July 12, 2011 1 Comment
One of my best friends said to me ten years ago: “you know you seem so normal – until you eat”. Of course he was a Nicaraguan who grew up in Honduras and now lived in America, but that neither detracts from the validity of his point nor changes my life-long ideas about how to eat. Many Africans (me included) will swear that eating with their fingers somehow makes the food taste better. Does it? I have to admit that I’ve been known to get slightly peeved when someone asks me for cutlery to eat eba or some other “stiff dough”. “Its just not done”, I’m thinking. Some will say none of it matters as long as it all gets to the stomach. So really tell me, do any of the little, special rituals we impose on ourselves make any difference at all to the pleasure of eating?
I, for one, have got all kinds of rules and rituals about my food. For those in the habit of “accidentally” knocking on the door just when the pot has come off the fire, arriving at my place at mealtime might be a rude awakening. Especially if its a Saturday. Especially if I’m consecrating a new pot of soup. And especially if I’m alone at home. Because at la casa Bella, a fresh pot of soup almost always is welcomed with pounded yam – freshly pounded of course, none of that talcum powder we get sold these days. Any lesser-ranking “bolus” or “okele” will simply render my precious new soup tasteless.
First, the pounded yam and the soup must be in the same bowl for so many reasons – efficiency both in eating and cleaning up being foremost amongst them. The soup keeps the yam warm and the yam soaks in the soup and they’re just born to be together. Let no man put asunder.
But surely one can’t eat pounded yam with an okro soup jampacked with peppers, snails, crabs and assorted meats… and still have clothes on? At the minimum therefore, the… ahem…brassiere (and other constricting articles of clothing) must come off.
I’ve also managed to convince myself that tables are an impediment to my maxium enjoyment, sitting in those upright dining chairs, the table height sometimes too high or too low to comfortably accomodate the various swings you have to make with your hand to “cut” the draw of the okra before it enters your mouth… so rule number three: I eat on the floor with the bowl between my spread-eagled legs.
As the soup ages, I tend to substitute progressively lower-ranking “okele” usually in the following hierarchy: yam, plantain, cassava, the different tuwos (shinkafa, masara, zaafi etc). And the day you see me drinking garri with just a soup- coated piece of meat, you know its the happy funeral of last week’s soup. The next day will be new soup day and you already know why you shouldn’t visit.
I may be weird to some but I take comfort in the fact that just as many others will recognize a piece of themselves in my strange attitudes towards food. From those who pick out every single onion in their food to those who won’t eat anything red, we might not be making any tangible difference whatsoever to one of life’s greatest pleasures but whatever it is we do somehow to each of us means something unique. And that is all that matters.