From Plantain to Suya: An Introduction to Nigerian Food #1

In the restaurant we often get asked “So, just what is Nigerian food?” Given the size of Nigeria and the diversity of its population that’s actually a pretty hard question to answer and we often end up actually describing what Nigerian food is to us: “full of flavour and comforting”. But we admit that doesn’t really help chop-chat-chillers new to Nigerian cuisine know what to expect from a Nigerian restaurant. So whilst we still can’t satisfactorily answer the big question “what is Nigerian food?” we can tell you about some of the most popular foods used in Nigerian cooking. And we say some of the most popular foods for, as a country with as rich a food culture as Nigeria, this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Brown Beans

Brown beans are a nutritious source of protein and a staple in Nigeria where the country is the largest producer of this crop. There are two types of Nigerian brown beans but the oloyin bean is preferred for many dishes for its naturally sweet taste.

It is called ewa oloyin in Yoruba language, which literally means "the beans with honey", hence they are often called honey beans. This versatile food is the main ingredient in traditional dishes akara and moi moi where it is puréed then fried (akara) and puréed then steamed (moi moi).

Chuku's moi moi

Chuku's moi moi


Cassava is a nutty flavored, sweet tuber which grows underground. Together with other tropical root-vegetables and starch-rich foods like yam and plantains, it is an indispensable carbohydrate for millions in Nigeria. And its production is vital to the economy, as Nigeria is the world's largest producer of the commodity with almost 20% of global production. 

The crop is hugely versatile and whilst it can be found on our menu, diced and fried in our cassava bravas, it is commonly dried and ground to make gari which is in turn used to make cassava dough balls - eba.

Cassava dough balls (eba) in our kale & melon seed stew (egusi)

Cassava dough balls (eba) in our kale & melon seed stew (egusi)

Kuli Kuli and Suya

Kuli kuli is a popular snack from the Hausa tribe, from Northern Nigeria. It is made from dry roasted peanuts, ground into a paste, mixed with spices and friend until it hardens.

Kuli Kuli

Kuli Kuli

Breaking with tradition, at Chuku's we infuse a house-made caramel sauce with ground kuli kuli, before toss chicken wings in this sticky sauce.

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More traditionally, ground kuli kuli is used as an ingredient for the Nigerian favourite mixed spice - suya pepper, where it is blended with cloves, garlic and dried ginger. Grilled meat seasoned with suya spices is the street food of choice in Nigeria and every local will be able to tell you where you can get the best suya beef. At Chuku's we use authentic suya pepper for our ground beef suya meatballs.

Chuku's Suya Meatballs

Chuku's Suya Meatballs

And we offer a sweet and spicy seafood suya option, serving up honey suya prawns. 

Chuku's suya prawns

Chuku's suya prawns


Plantain comes from the banana family but, while sweet tasting, it cannot be eaten raw like the banana can and it tends to be bigger in shape. It can be cooked in a multitude of ways, including boiled, fried (dodo) and roasted (boli). Easy to prepare and needing little to enjoy its great taste, plantain is a true gift from the food gods.  



Wait, is this cassava again? Close, but not quite. While yam and cassava are often confused, the two tubers differ in appearance. Yam has a rough, scaly skin whilst the skin of cassava is typically found waxy, as it is waxed when shipped whole to stop it from drying out. And in taste, yam is denser.

There are many varieties of yam with estimates ranging from 200-600 different species. But only 12 of these are edible. In Nigerian cooking the most popular are the white yam (also referred to as sweet or puna yam), the yellow yam and the water yam. Yam can be enjoyed in many of the same ways as potato and cassava but a dish that is set to change your life and brighten any day is yam with egg stew.

Like cassava, yam is also often ground and ground yam is what makes the popular swallow and soup accompaniment, amala.

Amala (hoto credit:  Radiant Health )

Amala (hoto credit: Radiant Health)

For more culinary conversation, check out our Chuku’s Chats with Yemisi Aribisala, award-winning food writer and author of Longthroat Memoirs: Sex, Soups and Nigerian Tastebuds.