Dundun – the Fried yam sold on and off the streets of Lagos- delicious!

When I watch food programs on Netflix like ‘Somebody Feed Phil’ or the late Anthony Bourdain marching through the streets of Asia and tasting all the delicious street foods, I am filled with envy and a strange kind of nostalgia for my Nigerian street food. Especially – dundun(fried yam).

Image by LuvMattaz TV on You Tube

Street Food


It takes me back to a period in my childhood when I lived with my grandmother in Lagos, Nigeria, and before my parents thrust me into a different kind of life. I can visualise the street sellers and hawkers serving dundun to hungry workers who had to face the stress and anxiety of the chaotic Lagos traffic. Or workers that want to snack on something hot and comforting.

Yam


Many countries eat yam, and also many countries do not eat it or know of it. It is an acquired taste as it is quite fibrous and might even be considered tasteless. Yam was at the heart of Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart‘. Back in the olden days in Nigeria, farmers commanded great wealth from growing yam. It was the staple food of the rich and the poor valued it.

Yam sold at a London High Street

I love the real pounded yam made by pounding cooked yam in a mortar with a pestle. The powdered version sold in a lot of African food shops in the west is a poor relative made up of a mix of potato flour and other varieties.


Ebute Metta restaurant on Plumstead High Street in London promises you yam pounded in mortar and pestle if you gave them an hour’s advance notice. I am yet to try that but promise you their food is delicious. I had okra soup and amala and cried with joy as I ate it.

Two ways to make Dun Dun


Back to dun dun. It is fried in two ways that I know of – the raw yam is cut into chunks or sliced and fried in deep oil, or the yam is parboiled and then fried. You add a bit of salt to taste before frying. I prefer the parboiled one because it is moist on the inside and crusty on the outside. That is two different flavours dancing on your tongue.

Dundun is delicious with fried stew and your choice of beef, chicken fish or stockfish.

Restaurant or Streetfood

The last dundun I ate was out of a street kiosk at Woolwich market, London. It was called “Joy of the Lord Remain Forever”. I would call the young cook an hour in advance and ask for my special – Fried yam, fish and fried stew all for the excellent price of £7! To my thinking, street markets serve tastier deals than restaurants.

I have tried to make dundun but do not think it is as good as what I have tasted on the streets. If you’re adventurous then when next you hit a Nigerian or African restaurant ask for dundun and fried stew. Better still, when you’re next in London, you might want to visit that street kiosk or got to Ebute Metta restaurant.

Ciao!

Queen Elizabeth II of England and African Royalty

A long reign!

Elizabeth Queen II of England reigned for seventy years and died this week at the age of 96.

There has been posts and articles with different perspective on the monarchy. Many positive and a lot of negative ones. I can only speak from my point of view.

Yes, England colonised majority of the African countries including Nigeria. My children and generations to come will continue to feel the impact of that. Also, Britain is built on the class system.

But, the queen was not just the head of an institution but also a human being – a much respected one.

She reigned for 70 years and was part of mine, my mother and even my grandmother’s life and I think her incredible achievement should be celebrated.

She dedicated, and served her people with quiet resilience and integrity.

“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

Her Majesty The Queen

I am glad that we threw her a big jubilee celebration!

Growing up in Nigeria all I knew was that there was a beautiful woman who was our Queen. She controlled her kingdom, and her subjects loved and respected her. Ancient and modern African royalty is, however, utterly opposite to this. So my attention will be on the perception of the Queen in the context of African royalty.

Queen Elizabeth with King Akenzua II of Benin Kingdom, Nigeria – 1956

English royalty vs Nigerian royalty

In Nigeria, royalty is given within the tribes, villages or communities. It meant every town had her king, and every community had her chief. As opposed to the English kingship system, the ascension to the throne by a king or village head in traditional Nigerian society works through the patriarchal system (the male line). Such a person must belong to one of the ruling houses that exist within the royal family. It is rare to have a kingship or chieftaincy title passed through a matriarchal line.

Ancient Africa

In ancient Africa, there were only a handful of well-known queens. Thus, I was happy when I discovered Queen Aminatu of Zaria. She ruled Zazzau in Hausaland in Northern Nigeria in the 16th century and was a revered warrior!

Image by David Arboleda – Pexel

I claim some royal blood through my mum, a princess, and so was my maternal grandmother. It means that I can trace my mother’s lineage back to a few centuries. Unfortunately, most histories are transmitted orally. To date, African kingship and other royal titles are regarded with great respect.  

God Save the Queen!

