Tag Archives: Food

Trouble is, not having nni oka in the house.

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…Nni oka and ogbono soup.

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.

Irreconcilable differences and the woman in my marriage

I didn’t get to feel anything about Nigeria’s independence. Today, however, I did make a startling discovery; my marriage is not what it seems to be.

They say you learn more about a person the more you’re married to them; but what about if the stuff you learn makes you question your decision to marry them in the first place?

I have just found out my husband likes Nigella Lawson.


No, I am not joking.

I mean, it’s my faulty really, I should have noticed. He talks about her from time to time while I grunt and try not to up-chuck whatever I might have ingested. I never paid attention and now I had to be subjected to an episode of her ‘I-know-Italy’ series, ‘Nigellissima’, while eating my salad. Look at all that butter! All that chocolate! All that pouting. All that hair tossing! Cleavage! Innuendo!  Somebody shoot me.

I asked him – nicely – if he didn’t mind putting something else. But while my back was turned, he changed it again, like I wouldn’t recognise that syrupy panting after the time I mistakenly watched an episode, the one where she made Creme de Menthe chocolate cake/pie with a side of simpering. I admired said cake/pie – begrudgingly – because it looked delicious, but mostly because it looked the right consistency to throw right in her face; nice and gooey. Maximum damage cake/pie, in every way.

Two seconds after switching the second time, he said ”I see now why you think she’s annoying. It’s like she’s acting” (DUH!), but it was too late. The damage has been done and now I want a lawyer.

I reckon this is as irreconcilable as differences get.

I won’t talk about my admiration for her butter-eating, chocolate-laden proclivities. It’s how she gets you. Pretty soon that sentence becomes: I like that Nigella eats butter.

Besides, I’ve got Lorraine Pascale for that now.

Thou shalt eat the meat on your plate last.

Jollof rice and chicken
Image from ifood.tv

My mother looked around the room, pausing to watch my siblings eat. Glancing over at me, she asked “Why are you all eating like peasants?” Everyone stopped. My siblings and I darted our eyes around the room until the lot fell to me to ask since it was my house.

“How do you mean?” I speared a pod of green beans with my fork and transferred it to my mouth.

“You’re all eating your meat last, as if it’s a precious thing. Like peasants. Why are you doing that?” I took my time before replying, after all, she must have been joking.

“You taught us to eat like this, remember? You used to beat us if you caught us touching our meat first.” My mother laughed. My siblings flashed worried eyes at me.

“Yes but that was when you were little. Don’t tell me you’re all still doing that now?”

I groaned. Now she tells me. After I had almost caused an international debacle at an oyibo friend’s house.

It was Christmas 2005 and my friend didn’t want me to spend the day alone so she invited me to lunch at her parents’ house. Her parents were lovely and warm and Scottish. Her father carved the moist turkey while her mother dished up the mashed potatoes and vegetables.

“This is lovely, ma’m,” I said shoving forkfuls of the creamy mash into my mouth. I sipped my wine and joined in the conversation. I soon observed that my friend’s mother had stopped talking. She was looking at me, her dual-coloured eyes intense with concentration.

“Is your food alright?” she asked eventually.

“Yes, thank you,” I replied, eating some more carrots and smiling to show how delicious the food was. She smiled and nodded. My host asked questions about Nigeria and we went back to our conversation. I noticed my hostess looking at me again.

“Are you sure everything is fine with your food? Would you like something else?” She asked. I wondered, was she an inexperienced cook? Everything on my plate attested to her expertise. And even if she wasn’t a good cook, I would have chewed my wineglass before I mentioned it.  I ate some more potatoes, drank some more wine and smiled broadly to show just how much I was enjoying myself.

“Is the turkey not to your liking?” My friend asked. She was on my Communications course at Uni and knew that as a Nigerian, we tended to be more direct. She knew I couldn’t hear what exactly her mother was asking me. I felt my face heat up.

“Oh sorry!” I cut into the meat, feeling as if I was going to receive a slap from my mother, and chewed it. “The turkey is really succulent, thank you. I do apologise for that. It’s just where I come from, we eat the meat last. It used to be a luxury item in the old days, see?” There was silence at the dinner table. I could see that they wanted me to continue. “Only hunters and priests could afford to be surrounded by meat all the time. Children were rarely given meat and when they were, they had to eat it last to show they were not greedy and so likely to steal or compromise themselves to get those things. I guess, my mother brought us up the same way even though things have changed since then.”

