Tantalizing the Taste Buds

Southwest Sweetness of Special Seasons

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Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Surulere, Lagos always teems with surprises. Here I was in a sumptuous office on Tafawa Balewa Crescent, off Adeniran Ogunsanya Street being served with assorted dishes of the Yoruba people of Southwest, Nigeria. There is the old dictionary that defines the Yoruba as “a fun-loving people of West Africa”. An early essay by our Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka entitled “Salutations to the Gut” celebrates the Yoruba love for food and the good life. It is in the light of the sweetness of life in the Southwest that the packaging of sundry delicacies of the Yoruba into a gift-pack by Temitope Lakisokun, the beautiful and intelligent CEO of InsiderLagos and associated companies, commands attention.
A University of Lagos Mass Communications graduate, Temitope gave an early insight about her ambitions when she started out publishing the magazine InsiderLagos as an undergraduate. She upped the ante after graduation by publishing the pocket-sized and subscriber-based Thrive!, “an uplifting collection of quotes, anecdotes, memories, wit, wisdom, jokes and lessons.” Temitope stresses the point that Thrive! is not a self-help/how-to manual but should be seen as “a scrap book of inspiring material and timeless truths from great thinkers.”

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In the line of great and productive thinking, Temitope has ventured farther afield to undertake a study of the various snacks and delicacies of diverse towns of Southwest Nigeria. She argues that local snacks are only scoffed at because they are not well-packaged. She has since met with the makers of the snacks in their local haunts and packaged the lot into a plastic box for serving to multiform customers. I ate my fill in her exquisite Surulere office, and I am still smacking my lips. The good lady had to agree that any grub that made me to forego my daily grab at amala and efo-riro must be worth its weight in the chew!
According to Temitope who detests publicity, “All our products are sourced from suppliers whose families have used the same traditional recipes for generations.” The contents of the package include: Chin-chin that cuts across the geo-political zones of Nigeria; Dodo Ikire (the Plantain Fritters of Ikire); Spicy plantain chips; Kokoro (Corn-meal sticks); Eran Gigun (Shredded beef); Gurudi (Coconut candy)/Sisi Pelebe/Candied peanuts); Akara Ogbomosho (Bean-cakes of Ogbomosho); Tanfiri (corn and peanut melts) etc.     
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Chin-chin deserves special attention which she explains thus: “Lost in colonial antiquity, the origin of chin-chin cannot be very far from the coming of wheat flour, bread and pastry to our shores. But it proved to be a discovery that mastered our palate, so much that they actually began to call it Nigerian chin-chin. These crisp and crunchy confections use milk, butter, sugar and flavouring to tantalise the taste buds.”
Dodo Ikire (The Plantain Fritters of Ikire) made me to ask for more, like Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. The literature on Dodo Ikire is quite instructive: “But for the patron saint of Dodo Ikire, Ikire, the somnolent town on the Ibadan-Ife road may not be known beyond its immediate locality. This unknown local, probably borne of parsimonious concerns, decided to fry her ‘overripe plantains’ with a touch of Scotch Bonnet (Ata Rodo) seeds. She must have been surprised by the popular reception accorded this culinary discovery. Now, a must-taste fare for the travellers who pass through the now popular town, the spicy and sweet delicacy enjoys the journey to all the points of the compass.”
Spicy plantain chips can keep one going for an entire day. Temitope picks at it while I down mouthfuls, listening to the culinary education: “From Dodo, to Ipekere, to Booli, and Plantain Chips, this sweet fruit has such a rich repertoire of culinary possibilities. This spicy offering is just one of them.”
Kokoro, that is, cornmeal sticks, elicits the question: “Have you heard that cheeky Yoruba proverb? ‘Before the coming of the maize, the chicken must have been surviving on a staple.’ Which staple, we wonder? Can anyone imagine life and survival in these parts without maize? We won’t begin to list the plethora of foods that we get from maize. Let us just introduce you to Kokoro, the tasty cornmeal stick that is a popular snack of the Egba people.”
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Eran Gigun (Shredded Beef) happens to be a chew like no other. Temitope declares: “Yorubas have famously declared that it is the tough meat that is called Nama. Beef, as far back as the history of the Yorubas goes, is a delicacy to garnish any meal, but our theory is that advancing age may have deprived some ardent fan from IsaleEko in Lagos of some key dental actors, which may have moved such a one to endeavour to reduce some of the toughness. Beef is fried almost to its last gasp of endurance. It is thereafter transferred into a mortar and the pestle is brought in to talk to it persuasively while adding pepper and other spices. The fine, fluffy result of this persuasion is Eran Gigun.”
The foursome, namely Gurudi/Coconut Candy/SisiPelebe/Candied Peanuts can be decoded as “four of the many examples of Brazilian legacy or export to our shores, firmly entrenched in Lagos.”
Akara Ogbomosho bears legendary status, as the legend goes: “If necessity is the mother of invention, then, we have those internecine wars of the Yorubas to thank for this snack. When the warriors left home to defend their homeland, they were restricted to taking only the essentials; arms, ammunition and sustenance. The warriors from Ogbomosho were doubtless stood in better stead than most, armed as it were with their special akara, which can keep for weeks. Now made with spiced cowpea (bean) and soybean paste, it is truly a nutritious snack. The distinguishing element is that its last possible water content is deep-fried away, leaving a crack hard, delicious flat cake.”
In this era that the government preaches the belief in Nigerian products, Temitope Lakisokun has led by example through her packaging and offering of the sweets and savouries of Southwest Nigeria.

Maxim Uzoatu, aka The Poet, migrated from Nnobi right
some years ago but seems never to have left.

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