We continue our food primer series, shining a light on some of the most popular foods used in Nigerian cooking. Our food primer is our best response to the question we get asked so often in the restaurant, “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 it is not possible to give a simple answer to the question “what is Nigerian food?” with our primer series, we aim to share what we can about popular Nigerian foods.
Egusi is the name given to the dried seeds from melon or squash (both from the same family). Like many seeds it is high in fat and protein-rich. Egusi is typically ground and eaten as soup with a swallow (e.g. eba, pounded yam, ground rice). Egusi has featured on our menu since the beginning and veteran chop-chat-chiller’s will remember our Mediterranean-style salad with an egusi dressing. These days we’re keeping it more traditional and serving up egusi with eba - our mini cassava dough balls.
Crayfish are cousins of the lobster, though significantly smaller. In Nigeria, crayfish are usually smoked, and occasionally sun-dried. Once dried, they are often blended into a powder form and sprinkled into traditional soups and stews. They act as a natural and organic alternative to modern stock cubes, adding extra layers of flavour and taste to any savoury dish.
Although many of our tapas plates are vegan-friendly, we use crayfish in our beef ayamase dishes, where it's combined with another Nigerian favourite taste enhancer - iru.
Iru is the popular name for locust beans in Nigeria. Like crayfish it’s a natural and locally sourced flavour enhancer. Powerfully pungent in smell, the fermented bean is primarily used as an aromatic condiment for stews and soups in Nigeria and is the key ingredient for the green pepper ayamase stew commonly eaten amongst the Yoruba tribe.
It's also used by the other main Nigerian tribes, where it's known as dawadawa in Hausa and ogiri in Igbo. Whilst this is its most common use, the yellow pulp which contains the seeds is naturally sweet and can be enjoyed raw or processed into a carbohydrate-rich food.
Ofada rice is a short brown variety of rice grown locally in Nigeria. It is grown almost exclusively in Ogun State state in Southwestern Nigeria, Yorubaland, and is named after the town Ofada - a small community in Ogun State.
Once harvested, the rice is soaked for up to a week to ferment which gives it a distinct aroma when cooked. It is then parboiled and sun-dried before taken to market. As a brown rice it is high in fibre and makes a nutritious side dish for any stew and is often eaten with ayamase stew.
Okra is a popular vegetable eaten across Nigeria. Also known as ‘ladies’ fingers’ in other parts of the world because of its shape, it is typically chopped and cooked in a stew to be eaten with eba (cassava dough balls). Loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, its glutinous texture when cooked is a welcome addition to any soup.
A staple in our siblings’ household growing up, they had to add it to our menu but instead of serving it in a stew, the magical vegetable appears on our menu as House Pickled Okra – okra in its fresh crunchy state marinated in a honey and chilli vinaigrette.
Want to know more about Nigerian food? Check out Part 1 to our Nigerian Food Primer.