“I am often amazed that … people still try to take Nigerian food and squeeze it into this all-encompassing title of “African food”. I guess that the rest of the world is seeking a kind of exotic simplification: a working summary, an effective way of getting the feeling across that Africa will fit in your handbag as a commodity, a book, a piece of cloth,” a famous Nigerian food writer, Yemisi Aribisala wrote on Guardian UK when describing Nigerian foods.
People often underestimate emotional connection with food. Sitting in a balcony in England, there is only one way to connect to my root-food! Environment places a unique aspect in shaping the culture of people; this fact sits well when we dive into the food of northern Nigeria. Zobo, Kunu, and most other drinks quite popular have their origins from different parts of Northern Nigeria. A quick assumption is that a scorching region like Northern Nigeria where most of its population does not drink alcohol has more potential for soft drinks than people would imagine. This sultry climate also reflects in most of the food you find, which are mostly from grains, a staple crop for such weather.
Waina is as soft as its name. Its fluffy feeling rests gently on your palate. Waina also called Masa is a yeast-fermented puff batter of millet or rice. It is cooked in a traditional earthenware pan with individual cuplike depressions. Unlike the bland taste of pancakes, a well-made Masa offers you a chance to explore life; the sourness serves to give you depth and dignity to sweetness. Since Masa is a single cereal food, it is best eaten with other protein food like soups with meat and fish.
Gurasa is an ideal snack that cuts across all class in the North; uniting the rich and the poor in one culinary experience. A journey to the city of Kano is never complete without a taste of Kano’s gurasa. The exclusivity of this gurasa can be better understood in a simple analogy-Kimchi is to Seoul, as pizza is to Naples, so is Gurasa is to Kano. This Hausa local flatbread is an agreeable companion with suya.
To describe Suya as grilled beef is sacrilegious. Yaji spices are the hidden weapon in the culinary arsenal of suya meat which differentiates its taste from any other grilled meat in the world; its invigorating property quickly turns bland meat into mouthwatering feasts. Suya is primarily the most common street food, not just in Northern Nigeria, but in other parts of Nigeria and even on the street of Peckham, London. Jack and Jill, Romeo and Juliet; love stories don’t always end well, but the tales of these two – Fura and Nono with a long history of friendship often end beautifully and yummy in your mouth.
In the heat of a city like Gombe, a cold served Fura da Nono is the compelling way to cool off. Fura da Nono translates to millet balls and fermented cow milk. With a little inclination to drink more than one at a time, you are guaranteed a leisurely snooze. A good drink is a balanced drink; the millet balls are carefully mashed into the fermented nono drink and served chilled.
Dan Wake! Dan Iska! Dan Iska” is a Hausa phrase that refers to someone that is crazy and in a literal sense means someone of the wind. Dan Wake without a sauce will drive your palate crazy. Wake is beans in Hausa, and Dan Wake is made from beans, so it is beans dumplings.
Kilishi is a meat canvass for creativity. All sorts of fragrant spices are suspended on dried flat meat spread across a tray and allowed to dry. In a simple English culinary imagination, this is meat jerky made from lean cuts of 100% seasoned premium beef. But Kilishi can’t be undermined that way. It’s more than just a jerky.
Many Nigerian foodies are also quick to compare suya with kilishi which like two identical siblings doesn’t always end well. Unlike suya, kilishi is patient and endures, it stays longer and can be preserved for months without changing its taste. This extra feature makes it a readily available travel souvenir.
Kunu is a vast word for drinks made from grains; millet, groundnut, tiger nut and sorghum. Kunu Zaki is my favourite childhood drink. Besides the rigorous, thorough process involved in making it, its refreshing qualities make it rewarding. Like the pomposity and snobbery, you often find at an expensive wine tasting event, a sip of kunu can give you a quick and evocative taste of its content giving away a quality drink from an inferior one. Cloves, sweet potatoes, millet and ginger all blended will align chemically to give you a unique creamy energy boast of kunu.
Everything good will come to an end, Kunu has a short shelf life and therefore loses its flavour and texture after some days.