Tag Archives: Food

Eat like a lady, NOT like a man!

“Kem, do you want to take a break?” My best friend said, gently urging me to back away from my dinner plate. We were dining at a friend’s house and I was clearly struggling to finish my second helping. She approached slightly tentatively as if she were negotiating in a hostage situation, expecting to receive a hostile reception.

“Break? No that’s for sissies – this mountain of food will not defeat me – I will be victorious, muahaha! I am going to eat this food – no waste.”

“OK, no one is disagreeing with you re. Wasting the food, but Kem- just take a little rest then come back to it.”

To be honest, she had a point; I was eating as if I was at an ‘All You Can Eat’ buffet with a two hour time limit. But with a natural propensity towards stubbornness and greed, I ploughed on.

“Um sorry that is NOT how I work; if I stop eating then I won’t come back to it.” ***(Returns to food)***

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This is not the first time I have been told to slow down whilst eating….either by my best friend or by an acquaintance!

I have come to a realisation that I need to eat like a lady and not like a man. This is a) partly due to how I appear to others b) the little discomfort I get after eating too quickly or eating too much or both c) my increasingly slow metabolism; they weren’t joking when they said it changes at 30 d) I am significantly decreasing my chances of marriage (no joke).

Book needs to get rewritten!

Book needs to be rewritten!

Before I continue, I want to set the record straight – I don’t always eat like this. Oddly enough there are many occasions when I am the last person to finish a meal even when eating at a fairly rapid speed. However something happens when I’m in the presence of copious amounts of food; especially when the environment is super relaxing with ‘no restrictions’.

So what makes a young lady eat in such an eager manner? There are several thought processes governing this behaviour – here are just three of them:

The ‘scarcity’ mindset– I.e. “this food is going to run out and if I don’t get to it it will be gone.” ( totally illogical food FOMO.)
Weirdly ironic, reverse gluttony / ‘hate waste’ mindset – I.e. “there’s so much food we can’t let it go to waste (as if fridges and freezers don’t exist), better get stuck in and finish it, even if my belly hurts.” (Again, ludicrous behaviour)
‘All by myself’ mindset I.e. ‘I’m so use to living on my own, I eat not for enjoyment but out of necessity, therefore I eat quickly. I forget this is not acceptable when in social settings.’ (Potentially pardonable)

My relationship with food is strongly linked to childhood. There was a zero tolerance food waste policy in our household and my mum was the main enforcer. One of her favourite mantras was to constantly remind us that there are ‘starving children across the world’ and that we have ‘no right not to finish our dinner’; A complete and utter guilt trip which I often wanted to counter with “so why don’t we airmail it to them then?” (But for obvious firmly remained as thoughts in my head).

Her request sounded very reasonable and one which my siblings and I largely acknowledged. However bear in mind that we were almost given the same portions as our dad, how on earth could we finish all that food? And to make matters worse, it was usually robust meals like eba and stew, rice and stew or pasta and guess what? stew. These sorts of meals should be restricted to those exerting a lot of energy (like doing hard labour or running a marathon).

Nigerian cuisine: Eba and stew

Nigerian cuisine: Eba and stew

Most times, I didn’t have a problem finishing dinner ( I love my food) but I would often eat beyond the the point of contentment; I ate until my belly ached just to avoid my mum moaning! This behaviour became the norm; ‘if my stomach isn’t hurting then I am not finished’. I now believe this was and is a weird and unhealthy place to be.

The reason my mum was so insistent on overfeeding us was because, as with many ethnic households, food = love. Feeding (over feeding) is a clear demonstration of love and care; it’s just sometimes taken to extremes!

So what do I plan to do now? Having been in a few social situations recently where I have been the recipient of odd glances whilst scoffing down my food, I am now on a mission to ‘hold it down’ (aka maintain some decorum). This will entail: only eating to the point of contentment and not beyond; taking my time and enjoying the process of eating leisurely and making sure if I am invited somewhere to eat, not to go on an empty stomach! I have got to keep it classy -at all times- and eat like a lady, NOT like a man!

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Good rule to dine by!

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The Perfect Blend

A friend of mine posted something a few months ago which had me chuckling- she is from a Guyanese background. Her mother is a great cook who is particular about food so my friend was naturally wary about cooking for her. However on this occasion her mother loved the food so much that she requested it two days in a row! In her words ‘I have graduated’ #wipestear.

How you feel when your parents approve of your traditional culinary skills.

How you feel when your parents approve of your traditional culinary skills.

