You may say this is true of any foreign country but I beg to differ. (boy, oh boy do I beg to differ) Way back when I was an exchange student in Thailand. As you may know from personal experience, Thailand is easy to love. The food is world-famous, the people are polite, everything is cheap and beautiful and exotic. They have orchids on every table for god's sake. I spent a half-day being homesick and the rest of my exchange falling hopelessly in love with Thailand and Southeast Asia generally.
Nigeria is a different beast. This is not to say that I don't love Nigeria, but it's an attitude that requires a conscious effort every day. If you aren't careful you just see the negatives - the city is dirty, the traffic is atrocious, the people are aggressive, everything is expensive, the work is grueling and yes - we don't get out
More so than in many places, you have to dig deep to see the beauty - but like any place, it is there. I love the palm trees and the fresh fruit, I love that it's summer every day, I love highlife music and West African fabric, I love the elderly couples in matching local outfits and the babies strapped to their mothers' backs, I love my community and the life I've built here. I love that Lagos has made me tougher and braver and opened my eyes in so many ways.
But there's one form of love that has come pretty slowly (and I finally am getting back to the point of the blog prompt in case you're wondering). I've been slow to warm up to Nigerian food.
I eat suya of course, but that hardly counts. Meat on a stick is pretty universal. And I eat fish/goat pepper soup. I guess that's pretty legit. But most Nigerian foods make me just a little nervous.
This weekend a friend invited me out to give Nigerian food another try. We went to a good place, popular with expats and Nigerians and ordered something that definitely pushed my food boundaries about a mile: Efo Riro.
Let me just include the ingredient list for Efo Riro to add a bit of perspective to the discussion.
- Fresh vegetable leaves (water leaves, spinach or fluted pumpkin)
- Stock fish head
- Fresh pepper
- Ground Crayfish (about 1 cup)
- Iru (locust bean)
- Dried fish (two to three medium sizes)
- Palm oil
- Snails (washed with lemon juice/alum)
- Smoked fish (1 medium sized)
- 2 knorr cubes
But I took a deep breath and a small bite and it wasn't so bad. In fact I actually enjoyed it a bit. The ultimate proof of success?
I took home leftovers (on the right, it's the green stuff).
So there it is. I found something to love yesterday, and something today, and I'll find something tomorrow too. Here's to Efo Riro and finding the courage to love even the tough places.