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Nigeria in fiction and cassava chips

February 27, 2011

Cassava chips

I agree with Mark Twain who said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

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.

Cassava chips and African pottery

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.

Cassava chips


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?

Cassava chips

  1. February 27, 2011 2:14 pm

    Cassava is my all time favourite food that I grew up with in Tanzania (it’s a staple there too). We would go to the beaches on a weekend where locals would deep fry them in front of you in humungous woks, then serve them squahes inside a newspaper and drown them in bonnet pepper sauce and lemon. My mouth is watering!! And Sally, Love that shot of the smokiness. You must submit it to Foodgawker!

    • February 27, 2011 2:20 pm

      I like the idea of the spicy sauce and lemon – the cassava is quite bland but really moreish… hard to describe isn’t it? Thanks for sharing this nice memory and your vote of confidence. Can my fragile photographic confidence suffer another rejection!!

      • February 27, 2011 10:20 pm

        At a recent conference I attended, I learnt ‘Don’t let success or failure or your job define you’. You’re more than what A, B or C think of you…. I also learnt that sometimes when we make mistakes or fail, we should stop and see the lessons to be learnt. Keep striving………..

  2. February 27, 2011 4:34 pm

    I had no idea how is this supposed to be cooked. I’ve seen it in the Indian shops in France, once even wanted to buy one but had the bad accident to grab a rotten one and it smelled like hell. Since then I’ve been very suspicious to the cassava, now you made me want to try it.

  3. February 27, 2011 5:51 pm

    A wonderful post to end the journey.

    I saw that plantain + gizzards recipe and thought it interesting. I wanted to taste it but not eat a whole plate of it so I moved on.

    Thank you so much for your company and for adding your stories to the tour.

  4. February 27, 2011 7:09 pm

    I like cassava chips. I haven’t had them for years. I had them last when I was in Indonesia I think several years ago.
    Yours looks wonderful, beautiful colour and photos.
    Thank you for stopping by my blog and for the nice comment. I hope you come and visit again sometime. I’ll be sure to stop by the bakery after my next dentist appointment. 🙂

  5. February 27, 2011 10:18 pm

    Sally, you are my now officially one of my new best friends. First this tour, then Flat Stanley, now your love for one of my favourite ‘new writer’s . I welcomed the new year by reading her short story collection – ‘The things around your neck’. I laughed. I cried. I was amazed at her incisive knowledge and wisdom and proud of the new generation of Nigerians. Thank you so much. I smiled to read about her love of Enid Blyton (search my blog for my Matcharon post :-)).

    Anyway, I love this post, for many and obvious reasons. Have a superb weekend (what’s left of it!)

  6. February 27, 2011 11:26 pm

    I was about to say that a good way to learn more about Nigeria was to visit Oz at the Kitchen Butterfly, but I can see she’s already commented twice on this thread! 🙂

    Lovely recipe, thanks Sally, and the use of cloves is particularly interesting – can you taste a hint of them in the finished chips?

  7. February 28, 2011 12:12 am

    I’m half Nigerian and despite having lived there for 14 years, I’ve never had cassava in it natural form. We eat eba which is made from garri which is made from cassava but never cassava in it’s tuber form. I also love Chimamanda Adichie – I think ‘Half of a yellow sun’ is one of the most flawless novels ever written! I have also heard her speak (not live unfortunately) and find her a fascinating woman! If you like reading, I would highly recommend ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett. It usurped ‘Half of a yellow sun’ as my favourite book of all time 🙂

    Your book club sounds fantastic – though I’m probably biased as you combine my two favourite things; food and reading!

  8. March 1, 2011 4:31 pm

    we’re cassava veterans too. found in abundance is south india and kerala is a hub for it. in fact it’s known as the poor man’s meal. as middle class families we were never given cassava in our lunch boxes to school as it was beneath dignity. but we would devour at home. i know, some hypocrisy. but the fact remains…

    wonderful post and thanks for the book mention. i’ve a folder for well-reviewed books.

  9. March 3, 2011 9:18 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful tutorial. I sooo have to try this. I like cassava and next time my Asian food shop has a cassava root in store, I know what I will do with it 🙂

    Btw I read ‘Purple Hibiscus’ maybe a year or so ago, I really liked that book. Now you make me want to read another one. I’ll have to check on ‘Half of a yellow sun’.

  10. Noor permalink
    May 9, 2011 9:29 am

    love your recipe ..where can i buy cassava in Dubai ?

    • May 9, 2011 9:41 am

      Thanks Noor. I bought it in Choitrams (I would think Union Co-op would stock it too). It was labelled tapioca. Let me know how you get on.

  11. January 15, 2012 7:22 pm

    Made it last night and we liked it very much.


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