Sunday, May 25, 2014

Tough love...and Efo Riro

Nigeria is not for the faint of heart or the difficult to please. I realize this at least once a day.

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 much almost ever. I try not to write about this side of life here because it isn't any fun to read and it's not very healthy to write.

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
  • Meat
  • Tomatoes
  • Fresh pepper
  • Onions
  • 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
See what I mean? And let me just say, this is not an unusual dish, most foods seem to have the dreaded ground crayfish/crawfish stock as an ingredient and they all seem to have an ample helping of peppers.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I love Nigerian food! Grilled meat on a stick and fufu definitely count. I admire that you're working so hard at keeping your outlook positive. It's a tough part of the world to love sometimes, but ultimately, so worth it.