Queen Elizabeth II was a Queen that ruled a powerful nation – a continuous source of fascination. Indirectly, in blistering, sweltering, sunny, crazy beautiful Nigeria, I became a kind of royal fan. Something that I somewhat considered old-fashioned and uncool. But there you are!

When Prince Charles got married to Diana, it was a great occasion that was celebrated in Nigeria. My Dad was happy to share that ‘Charles had sowed his wild oats. Mind you, he was 33 years old at that time. 

When William and Kate got married, I invited friends around to eat, drink and dance. We loved Diana and celebrated her son’s happiness. I made a feast of beef Suya, and we had plenty of drinks. I also celebrated when Harry married Meghan. It was emotional, and I was happy with their happiness.

At the same time, the marriage of the leading Oba of Yoruba land, the Ooni of Ife, to a sophisticated ‘girl about town’, whom many traditional Yorubas disapproved of, fascinated many Nigerians and me. We avidly followed their lives on Google. Was she pregnant? Was she not? It was disappointing that she skipped out of that marriage so quickly.

What does it mean to be royalty in Nigeria?

Royal families in Nigeria, especially Obas with huge lands enjoy a lavish lifestyle with devoted subjects. They strictly adhere to traditional worship and rituals. Most Obas marry many wives and have concubines(yes, the term still stands). My maternal grandmother who was really beautiful became a royal wife at a very young age.

Queen Elizabeth’s II legacy

The Queen left a strong legacy but it will not be the same. King Charles has giant shoes to fill and he knows it. There can not be another Elizabeth of Windsor. But we know that she has done her job on the earth and gone home to rest with her beloved Philip. The rest is now left to her descendants!

You Beneath Your Skin by Damyanti Biswas

You beneath Your skin is an intricate crime story centred on Indian American single mother and psychiatrist Anjali Morgan. She relocated to Delhi from America with her autistic teenage son and fights a daily battle to meet his complex needs. 

Damyanti Biswas

It is a multiple-point-of-view story that unfolds Anjali’s relationships with those closest to her. Her best friend Maya, from whom she rents an apartment at her family home. Her long-standing affair with Maya’s married brother, police commissioner Jatin whom she met in America when he was a student under the mentorship of her deceased father. He later left for India and became a police commissioner, married to his powerful boss’s daughter, an indifferent wife and mother. They have a son Varun who is perfect in his father’s eyes, with a lot going on under the surface.

Once Damyanti had made us understand these complicated relationships, we were off on a gritty, gripping ride!

You beneath Your skin takes us through the slums of Delhi with a theme that covers, poverty, power and corruption, love, betrayal, and drug dealing with the brutal murder of slum women burned with acid at its heart.

It is a crime book unafraid of digging deep into the city’s underbelly. Also, in this story, no character is safe!

Damyanti delivers a brilliant debut with layers of intrigue and twists that expose corruption in a way that I have not seen in fiction in a long time.

I loved reading this book and look forward to reading her next one, The Blue Bar.

My Other Husband by Dorothy Koomson

My other Husband is Dorothy Koomson’s 18th novel, and she delivered well! I actually got to a point where I could not put the book down till I finished it!. Dorothy is a Queen of twisty psychological thrillers. So I loved that some months back, she invited me to her proof party with a tissue-wrapped gift copy of the proof, a nice packet of coffee and Maltesers. Maltesers is a favourite in the story!

My Other Husband is the story of  Cleo Forsum, a successful screenwriter of crime fiction, married to a lovely husband and with a life to envy. But Cleo has decided to shatter that perfect life by seeking to divorce her husband and ending her TV series. Someone is hunting her by killing people precisely as it happens in her series and framing her.    From there begins our journey into Dorothy’s dark, twisty world as we go on a trip with Cleo, who harbours a deep secret that is the cause of her problems.

My Other Husband covers the theme of love and obsession. Dorothy’s writing on love and relationships are never simple as her protagonists are mostly angst-ridden complex women with secrets.

What is also striking is our intimate view into Cleo’s life. Dorothy zooms us into her head and we feel her fears, including some of her serious bed action. Hmmm… tastefully done, of course!

The grand reveal came at the mid-point and with a slam! And from then, we’re on a roller coaster ride to a satisfying end.

Cleo was a lucky, unlucky girl with two panting hot men! I can’t say more than that.

Go get your copy!

Complicit by Winnie Li

Complicit is a novel that starts slow and burns bright. I am familiar with Winnie Li’s work as I had read Dark Chapter, which was an incisive page-turner on the fictionalised story of the author’s real-life trauma that happened in Ireland. What made it stand out is how Winnie told Dark Chapter from the point of view of the victim and perpetrator.  