I had a similar experience when my dad approved of a traditional African dish I made for him- red stew with Tilapia. I went to the market- bought all the ingredient and made it for him just as he liked. I won’t lie to you- I have never tried so hard to remember the preparation method and timings for this particular dish and it’s not because I can’t cook; I can BUT when it comes to  cooking for my dad or anyone who I know is a master of Nigerian cuisine it’s pretty intimidating. His palate was exquisite ( he trained to be a chef) so I couldn’t afford to mess up.

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With baited breath I watched him take a forkful of rice and my stew ….Looking intently I waited for his response and he gave me a genuine thumbs up. ***Sigh of relief and wipes sweat from brow***. One thing about my parents- Nigerians- we are straight talking. No beating around the bush- if you are not great- you are not great, if its good its good- we tell it as it is.

It has been a while since I have cooked traditional Nigerian food for anyone other than myself.  At University, I made the biggest faux pax; my friends and I regularly had cook ups and most of my friends in that group were of African Caribbean backgrounds. Eager as a beaver to demonstrate my newly acquired Nigerian culinary skills I volunteered to prepare jollof rice for the occasion knowing full well that there were several Nigerians in the mix. However what I ended up with was orange mush which I tried to redeem by including bay leaves for that truly authentic touch. Barely anyone touched it (I couldn’t blame them) and since then I have been reticent to cook Nigerian cuisine for anyone else.

Epic fail: My 'so called Jollof rice'

Epic fail: My ‘so called Jollof rice’

It was satisfying cooking that meal for my parents- seeing their positive responses. But it was even more so knowing that for under £10 I could cook a fresh, nutritious and tasty meal for 6-8 people #win.

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‘Where the party at?’ Why I love African parties!

It’s the aftermath of Valentines weekend and as predicted, I have seen a number of happy couples announce their engagements on social media. Similarly this year will see an unprecedented number of my close friends getting married, (who happen to have West African connections) and I am delighted for obvious reasons but also because this can only mean one thing;  there will be some serious times of partying ahead all with an Afropolitan twist! Here are just a few things I love about West African parties- whether it is a celebration of life or death- we know how to have a good time and honour those in our midst.

The Native attire– I love seeing the variety of outfits made of beautiful bold colours, intricate patterns and lovely fabrics. I particularly love the variation of geles (head ties), the matching shoes and hand bags, and bold jewellery worn by the ladies.  Similarly I love seeing men wearing agbadas- looking all regal and stylish; here comes the chief!

Regal: I absolutely love seeing traditional Nigerian outfits. Everything about it  communicates infinite swag!

King & Queen: I absolutely love seeing traditional Nigerian outfits. Everything about it communicates infinite swag!

The Tunes – Alongside modern Afrobeat (think Whizzkid or Davido), no party would be complete without hearing traditional, family friendly Afrobeat. At least one of these artists must be played Orlando Owoh, Sir Shina Peters, Ebenezer Obey or King Sunny Ade, without fail.  Unfortunately Fela-the rebel’s favourite is too rude to play at most family functions.) Check out this extremely popular track from the 70’s /80’s by Sir Shina Peters – big tune!  [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fag5ItyoYp0]

The (atrocious) Time keeping- This is a contentious one as some will dislike this generalisation, but almost all the African parties I have attended do not start on time nor do they make any attempt to. It is a well- known secret that if an African party is supposed to start at 7pm- most people will not arrive until at least 9 pm.

Nigerians on arriving 'fashionably' late!

Nigerians on arriving ‘fashionably’ late!

The Live band – This is one of my favourite parts of a proper traditional party. The band usually consisting of a singer, drummer, percussionist, guitarists and key board player-will ride melodies and sing songs of blessings in the native tongue ( i.e. Yoruba) heavily incorporating improvisation. If you pay them they might even give you a musical shout out by including your name into a song! A lot of the time the keyboards / melodies are frenetic and the rhythms varied and unpredictable but they always make you dance. (See video above for live band in action).

The Dancing- As a child I always remembered two distinct phases of dancing. Phase 1- everyone is able to dance- particularly the young people, as the DJ plays the popular tunes of the day, followed by phase 2- what I call ‘Big People Time.’ The Aunties would emerge, rotund, robust and agile ready to get down to the Native music selection- showing the younger generation how it is done! Check out this fantastic impression of an Aunty cutting some serious shapes! [/www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oACcj6Y8qA]

The Money changers– they will exchange your pounds into dollars (US) or Naira so that you can spray the wedding party for example. Money changers are easily identifiable because they are usually men with stacks of cash at the door.

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Show me the money!

