Culinary adventures in Nigeria

Posted by Mary Honnet on 29 May 2012

There were two warnings, and I missed both of them. We were sitting in the garden bar of a tiny local guest house in Kaiama, in Kwama State, western Nigeria, chatting to the very likeable proprietor, Prince. It was getting dark, and I asked if there was any food available. Prince said he’d go check what was cooking and came back offering “Goat assorted soup”. I’d read up on Nigerian food and knew that spicy, meaty stews (called soups), accompanied by something starchy, usually some type of pap, were pretty much the order of the day.

The first warning slid right by me: Prince’s demonstration, pointing to various parts of the body (or so I thought), as he said the crucial word, “assorted”. He was a short man, and thin, except for a substantial belly; so in hindsight when I thought he’d been pointing out various parts of the body, he had pretty much just been pointing to his… belly.

I did contemplate the meaning of “assorted”, thinking it must surely mean a variety of cuts, probably a chop, some rib, and maybe even some steak, and so the second warning went unnoticed too. “It might be not quite what you’re used to”, Prince said with a smile. I asked casually, in what way it might not be quite what I was used to, and after a long pause, he replied “spicy”. No problem, I said, I like spicy, and that was that, I spent the next five minutes chatting cheerfully to my other half, watching the bats swoop and dive round the buildings.

When the food arrived, we discovered, by stages, since we were sitting there in the dark, what the “assorted” in “Goat assorted soup” really meant. There was indeed a reassuring rib. There was also a kidney; not my favourite, but not totally unexpected. Then there was something dark, with nodules on, which may have been a piece of tongue. Then something similar, but pale, with bigger nodules on it. Probably stomach. There were squares of skin-fat-meat, like some kind of meaty liquorice allsort. There was an inch-long section of gristly pipe, not quite cylindrical but more of a c-shaped profile. That actually had some tasty shreds of meat on the outside. I realised later that it was probably a section of windpipe. And yes, I can tell you, it was very spicy.

Neither of us got terribly far with that Goat assorted soup, but we gave it a go, daring each other on, picking up each piece and trying it, really tentatively. After a while, Prince came out to check on us, saw that we had given up, and feigned offense. He took the dishes away and a few minutes later we heard faint laughter from the kitchen. A few minutes after that, a little girl arrived at our table carrying a tray with a big bowl of Egusi soup (made from melon seeds), another classic Nigerian dish, and a plate of pounded yams. I have to say, that was pretty good!

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