In Complicit, Winnie played with many themes, significant and small, and I think it would be worth rereading it to catch the ones that could have been missed. She had a lot to say in the story on so many levels – misogyny, money power, racism, white privilege, 2nd generation immigrant trauma/experience, the illusion of Hollywood, and feminine powerlessness.

When I began Complicit and entered into the dull world of the protagonist, Chinese American Sarah Lai. I sighed. I wanted to be instantly transported into the magic of whatever ilk as long as it did not reflect the dreariness of our everyday life! Then I slowly got drawn in.  

Winnie Li
Winnie Li

Sarah Lai’s account of starting her career in the Film industry in New York and eventually becoming an associate producer sees-saws between the present and the past.   Hugo North is the Harvey Weinstein-like figure who was bankrolling the film in the production company where she worked.

It is definitely an #Metoo but more than this. This is where I applauded Winnie. She deftly showed us the struggles of the child of immigrants, the expectations and anxiety of those parents and their wish for their children to do well in their adopted country.  

Sarah’s drive toward her ambition ultimately found her in the politics and corruption of the film industry. Winnie reveals behind the scene Hollywood with skill and assured writing. It peels back the casual carelessness of white privilege and racism.

Here is a comment by her former boss Sylvia Zimmerman to the journalist doing the investigation

‘No one likes seeing ambition so visibly. Sarah was from that Chinese restaurant background of hers, so maybe there were some cultural….ways of being which were lost to her. Or maybe we’re just not used to seeing a young Asian woman in charge, so that kind of authority is harder to grant….regardless of her competence.’

There is a lot to take away from Complicit, and I fell in love with it. Winnie’s book excited me and laid bare the universal struggle of women worldwide. The fight to be recognised in our own right and not through the male gaze and power.  

I love the hope at the end that there is now more chance of diverse voices being heard and institutions created to catch young talent. It is definitely an optimistic hope for the future.

When a book resonates with you long after you put it down, you know it is something special.  

Complicit is definitely a critical work in this landscape.

THE VIEW FROM BREAST POCKET MOUNTAIN by Karen Hill Anton

This is a memoir about adventure, resilience, survival and defying the odds!

I first heard of Karen Hill Anton on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ podcast, where she discussed her memoir, the View From Breast Pocket Mountain. It is about her life as a black woman who travelled around the world, finally settled in Japan, and has been there for over forty years. I immediately bought the book because it intrigued me. Karen began her travels in 1965 when she was 19 and went around Europe.

The View From Breast Pocket Mountain
The View From Breast Pocket Mountain

I admired how she transcended a tough childhood – a mentally ill and institutionalised mother, her childhood home burning down, her beloved father and brother murdered. Through all those traumas, Karen continued her life and broke many boundaries.

 One of the most memorable parts of the book was when she, her white partner, whom she later married and her young daughter decided to move to Japan in the 70s to become part of a Dojo. Instead of flying or travelling by ship, they decided they would drive. It took them a year of road, water and flight, living frugally, sleeping in their car, and camping on the grounds.

 Karen described her experiences of unwanted male attention in some of the middle eastern countries. How her partner would stay up all night to ensure she and her daughter were safe. Karen also described the harsh dojo existence, her loneliness, because Japanese culture is multigenerational and supports the family. She and her husband stood out as foreigners with no family support. However, she slowly made friends and began to be accepted in the society.

This would be an excellent read for those trying to understand a black female experience in Europe and other parts of the world in the 60s and 70s.

 Karen went on to have three more children in Japan who grew up bilingual. Still, she and her husband decided to educate their children in the States due to the Japanese education system, which they felt did not encourage creativity. They now have grown children who have gone on to have their own families scattered around the world. At the same time, she is content with her role in Japan as a writer and then as a cultural liaison.

#booklovers #memoir #Japan #stellaonithewriter #bookreview

Platinum Jubilee cake to celebrate her Majesty

It was great to make my platinum jubilee cake.

I was a child of the Empire, a second-generation British Nigeria. My parents were children of colonialism. I grew up listening to my late father’s love for all things British. My mom, who lives in the States, is probably glued to the TV and toasting the Queen with a glass of wine.

This influenced my decision to come back to settle in the place of my birth. I was young and starry-eyed. It had been a bittersweet experience – full of highs and lows.

I was brought up in an all-black nation with lots of its own issues. And came from a good background with a strong sense of my identity. Racism shocked and traumatised me. But where I come from, you pray, brush yourself up and wake up to another day’s challenge. I’ve always strived to be my most authentic and to develop sincere relationships as I love to interact with people.