The Gifts- I love the range of commemorative goodies / favours you get from the parties; random Tupperware with someone’s face emblazoned on it that you don’t know, calendars, key rings, pens, trays, box of salt, washing pegs, mugs, packets of noodles, toiletries, watches- you name it- I have seen it make an appearance in a ‘party’ bag. No product is off limits.

Generosity: The goodies you might receive from an Afropolitan party.

Generosity: The goodies you might receive at an Afropolitan party.

The ‘Characters’– There are no shortage of characters at Nigerian functions i.e. the big mama aunty, the ‘chief’, little children, elders commanding respect and ordering you around to get yet another can of drink – even if you don’t know them etc. Random strays no one knows but you can’t turn away-you know the one- a friend, of a friend, of a friend who always seems to be ready to eat.

The Cuisine– I love party rices. Yes it sounds stupid but what is normally standard jollof or fried rice, is given extra special treatment by caterers. Another treat is moin moin (bean cakes)- a rare commodity that always seems to be scarce at parties- reserved for adults only. Other standard dishes you are likely to see are coleslaw, endless trays of meats, fried fish, stew and plantain etc., Infinite buckets of canned soft drinks and super malt will also be on offer.

For adults only: Moin Moin (bean cakes) it seemed was the only food reserved for adults! This is essentially a vegetarian dish but is sometimes made with bits of fish, egg or corned beef included.

For adults only: Moin Moin (bean cakes) it seemed was reserved for adults only! This is essentially a vegetarian dish but is sometimes made with bits of fish, egg or corned beef included.

The Prayers- praying is an essential part of our parties whether it’s at weddings, a celebration of life (celebrating the newly deceased) or a naming ceremony giving thanks for new life, The prayers are typically said in both English and in the native tongue of the celebrant (s) and are normally led by the elders.

 The Spraying This is one of my favourite traditions in Nigerian culture. For example, at a wedding reception the bride and groom are ‘sprayed ‘during their first dance (when guests place money on the couple- usually on the forehead). This generous act of public giving is a way for family and friends to openly bless the couple and give them a good financial head start as they begin married life together. This can be very lucrative as I know of several couples that have literally made thousands of pounds from this; it can also be a nice little money earner for children- if this is permitted. As a child, (I was a bridesmaid for my aunty’s wedding aged 10) my cousins and I were assigned the glamorous task of collecting money which had fallen on the floor during the spraying session. We picked up the seemingly never ending flow of notes and decided to ‘reward’ our efforts by pinching a tenner at the end (no we didn’t ask permission). We got caught by some aunty and needless to say we got ‘taught’!

Spraying: The act of publicly bestowing money upon the celebrant (s. This can be for any occasion, not just weddings.

Spraying: The act of publicly bestowing money upon the celebrant (s). This can be for any occasion, not just weddings.

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Mamma Mia! My Italian food experience

Almost 10 years ago a friend and I travelled to Torino (Turin) in the north of Italy to visit another friend who was living there for a year as part of her University degree. My friend lived in a beautiful apartment right in the heart of the city centre and it just so happened that our visit coincided with the Fiat Cinquecento Convention, with literally hundreds of colourful cars driving all over Europe for the celebrations. Her apartment happened to be right in the main square where all the cars were exhibited. And as if that couldn’t get any better, Lauryn Hill was due to perform as part of the festivities!

Italy was everything I thought it would be – beautiful mountain views, stunning scenery & architecture and relatively friendly people (minus the racism but that’s another blog). Food ( as you would expect) played a BIG part in our trip – late night falafels, daily doses of gelato, the morning ritual of freshly baked bread and delicious tasting cheeses… we were spoilt rotten with great food at relatively low costs.

One abiding memory I have of Torino was when my friend took us to a bar in town early one evening (don’t worry there was no seedy business involved). The bar served the most wonderful buffet of fresh food for less than 10 euros per person. But the reason it left such an impression was the innovative approach to their food menu. They didn’t have a set menu- the chef would literally decide what to make on that day based on the fresh produce leftover in the local markets  I can’t remember all the dishes on offer that evening but I do remember enjoying some tuna and butter bean salad, fresh Watermelon, Parma ham & cheeses, etc.

It was great because it was affordable (always useful when you are a University student on a tight budget); but I particularly valued the chef’s creativity (to come up with such recipes spontaneously) and their thrifty approach to buying ingredients which meant we were able to eat decent food at a relatively low cost. It was also quite healthy too because most of the food on offer was fresh produce.

Have you had a similar experience i.e. been to a restaurant / bar similar to this? Would you consider hosting a dinner for family or friends based on what ‘leftover’ purchases you could find from the local market?

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