Usually I try to start off the year with something non-fiction; the book I started wit hthat in mind is taking a bit longer for reasons I’ll get into when I review it. SO instead, I present a random library grab that is actually pretty interesting: Food Culture and Cuisine in Nigeria (by the Nigerian Embassy in the Netherlands). How that got to random SE US public library I have no idea, but that’s part of the fun of a library; they have stuff you may not think of that you didn’t know you wanted. So, this book is part general information, mostly about some of the more important local ingredients, part cookbook (it’s got recipes), and part general cultural promotion/education (it is by an official embassy after all).
There’s a very brief introduction at the beginning mostly just explaining that the book is part of the official commemoration of Nigeria’s 60th anniversary of independence on 9/16/2020 on the theme of “diamonds”; as explained by President Buhari, “The selected option depicts our togetherness, a country of over 200 million people whose natural talent, grit, and passion glitter like the precious DIAMONDS we are.” The ambassador’s (H.E. Dr. Eniola Ajayi) message reviews the general cultural and social range that might relate to the culinary, such as noting that there are over 250 ethnic groups throughout the country, with a range of different regions, practices, and cuisines. She specifically highlights the bean-related options, soups, and barbecued meats as categories that especially demonstrate the culinary diversity of the country.
There is a review of leafy veggies common in Nigerian cooking with some attention to the health benefits associated with each one; for example, apparently moringa (“zogale” to a Nigerian) is good for preventing ulcers, improving vision, and stimulating hair growth (among other benefits); it also helps prevent wrinkles and has more potassium than a banana. That’s about the only one of the list that I’ve heard of, which is part of what makes it interesting, and the pictures help too. Rice, beans, soups/stews, meats, snacks, and drinks are the general ordering of the recipes, although sometimes it’s kind of hard to tell what category you’re in. There’s also a few scattered info pages, sometimes about ingredients, but also products or people. Especially the final quarter of the book feels a little like an advertisement for local products, such as ogogoro which is apparently a spirit similar to gin that’s really common in Nigeria; Pedro’s is “Africa’s 1st Premium Ogogoro”. The pages for the contributing chefs make a little more sense as advertising, since they give you an idea of who the recipes are from, not just what they are, plus, you know, giving credit to your contributors.
The one odd spot is the 2-page spread covering a pretty detailed discussion of bullion cubes and making your own stock solution. There is a little more chemistry or than one might expect here as well as some preaching: “MSG molecules are 2.89 times heavier than table salt. Crystals are hitting end organs with heavy blades, get it? Why must we pay to kill ourselves?….Spices enhance your tasting experience…Flavorants enhance and change perception…Table salt is a spice, while MSG is a flavorant. Flavor enhancers are designed to keep you addicted to bullions, like nicotine….”. Is this meant to encourage people to make their own base? Is there some sort of anti-capitalist argument being made? Science-sounding anti-MSG argument? I’m not sure.
Even with some unevenness and inconsistency in style and tone and structure, this was an interesting book. I certainly don’t expect to cook much from it, mostly because some of the key ingredients aren’t available around me, but I also don’t think that’s even the point of the book. It’s more informational and celebratory awareness than anything else, and that it does just fine. Especially with the list of info links at the end.