Empire had played a role all of my life and a constant in this was Queen Elizabeth II. While chaos reigned in moments of her life, she stayed stoic and constant. She survived many scandals, divorces of her children, deaths in the family and events that have rocked the nation.

Seventy years doing a job is not a joke, and I applaud this.

Ten years ago, when she celebrated her diamond jubilee, I made these cupcakes. So, when colleagues requested that I make a platinum Jubilee cake, I decided on this one – a sponge with raspberry buttercream filling and covered in white chocolate ganache.

Stella Oni’s Diamond Jubilee Cupcakes

So, however, I feel about the impact of the Empire upon the life of my parents, my life and the life of generations to come, I say;

Here is to strength and resilience. Here is to Queen Elizabeth II!

Ghanaian Tsofi (Turkey Tail)-An interesting part of a Turkey’s anatomy –

dangerously delicious if you don’t know what you’re eating!

A while ago, I was at a friend’s surprise party and, in my usual fashion, went to take a look at the table’s bounteous offerings. The trick for someone that loves food like me is to ensure I eat in small bites, and as food lovers know, that is a bit hard to achieve.

I spied a big platter of tasty fried chicken among the offerings, and it smelt good! I hovered around it and snatched one that promptly disappeared down my mouth in one bite( sorry, I’m not a dainty eater, my Nigerian boarding school paid put to that).

Chofi /Turkey Tail

A burst of flavour

I closed my eyes in awe and reverence at the intense burst of flavour that increased as I chewed. This was the most well-seasoned chicken I had ever tasted. I snatched 4 more onto my plate and perched in a corner like a puppy with a bone and the countenance that said interrupt this one woman chicken party at your peril.

Once the last of the bites had disappeared down to my grateful stomach, I washed it down with some wine and then beamed at everyone in satisfaction. Then I gave the cook lavish compliments that were graciously accepted.

A shocking truth

Later on, as we drove back home, I continued to wax lyrics about the delicious chicken bites and how I would love to go cook it at home if I got the recipe. My friend in the car said that this would be quickly arranged, then he casually said, ‘you keep calling it chicken bits. You do know it is not chicken?’. I said indeed I did not. What was it then? He said it was Turkey tail!

Friends, that is another name for Turkey’s butt! A particular delicacy in Ghana! My jaws dropped. Should I laugh or cry? Of course, I laughed! I had just eaten turkey, yansh! (Nigerian pidgin English for that bit of Turkey). That tail is a gland that connects the turkey’s feathers to its body, and it is filled with oil mainly meant for grooming Turkey’s feathers!

Now, don’t you go laughing at me? What is the delicacy in your own country? As I am British Nigerian, I can say mine is;

Giant Snails(not those tiny escargots!) — Nigeria
Jellied Eels(Eurgh! Britain)😂😂🤣

The Stockfish – one of the world’s stinkiest fish, yet I love eating!

Those who have read my food articles know that I am pretty adventurous about food. It began at a very young age. Yet I have not written about my love affair with the Stockfish.

In Nigeria, we have particular delicacies that, once combined, create the most aromatic of soups and also the most pungent.

Mind you, our soups are not the blended soups of Europe, America – to name a few.

Assorted meat or Dried Seafood combo

In our soup, we combine choice parts of meat (the beef, entrails(haggis to the Scottish! cow foot, cow skin) that we call assorted meat or smoked fish, Stockfish, crayfish and shrimps with green leaves and okra. Many combinations make the most delicious soups – efo riro, efo elegusi, edikaikong, etc.

My particular addiction is the Stockfish, one of Norway’s most famous exports, making many Norwegians extremely rich. Stockfish comes from Cod, Pollock, Tusk, Haddock and a few other varieties. The most popular and expensive one is the Cod.

Dried Stockfish

Delicious delicacy

As crazy as it sounds, one of West Africa’s most extraordinary delicacies can only be found in Norway. This is because their waters are abundant with fish during the spawning season.

The country’s cold, dry climate is the best for air-drying the fishes in wooden stocks; hence, they are called Stockfish. The process takes over three months outdoors and about 12 months indoors with no chemical processing, which means the fish can last long. We soften Stockfish by rehydrating through hours of soaking in water or slow cooking it.

Drying fish in Norway – Image from Pixabay

Stinky and fit for a Queen or King!

I wish I could say it is a humble fish for the poor. Certainly not! It is sold in weight, and a large stockfish can set you back about £20 to £50. It is a delicacy fit for ‘Kings and Queens’ and Norway’s ‘white gold’!

The head of the stockfish, which I imagine the Norwegians used to toss in the bin, is a particular favourite in many parts of Nigeria. It is popular in the east as it adds an extra flavour that enriches the soup.

