Nigeria in fiction and cassava chips
However a holiday in Nigeria is probably not top of many people’s lists. It has an image problem; internet scams, violence and corruption. Undoubtedly some of this bad press is deserved but how do you find the truth about a country without going there?
Reading fiction is my prefered method and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has become one of my very favourite authors with her compelling and complex characters, moral questions and the impeccable craftmanship in her writing. She reveals many sides of Nigerian life in recent times (Purple Hibiscus) and during the Biafran war (Half of a Yellow Sun). I was lucky enough to hear her speak at the inaugural Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature in 2009. A voracious reader from childhood, she spoke of how she immersed herself in a world of English boarding schools and countryside adventures as portrayed in books by Enid Blyton, and fantasized about how she would eat potted meat sandwiches and drink ginger beer; two foodstuffs that were completely alien to her.
It’s a similar experience when I try to imagine what sort of food is eaten in Nigeria. Google doesn’t enlighten me much when I find a list of common Nigerian foods including ‘garri, egusi, amala, yam, plantain, indomie, pounded yam, banga soup paste, gbegiri, edikaekio and owo’. It sounds exotic but I’m still clueless, then find a lovely blog called Avartsy Cooking dedicated to Nigerian food with a comprehensive glossary (although one of Yetunde’s most recent posts, plantains and gizzards, will remain untested).
Another work of fiction, Chris Cleave’s The Other Hand, revolves around a violent incident in Nigeria and, to my mind, the country he portrays is very one-dimensional and reinforces the sense of brutality without offering much balance. Chris Cleave totally disarmed me as an engaging and likeable speaker at the Lit Fest in 2010 but I would have liked the chance to challenge him on this point.
At meetings with my bookclub, we try to link the food served to the title we are discussing. At The Other Hand discussion, our hostess Wasia started the evening by serving cassava chips which we devoured eagerly. They are slightly softer and sweeter than potato chips (fries) and their slight blandness seems to urge you to eat ‘just one more.’ Cassava is an edible starchy, tuberous root and, amazingly, the third largest source of carbohydrate eaten in the world. I say amazing as this was the first time my friends and I had ever eaten it. Nigeria is the world’s biggest producer of cassava where it is known as ege or ugburu. Did you know that tapioca comes from the cassava root?
A recipe for cassava chips is below (adapted from a mixture of Nigerian and Brazilian recipes I found online).
Sadly this ‘visit’ to Nigeria is the final stop in Foodalogues’ Culinary Tour around the world. Joan has taken us to Panama, Alaska, Turkey, Japan, Thailand and Egypt. Visit Foodalogue for a round-up of other recipes inspired by this virtual visit to Nigeria. I’ve really enjoyed finding out more about these countries through their ingredients and cuisines seen through different eyes and taking these journeys with you all.
The Lonely Planet guide says of Nigeria, ‘Challenging yet exuberant, this is Africa in the raw – there’s nowhere quite like it on the continent.’ Mark Twain would approve.
2-3 cassava roots
1 small onion
10 – 12 cloves
vegetable oil for frying
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
Peel the cassava roots with a vegetable peeler until all the dark brown skin is removed. Cut into two or three large pieces and place into a pan of water. Peel the onion and use a cocktail stick to make holes into which you insert the cloves. Put the onion into the water with the cassava and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the cassava is tender. Drain and discard the onion. Gently break the cassava into chunky pieces (discard the rope-like core). Deep fry at 190 C until crisp and golden.
Drain, place onto kitchen towel to remove excess oil. Combine the salt, sugar and spices and sprinkle over the hot chips. If you like tomato ketchup with potato chips you’ll like it with these too.
Variation: After you have par-boiled the cassava and broken it into chips leave to cool for about five minutes. Drizzle with sunflower oil and sprinkle with a clove or two of crushed garlic, some chilli flakes and salt. Bake in the oven at 200C until golden.
Which country have you enjoyed visiting most?