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Funny Food Business

Published by The Nation on Sun, 25 Oct 2020

Oyinkan MedubiCultural fusion in this global village is enlarging my food vocabulary, as newspapers try to open my eyes to the merits of different dishes from every part of the world. But, frankly speaking unless a dictionary is published alongside such dishes, there is very little communication between me and those pages.What am I, for instance, to understand by Scalloped Potatoes' To me, scalloping is what my tailor does to increase her fees, make my dress look as if the scales of a fish have been stuck on it and make me look like a near-strangulated mermaid in it. Shrimp Scamp is what I called my children in their growing years when they perpetually got between peoples legs! And I would be grateful for a few potatoes, but Potato au gratin' I really dont know. When I come across Mackerel Quiche, I want to say, quick, give me a Japanese geisha, tinned or not; Chili Concarne, I think, sounds like chili pepper wrapped in a few leaves of hemp; and I have no idea what Ratatouille could possibly stand for: rat fried in olive oil, do you think' After reading those pages, I have many times thrown my hands up in frustration and wondered aloud: What is wrong with good ol Amala'My children sayand frankly speaking, I dont believe a word of itthat whenever I sit down to a dish of Amala, I become something else. You know what Amala is, dont you' It is that dark, sticky substance that looks like moulded black tar but tastes heavenly. When Im eating it, my children say that my ears automatically close and I cant hear a word from them again; every pore in my body becomes a spring from which sweat pours like the Niagara Falls; and I eat in deep concentration, all the while quivering while the food lasts.Now, I ask you, how can anyone positively believe all that' I love Amala, thats true; I dont like to be interrupted when Im eating it, thats true; Amala does tend to open the pores, making one sweat like mad, thats also true; besides, I need to keep my eyes on my food because those watching me just might throw it out since it is not salad. But sir, I do not quiver: the cocaine content of Amala is not as high as that of coffee!I have grown very distrustful of anyone who would prefer a bowl of salad to a bowl of Amala. I think someone should sit such people down and ask them what their problem is. I have done that to my family several times but I have to confess that they leave me baffled. But I am not giving up; the gospel of Amala is too strong to keep under. Just ask Mr. Alaani Aderibigbe, who makes and sells the stuff for a living as reported by New Age a little while back. His story is so heartening for me in my crusade of getting proper respect for Amala that I have dubbed him the brave heart. Anyone who marches where angels do not even tread must have some confidence.Anyway, even Mr. Alani must grant that Amala does have a superior in Pounded Yam, which appears to have found its own incontestable niche in the peoples consciousness as the Nigerian food. You know what Pounded Yam is, dont you' It is that white, gooey substance made from yams that have been pounded to death, and to which many sweats and other substances have been added in the process of pounding, but who cares! Many Nigerians swear by it, as their devotion is fast approaching a religion. Someone related how he had been so surprised to find a university professor, who had just returned to the country from abroad, at one of the road-side food centres eating pounded yam. When he asked why he had not gone to a restaurant, the returnee was said to have replied that a restaurant was not the right place to eat pounded yam because he would not enjoy it there. Besides, it is only at a road-side food centre that you can get the original pounded yam, mixed with sweat and a lot of women talking over it to give it the right flavour.Many food centres or bukaterias that offer PY run timetables that keep the food and temper requirements of each patron in mind, for they know that if the food is not ready at a stipulated time, Mama Put will get more queries than the most disobedient civil servant. And when the patrons begin to stream in, many are donning white shirt, tie and jacket; the last two being promptly discarded while the shirt sleeve is rolled up. Dont be deceived, for at normal times, those patrons parade as academics or managers or workmen of all descriptions. No sooner is everyone served than hands begin to travel up and down from plate to mouth, backs bent uncomfortably over rather low tables, neck ties rolled aside, noses streaming, eyes glazed, throats clearing intermittently, and jaws snapping powerfully. But dont be alarmed; youre only watching Jaws 4: The Odyssey of the Poundo.We are lucky in this part of the world though; restaurant and bukateria menus are in English. In some parts of the English speaking world, it is all you can do to read the menu and you wonder if the kitchen is not manned by people from mars; the menu is often not in any language. This accounts for non-English phrases like scalloped potatoes, shrimp scamps, and onion tarts. Shame on those onions! Our menus here are often recited by waiters from memory as, other than the two powerful Nigerian dishes, no other foods command any mention, because by the time one runs the whole gamut of Nigerian dishes anyway, one comes across a wall of paucity and predictability.Sometimes, I wonder if the food editors who are trying to increase our choices ever try the recipes they bring forward on themselves before attempting to tempt my throat with them. Believe me, I tried one recipe once but the results did not even faintly resemble the perfect picture displayed on the page. It was a kind of bread and I believed I followed the steps to the letter, despite my two left hands in such matters. What came out of the oven felt like a cross between rubber slippers and dried cows hide to the taste! However, everyone in the house was compelled to eat it so that when next I declare that I want to repeat the performance, I am sure to be paid not to do it. The only one who wanted to dodge my bread was instantly reproved by the head of the house: What makes you think youre so special that you cant eat this bread' You will suffer through it like the rest of us! Its a little like the boy who told his father that he did not want to go to church anymore because church was boring. His father replied: Yes, that is the reason everyone goes; so you will go to church and be bored like everyone else.I came away from my experiment with one or two lessons. Dont eat what you cant spell, or translate to good plain Nigerian English. Secondly, if a dish requires too many steps and measurements in its preparation, dont try it. Trust me; one step is likely to have been skipped over by the writer: and that is, how to make it look as perfect as its picture! Both of these lessons confirm to me why Amala and Pounded Yam remain so attractive for Nigerians: they are already translated (even Amala, honest!), they are easy to spell, they do not require too many steps, and they also taste better than rat fried in olive oil. Happy World Foods Day.October 16 is World Foods Day; so I have updated this article, first written in 2006, and republished on 18/10/2015, on the subject.
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