I also wish the fairy tale would end there, but in revenge for being so tasty, the Stockfish is also one of the smelliest in the world. It is a heavy, intrusive smell that has visitors gagging and frantically searching for the hidden rotten corpse in a home. I love eating Stockfish! To avoid the smell, you could soak it for a few days, but it could mean a loss of some of the intense flavour.

When I make by stockfish rich soup, I add dried ground crayfish or shrimp, which are equally as smelly and used instead of the msg polluted stock cubes favoured by some.

The Marvelous Locust Beans

If crayfish or prawn and the Stockfish are not enough, I add my favourite msg avoiding flavour, iru. Iru is fermented locust beans. Now, most of you know that gone off beans is already evil-smelling. Locust beans once fermented smell like the sweaty foot odour of a roomful of athletes locked in a storage cupboard. It is also highly nutritious. 

Iru

The largest importer

Nigeria is the largest importer of Stockfish in the world. They go through tons of them each year as we could never have enough. The Norwegian seafood Council in Nigeria celebrated the first Seafood Festival in October 2018. 

Thelma Obaze’s Stockfish adventure

Stockfish is eaten in many countries like Portugal, Croatia, Italy, Russia, and Dominica. Still, Nigerians have ensured they take it with them wherever they emigrate.

So far, I have named three savoury things that I use to make my soup — Stockfish, crayfish, and iru. How do I cook my soups?

What I cook

Suppose it is efo riro (green mixes like spinach, kale, and other ones). In that case, I ensure I blend the scorching hot scotch bonnet pepper (smoking!) with tomato and some large onions. I would have brought my Stockfish to life by slow cooking it till it is close to tender but will not go into too many cooking details here. Once combined — the sauce, Stockfish, ground crayfish, iru, and greens look amazing. I would sometimes add blended melon seed(a particular type) that we call egusi. Which means the soup is now called efo elegusi.

Nutrition

Due to its drying process, Stockfish retains concentrated nutrients, including 80% protein, marine oils, fatty acids, iron, calcium, and vitamins. Excellent food for old people and pregnant women.

My visitor might, at this point, do a double-take and perhaps hold their breath when they come into my home. But give them some pounded yam with the soup or amala (fermented yam powder) or rice. Your visitor is smiling from ear to ear, and of course, I am thrilled!

Remember to have several glasses of water nearby; my soups are hot and not for the faint-hearted. Bon appetit!

There’s nothing like the Full English Breakfast…Yum Yum!

We call it the greasy fry up, traditional fry up, all-day breakfast, and many other names in EnglandHotels in different countries serve it. In Britain, builders and construction workers love it! Yes! Eggs, sausages, baked beans, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes, black pudding, and toast. The full English breakfast in all its processed glory! I do not eat black pudding. That is going too far, but I started a habit of eating English Breakfast on Sundays. I gladly gobbled it up and had it for breakfast or brunch.

The Corner Cafe

Many years ago, when a job I was working at got stressful, an all-day breakfast with chips was my go-to! A corner cafe near my office served this with a strong cup of tea, and I became a regular customer. They would slap the full English Breakfast on a massive platter with a mountain of chips, and I would consume the food and roll sleepily and happily back to my job. Trust me; I ballooned from a British dress size 12 to 16 in no time! I would spy my moon-shaped face in the mirror and blame everything else for my weight gain!

A near Veggie

Eventually, I weaned myself off the full English breakfast and avoided it except for special occasions. I decided to try and become a vegetarian and, like a hawk, monitored everything that went through my mouth. Friends that welcomed me to the voluptuous and bountiful club watched with envy as I melted down to a size ten and stabilised at 12.

Hair Trouble

Then, I decided to have a change of look and chopped off my hair to grow it to an even shape. But to my dismay, the hair that grew was thin and scanty. I decided to continue to coax and nurture the hair to no avail.

One day, my BFF took one look at me and announced that I had to go back to eating meat! I needed protein to strengthen my hair. I was reluctant at first. My clean diet to be polluted by antibiotic injected cows and chickens? No, sir!

Full English Breakfast

Finally, I caved in(too quickly) and began to introduce regular meat and chicken into my diet whilst wracked with guilt for doing this. To my shame (I hang my head), I decided to buy some sausages and bacon(just this once I told myself firmly) and started a Sunday tradition. 2 Sausages(Cumberland if you please), bacon, scrambled eggs, baked beans, and 2 or 3 toasts. Yes, oh yes! I caved in!


I am now more disciplined and only eat it when I’m away and in a hotel. So, I have become an expert and brag that there is nothing like a full English breakfast!