By Atlanta Mahanta
The African countries have had European colonial rule for hundreds of years. Their gastronomic traditions and cuisine, therefore, have been predominantly inspired by the colonial European cultures. Every country in the continent has a distinct food culture and every community has drawn its food culture also from the refugees from far-off countries. The culture in Nigeria is believed to have begun during the 9th century AD. Nigeria was first ruled by the Portuguese and then by the British.
It is one of the most populated countries in the world with a population of 183 million on a per capita distribution basis. Its most vital resource is the Niger river that runs from one end of the country to the other. Its economy is fuelled in particular by the cultivation of tropical fruits, cotton, bananas, chocolate, tobacco, seeds and peanuts. Its agriculture and oil deposits are extremely rich. The tropical and warm climates offer a diverse culinary culture. The Nigerian cuisine includes the Portuguese and British flavours of pasta, couscous, tomatoes, grilled meat and poultry.
They use lots of hot pepper and spices as well, influenced by Indian cuisine. In general, bean paste wrapped in leaves is the most popular food for breakfast in the country. The reason that the Portuguese sailors used to spend a long time at sea and wanted to eat vegetables is assumed to be the primary reason for this platter being put together.
Nigerian cuisine has a wide range of products, such as peppers, okra, and peanut soup, Ogbono, oats, snacked rice, pasta dishes, black pepper steak, sweet potatoes and beans, and a cake named Moin-Moin consisting of pieces of meat, eggs and grilled skewers.
Kilishi is a soup made from melon seeds, fruits and fibre, which is also relished by many. Regional tropical fruits such as apples, coffee, bananas and mangos are mostly eaten. A great snack is the fried banana plantain.
The African wild mango is the seed of the Ogbono. It is dried and milled for its powder that makes the Ogbono Soup. This is one of Nigeria’s easiest and fastest arrangements. For higher protein, beef and fresh fish are added to the soup. The Nigerians relish it for being low-cost and easy-to-make.
The Egusi Soup is a melon seed soup made from the seeds of the Egusi melon, meat and fish that is made in most Nigerian homes. The Egusi melon belongs to the family of watermelons. Almost identical from the outside to watermelon, it is bitter and white from the inside. The Portuguese long processed it and were thus able to use it as a breakfast.
Jollof Rice is another popular meal throughout Africa. A Nigerian traditional meal with tomatoes, peppers and seasonings, Jollof rice has many different variations.
Tomatoes being used most popularly, onions, pepper and some Indian spices are also commonly used as basic ingredients.
Plantain is a fried banana and is a tasty snack used mainly as breakfast. The Portuguese sailors had introduced it from the Caribbean.
Sweet potatoes are also very popular in Nigeria and in other African countries. The north-west regions of Central America and South America are the birthplaces for sweet potatoes. China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Nigeria, Uganda and the United States are the major producers. Internationally, a number of mouth-watering dishes are made with sweet potatoes.
The Nigerian sweet potatoes come with their outer and inner parts in multiple colours. While the outer shell can be black, purple, lilac or brown, the insides can be in black, yellow, orange or lilac. Potatoes are cherished and preferred for their high beta carotene content. It is reported that during colonial rule, it was the Portuguese sailors who had introduced potatoes to Nigeria from America.
As Brillat Savarin, the renowned French gastronomist had once described gastronomy as “the knowledge and understanding of all that relates to man as he eats”, the aim, in present times, is not just to explain recipes of food and drinks unique to a country, but also to describe its history vis-a-vis its culinary culture. The gastronomy of Nigeria thus reflects upon its rich historical and cultural characteristics.
This article was first published in The Times of Africa’s Publication