“How fascinating,” my hostess said. I could see she was more relaxed. “Is it just meat or does it apply to other things?”

“Meat and eggs…”

“It seems to me that this was mostly foods high in protein?” My friend’s father piped up. He was a medical doctor and tried to find a scientific reason behind this. Conversation resumed and I sighed in relief.

I looked down at my plate and thanked God that the turkey was a slice of meat; there were no bones to crunch.

That might have made for a whole other kind of conversation.

He may be pot-bellied and illiterate. In the diaspora, he is king.

I stood there watching this man thoroughly masticate his food. I knew it was very thorough because I witnessed the entire biological process unravel before my eyes. His teeth came down repeatedly on the food item – puff-puff or ‘kpof-kpof’ like an Igbo person would say it – mashing its crisp brown outside to it fluffy white insides. Saliva hung off his molars in silver threads. His tongue rolled the ball of mush over and over. I felt my stomach roll in sympathy. He swallowed and looked at me expectantly.

I blamed myself for agreeing to meet this man.

When an Igbo woman gets to a certain age – her mid-twenties to be exact – everybody around her tends to go crazy. All they can think about is marrying her off before she expires. It’s a lot worse if she has done more than a couple of degrees because according to those same ‘marriage experts’, most men might think she is getting too big for her boots.

And so that was how it came to be that my Uncle K arranged this meeting. Uncle K wasn’t my real relative, just an ‘Uncle’ in the way that your cousin’s husband’s church member’s colleague might be.

“Uncle, I’m not interested,” I said.

“Look, this is not one of those nonsense men you meet, he is interested in marrying tomorrow tomorrow. He is a very good friend of mine, in fact he is from my village sef. You will like him. Right now, you are young, you can ask for anything and he will give you. You don’t want to get to thirty and still be unmarried do you?

I looked up at him. He was a big man and flinging his hands about to convey a sense of urgency did him no favours. I could go into the familiar arguments; I didn’t want to marry someone who wanted to marry that quickly, I didn’t want someone who thought thirty was too old, heck, I didn’t want to marry at all.

“Well? Look you are wasting time. I will fix it with your aunty. He is just like me, a fine man.”

I frowned. “You will ask my aunty, what, do you think she will marry your friend for me?” I chose my words carefully. “This is the 21st century.”

“You think this is Beijing conference matter? All this book book you studied in university…” I tuned out. I didn’t want to say it to Uncle K but he wasn’t my ideal man, so using himself as an example was not a strong selling point. He was kind of…a bush man, London-dwelling or no. “Ok, Uncle.” I heard myself say. Anything to get away. Meeting the man might just save me the time and energy of arguing, I thought. Uncle K arranged for us to meet at his daughter’s baptism at the weekend.

“Eh-hen. This is the girl I was telling you about. Isn’t she a fine girl?” Uncle said by way of introductions. I expected at any moment to be told to open my mouth so they could check if I was healthy. I felt like a cow. Or a slave. A slave cow. “I’ll leave you two to discuss.” He winked at me. Watching him try to make his bulk unobtrusive as he sneaked away made me smile. I turned towards the man to whom I had been given.

That was when I became acquainted with his anatomy.

“So…” he began when he swallowed. He tugged at his shirt. The motion drew my eye towards the slight pot belly he was trying to hide.

“So…?” I raised an eyebrow.

“What did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t. I didn’t get the chance.” My comment went unnoticed.

“Well, my name is Liyonard. You can call me Liyo.”


“I said my name is LIYONARD.” His name was Leonard.

“Right. Pleased to meet you Leonard.” I pronounced his name properly. I knew I was being snobby but if the man couldn’t even pronounce his own name properly, what hope was there? “Enjoy your meal.”

I made my way back to my place on the sofa. From the corner of my eye, I could see Uncle K break away from the group he was talking to and come towards me.

“Have you people finished talking already?”

“Yes, Uncle. We have finished.” I looked him in the face.

“I see.” He went to find my aunty.