Yesterday, in a state of extreme exhaustion due to many late nights, I found myself cooking a pot of ogbono soup. Lucky me, I had the foresight to make the meat a few days before. I’ve recently got in the habit also, of scrubbing, soaking and cleaning out dried fish weeks in advance (I then store in freezer so that I don’t have to go through the tedium when I’m pressed for time) so in no time at all, a pot of soup was bubbling on my stove top.
I’ve cooked many different pots of soup but all of a sudden, something about this one made me think of my grandma, Mama Onitsha.
What changed? I have no idea. All I know is, the whole flat started smelling of her and I got this insane urge for nni oka, the very first time it’s happened in all the years I’ve lived here. Not for this particular soup pot, the quick-fix of garri or the smooth, bland whiteness of yam flour. This was a job for gritty, yellow, nni oka and all its attached memories. If someone had asked me for a kidney in exchange for the stuff, I would have thrust my hand in my side, yanked the organ out and plonked it on ice immediately.
I couldn’t sleep. What? So that ndi otu will come and initiate me in my dreams? The way I felt, even if I knew it was a dream, if anyone offered me food I would wash my hands, eat it, clean my mouth afterwards and sign on the dotted line in my own blood. I paced. I told myself “You don’t have nni oka so better force your mind onto other things,” but my wayward mind would not cooperate.
Almost as soon as the thought formed, I remembered. What was nni oka if not corn flour cooked with cassava flour? Stupid. I had polenta! And I live near Peckham, the centre of diversity, with its many African, Caribbean and Latino communities! Cassava flour was every where.
Fast forward to this afternoon and…
Ahhhhh. Bliss. It’s not as flavoursome, as…corn-y as our Nigerian variety, nor as starchy, I don’t think, but the soup more than makes up for any deficiencies in that department (I am not praising myself. I am praising my mum for being awesome and
flogging it into teaching me when I was…nine. And ten. And eleven [the minute she loses it, I will put her in an Old Peoples’ Home to teach her how to be independent in old age. Muhahaha!]).
And the texture? Just as I remember: gritty and wholesome. The Kid-Mister had two platefuls but that’s another story. He never stops eating swallow until every portion is gone. His step-grandma’s convinced he was a hungry ancestor in a previous life.