Well, I’ve been here (almost) two weeks now, and the culinary adventures continue each and every day. With seemingly endless tasty foods, I have the opportunity to try something new at every meal if I so desire. This week I also started delving into fruits as well as snacks from the supermarket to discover which ones I like the best.
As for traditional foods…
Stew, white rice, turkey and fried plantains. Stew is the standard red sauce that is use in many things here. It’s made of tomatoes, peppers (spicy ones) and onions, pureed together and fried. Delish.
Beans. I don’t know if there is a specific name for the way these are prepared, but I was just told “beans.” It kind of looks gross, but it’s really tasty.
Meat pies and puff puff. These are also staples, and two foods my Nigerian friends in Romania often made. This meat pie had minced meat and potatoes, but chicken ones are also common. Puff puff is hands down one of my favorite Nigerian foods. It’s just fried dough, but it’s so good. The puff puff I've eaten has always been small, about the size of a walnut or golf ball, but this one was about the size of a baseball. I think when people make them at home they make small ones, but to sell in a shop they make them big.
Suya. At long last I have eaten suya!! It’s thinly sliced barbecued meat covered in spices. When I would ask Nigerian friends what food they most missed from home, many of them would say “SUYA!” I had it once at an African festival in Maryland, but this was my first IN Nigeria. I have to say, it was probably the spiciest thing I’ve eaten yet, and it definitely pushed my limits, but I really enjoyed it.
And now on to some fruits…
Oranges, apples, and pineapple. Some friends went to the market in town midweek and brought all this back for me! I have been working on it ever since, though I must say I finished the pineapple in about 24 hours. The lady who peeled it for me said it wasn’t ripe and it would hurt my teeth (??), but to me it tasted like one of the best pineapples I’ve ever eaten. And they cost about $1 here. Score! The oranges are not orange orange on the outside like in States, but they’re sweet and delicious! The apples taste like Golden Delicious.
I saw this in the market and said, “WHAT IS THAT??” I still don’t actually know the name, but I gave it a try. I don’t think it was quite ripe, as I think it’s supposed to be soft so you can scoop it out, and some of it was hard. However, I was able to eat some of it. I was searching for something to which I could compare its flavor, but it’s so entirely it’s own thing that I can’t come up with anything. I can’t say that I fell in love with either the texture or the flavor with this first trial, but I’ll consult some friends and maybe give it another attempt.
And finally, some snacks…
Groundnut (aka peanuts). I love how they’re sold in glass bottles here. During my first week I ate boiled groundnut, which was a first for me, as I’ve always had them roasted. But these are roasted and very lightly salted and while they taste mostly the same as in the U.S., they’re somehow more fresh and flavorful.
Digestive biscuits, plantain chips, and a cupcake. All of these were ok, all were pretty neutral, not strongly sweet or salty. I have had plantain chips from another shop that I prefer to these, but at 30 cents for a bag, I’m totally fine with “ok.”
Cereal and milk. Breakfast is often a tough meal when living in a new place, because different cultures have vastly different traditions for breakfast. I could probably write an entire post on that, but for now I will say that I like to eat cereal for breakfast. Toast and/or eggs are also great, but oh how I love a bowl of cereal to start my day! I was pleasantly surprised to see a good number of cereals in the store (Translation- 8-10 options in the biggest supermarket on campus. Translation- the biggest supermarket on campus would be a glorified bodega in NYC), and even noticed one that looked to be like what I would eat at home. Now, I don’t expect or need what I have at home, but it’s certainly nice to have SOME things be similar. Turns out, Kellogg’s Fruit ‘n Fiber is a great cereal that looks exactly as pictured on the box. The down side is that it’s $7 a box, which would be absurd even in NYC, but is particularly so here. And then there’s the milk. No liquid milk here (well, at least I haven’t seen any), just bags of powdered milk to which you add water. I’m definitely still getting used to this, but it’s also not as bad as I thought it would be. All things considered, I think I’m ok having this $7 cereal as my weekly “splurge.” (Please note that there were also Rice Krispies, Cocoa Puffs, Corn Flakes, and Special K, so there are definitely several ‘familiar’ options to sample)
Chocolate chip cookies and choco-pie. I realized at the end of my first week that I had gone that entire week with no chocolate in any form. Very unusual for me. So this past week I delved into treats that include chocolate. The chocolate chip cookies taste mostly like Chips Ahoy, and the choco-pie is just a delicious little treat. Yum. (By the way, most, if not all of these packaged snacks are not “Nigerian,” they’re imported.)
FANICE ice cream. You guys, there is ice cream in Nigeria! Because I wasn’t sure about the frequency of electricity and the feasibility of keeping things frozen, I was completely preparing myself to not have ice cream for six months. Turns out, there is ice cream. And it’s tasty. Not the same as ours, but every culture has different frozen treats. I’m thankful for this one.
And last but not least, my comfort food of the week- pizza. Much as I love Nigerian food, I have decided that once a week I’ll treat myself to some “American” food, just for a nice comfort and reminder of home. The chef at the Conference Center on campus (where I’ve been staying until we sort out permanent housing) who worked at a Sheraton somewhere and knows how to cook pizzas, burgers, and other random wonderfulness. All I need to do is call him and tell him what I would like, and a few hours later, voila. I have to admit I was skeptical, because many a time in Romania I was promised some “American” food that would be “just like home” that was sorely disappointing. But oh man, this was a seriously spot-on pizza, complete with mozzarella AND gruyere cheese, plus mushrooms and sausage. For $13. Made my Friday.
That is all for now. I’ll continue to chip away at the deliciousness that Nigeria has to offer and report back in next week. Until then I’d better figure out an exercise plan, because with all this food and no walking/running/swimming, I will definitely come back to America looking much plumper!