I arrived in London on Saturday after the two weeks that I spent in the United States, in California and Texas. Let me start by confessing that I love food, especially that opportunity to taste foods of the different cultures of our wonderful world.
And in my nomadic wanderings in far-flung destinations from Western Sahara to Eritrea or South Sudan to India and beyond, I have retained an unending fascination with tasting the foods of these different countries.
Food is so essentially human and yet they have a variety to them, which underline the various ways humans have found culinary delights within geographical spaces, in the construction of the treasure house of human culinary culture.
There are places where we find food particularly pleasant while some others don’t feel too right. When I studied in Germany in the 1980s, I grew a particular dislike for potatoes because they were too central to the German diet in the defunct GDR! I spent 15 days in Eritrea in 2009 and at a point, I became uncomfortable with their national diet, Njeera (shared with Ethiopia!) and Pasta.
A new Nigerian restaurant that opened the day before I arrived was my first port of call in Los Angeles. The décor was modest but decently clean. SUMPTUOUS as it is called, was opened by a Nigerian guy from Akwa Ibom; he also has a couple of outlets in Nigeria. The pounded yam, okra soup and the fish were top grade; that meant I was not going to miss Nigeria so much and in the week that I spent in California, I returned to eat two more times.
We went to a lovely Sunday afternoon buffet that catered in the main to professional people in their forties and fifties.
The variety was excellent just as there was a jazz band entertaining and the music was broadcast live on a local FM station. I did a couple of seafood restaurants a few times, to supplement the wonderful food that my friend, Adeyombo Aderinto’s wife, Funke, cooked in the house.
But when I arrived in Dallas, Texas, the culinary adventure just took a life of its own! Dallas was very cold and rainy, in sharp contrast to what I had experienced in California. And when Frank Oshodi, my old friend from the Radio Nigeria and UNILAG of the 1980s, picked me from the airport, he asked where we should start eating from.
The closest was an African restaurant owned by a Kenyan, but because of the large Nigerian presence in the city, tried to cook dishes that had a Nigerian flavor: vegetable soup, grilled fish; what looked like pounded yam and goat meat pepper soup, that was “soupy” alright but had “meat in brief” as I told the waiter! The following day we ate at a Texan buffet where, true to the cattle production background in the State, there was a lot of meat!
Over the next five days I ate at the Nigerian restaurant, ASO VILLA, which I first encountered in Toronto, Canada, in 2010. I did a very sumptuous Guatemalan seafood dinner; I also had brunch in a Mediterranean restaurant; dinner in a French restaurant and the highlight of it all, was the Brazil Restaurant of Texas.
There we were served all types of meat and you ate to a point that you literally threw in the towel! Anyone who has eaten at CANIVORES in Nairobi, Kenya or Cape Town in South Africa would have an idea of what I am talking about. After about four rounds of beef, the ribs, chicken, lamb, more beef and different sides of meat, I had enough! Oshodi had a good laugh at my expense because he went for two more helpings before we ordered for coffee and walked out literally bursting! The ride home was lightened up with Fela’s music, especially the early pieces that showcased the artistry of the late Igho Chico and the inimitable Tunde (Lester) Williams!
The United States must be the most diverse country on earth. It has a deliberate policy of taking immigrants from all corners of the world. These people help to shore up a very diverse culture that enriches the country enormously.
Some of the best brains of the world go to the country and the ambience has helped American capitalism to flower. These peoples have also taken into the United States their different culinary cultures, thus helping to create the most cosmopolitan culinary culture on earth. I got a most satisfying taste of the diversity of taste in the United States in the two weeks that I stayed and travelled in California and Texas. In my moments of reflections I couldn’t help but attempt to draw lessons for and about our country.
Nigeria is the only African country with the capacity to become an African Great Power, with its tremendous potentials in terms of natural and human riches. Our diversity is actually the greatest strength that we can harness as the building block of the potential greatness that we all cannot stop talking about. The moment that we take steps to destroy the diversity that should underlie our interactions and development, we then open the potentials for culture and development to atrophy.
Take Kano, for example. It is the largest city in Northern Nigeria; its rich history spans over a thousand years, and it was built upon an ability to absorb influences from near and far. But when intolerance began to descend on the city from the early nineties, a lot of middle class professionals from other parts of the country began to move out. Things are different there today, despite the recent developmental strides.
The culture of intolerance cannot be the basis for the building of modern and prosperous societies. The peoples of our country actually seem more advanced than the ruling class in these matters; all over the country, our peoples live together, share and absorb cultural influences, and as we move around, we see how culinary cultures are continuously borrowing from each other all around Nigeria.
There can be no auditing of the urban culinary cultures in Nigeria today, without taking into consideration our love for different types of pepper soup, Afang and Edikaikon, stock fish, Tuwo da Miya Kuka, pounded yam, amala, bush meat, etc. Name them! People from different cultures within Nigeria relish different culinary tastes from our diverse cultures and in that we affirm our human unity as well as tie ourselves into a Nigerian culinary culture, which can only get better if we can also build a responsible culture of leadership recruitment and abandoning the nation-ruining tendency of going for the Lowest Common Denominator in the type of people we give the responsibilities of leadership.
The natural thing is to gravitate towards the best restaurants that preparethe most sumptuous food with an equally inviting ambience of cleanliness. So why should we settle for less in our search for those who rule our country? Let us give a thought to that! Oh, by the way, I have already visited Peckham in South London to eat Amala, Abula and Orisirisi. I should join Malam Abba later this week to eat in his favourite Lebanese restaurant located on a street somewhere between Debenhams and House of Frasier, off Oxford Street! Yummy!