Tag Archives: Jollof rice

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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15 items you might find in an Afropolitan kitchen!

Food and cooking play a big part in West African cultures. From hospitality in the home to catering for big functions we take our cuisine seriously- perfectly demonstrated by the outrage against Jamie Oliver’s shocking rendition of Jollof rice (in the words of MC Hammer ‘you can’t touch this’).  So in honour of Jollofgate, here are 15 items you will find in Afropolitan kitchen including some I fondly remember from my parents’ and grandparents’ households.

1. Maggi cubes: Every West African child would have had memories of seeing the infamous yellow and red cubes in the cupboard. Once only found in specialist stores, the liquid form can now be purchased in major supermarkets (still got mixed emotions about this -akin to D&G Ginger Beer being sold in small bottles rather than cans-can this ever be right?!)

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2. Humongous cooking pots: Every kitchen should have pots in it  (unless you don’t cook) but serious Afropolitan householders, mainly those from an older generation, will have pots large enough for Houdini to fit in to. I just remember seeing mountains of pots of all sizes in my grandmother’s kitchen and being in awe of them-especially when just one pot took up all four hobs!

3. Old margarine or ice cream containers– No it doesn’t contain margarine or ice cream, it’s now being reused to store rice, stew or if you are unlucky- a packed lunch box! (Don’t pretend you never had that embarrassing experience as a child of taking your lunch in a margarine container when your friends had pretty little lunch boxes with ‘my little pony’ on them because your mum can’t find your nice lunchbox! 80’s kid lol)

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4. Scotch bonnet peppers: Versatile peppers used in African Caribbean cuisine, there is no way you could make traditional dishes without it.

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5. Bottles of Oil: Vegetable, Sunflower or palm oil, West Africans have a tendency use quite a bit of oil whilst cooking whether its making stew, frying meat or plantain- big bottles no industrial sized bottles of oil are a must

6. Cooler– You are more likely to find this in an older Afropolitan’s households but not for the reasons you think. To most people you use it to store drinks and keep them cool BUT to an Afropolitan this is a standard storage container used to transport rice (Jollof or fried take your pick) to parties as it keeps it nice and warm.

7. Tin of plum tomatoes: This is a key ingredient, used in traditional dishes such as Jollof rice and basic red stews, in every (West African) Afropolitan’s cupboard.

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8. Blender- Most households have this to make trendy smoothies but we Afropolitans have been using this since time immemorial. Whether it’s being used to prepare pepper soup or stew this in an absolute must in a West African kitchen.

9. The random tin of sardines or Mackerel or Corned Beef– there is always one random tin in the cupboard that can be pulled out in an emergency and transformed into a fantastic family meal on the cheap. Corned beef was once known as poor man’s meat and I have fond memories of cooking with this at University (corned beef stew, sweet corn and rice is the one!).

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10. Rice– Rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner- we love rice in a disproportionately unhealthy way, so there is no way we wouldn’t have a tub or a sack of it lying around. Controversially there is an ongoing debate amongst Afropolitans re. The perfect rice to use for Jollof- is it long grain or Basmati? (I know where I stand but am staying well out of it!)

11. Onions: In the words of my dad, if there are no onions there can be no cooking!

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12. Plantain– my best friend and I endlessly go back and forth over the pronunciation of this (she’s West Indian and I West African) but we both agree this is a key ingredient in an African Caribbean household. Boiled, fried or baked plantain is essential.

13. Condensed milk-aka ‘African milk’ according to my grandma.

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14. African shopping bag inappropriately labelled ‘Ghana must go’ (long story will explain one day!)

15. Cassava/gari/pounded yam/ground rice/amala – This suspicious looking powdery substance is in fact a staple starch used in a number of traditional meals once whipped together with some hot water. Everyone in the know knows as soon as that starch hits your belly with that soup (Peanut, Ewedu, Egusi- take your pick) it’s just a matter of time before you are out for the count- in the land of nod!

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