy, I feel faint, someone is calling me upstairs,” and the list goes on. Thus, I missed the induction into churning out authentic delicacies such as Ofe Onugbu, Ofe Achara, Ofe Oha, Ofe Nsala, and Edikaikong. My lazy philosophy was cooking is for those who are older and I cannot be bothered. It was not until recently that the correlation between cooking and eating became clear to me. I still marvel at the possibilities of exciting taste buds and titillating palates with kitchen creations. I guess it was the lack of this phenomenon that compelled me to face the heat in the kitchen.
Who would have guessed that I would miss food more than family and friends in my home country? That was the plight I found myself in upon travelling overseas to attend college. It didn’t help that I was in a small college town in the middle of nowhere that wielded bragging rights of having 2 McDonald’s. I swore off fast food and couldn’t believe that I was the same person who made shakara (put up a front) for swallow foods, opting instead for the likes of Mr. Biggs and Tastee Fried Chicken. For the record, no fast food joint in Obodo Oyibo (Overseas countries) can touch the above with a 10-foot pole. Needless to say, I wasted a lot of time shedding tears over missing good home cooking. It was definitely a case of not valuing what you have until it is gone. However, when I was hungry AND angry enough, I approached other international students, soliciting advice for how they were making it in the food department. Before long, I mastered the art of doctoring up cafeteria food and doors to ingredients and spices that I never knew existed were opened up.
The 1 hour journey to the African store became a necessary pilgrimage and I brought along my negotiating skills, often scoring a free plantain or meat pie. Believe me with the exorbitant prices of native ingredients in these stores, every cent shed off is worth it. Scouring through food blogs for different variations of a single dish provided the needed direction to ensure that I was on track. My pounded yam stirring skills grew by leaps and bounds and I could not believe that I was the same person who had to be coaxed into eating swallow foods with the promise of a treat afterwards. Marinating meat for a day became my secret weapon (well not so secret anymore) and the aroma from my boiling pots stirred heads faster than the damsels showcased during Miss Universe.
I went from saying I hate cooking to I need to cook. Speaking of I hate cooking, I recall this conversation I had with a prospective bobo (male admirer) during my teens. Bobo was probably 10 years older, BUT I figured oh I will just give him my phone number. Minutes into our first conversation, he asked what my hobbies were. Supposedly puzzled that cooking was not among the ones I stated, he blatantly asked if I knew how to cook. When I retorted with, “I hate cooking,” the line went dead. I still chuckle inwardly upon recalling that convo as there are many dimensions to explore in that reaction so I wouldn’t even go there. Notice that I am still not in the stage of I love to cook, but I now realize that if you love to eat good food at all times, you need to be ready to prepare it, or pay for it. Here are some additional tips that transformed my cooking and eating journey and could do the same for yours.
Make friends quickly with those who love to cook what you like to eat
If you are up for the cooking challenge, have no fear, there are a plethora of blogs such as lohicreations.com and 9jafoodie.com that have both recipes and the common names of ingredients you may need to make your favorite traditional dishes
Never underestimate the power of online shopping for the ingredients you need especially if you live in no man’s land. Makola.com is a great website to check out for this tip.
In the event that making Nigerian meals out of your budget, attract a following of friends who love what you cook to the extent that they don’t mind footing the shopping bill. This works!
Lastly, don’t give up totally on food in Obodo Oyibo. You may actually find several ingredients that you could incorporate into your meals and prepare according to your taste.
Feel free to share other cooking and sourcing traditional food tips, eat in moderation and bon appetit!