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!

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!

(Iru)Fermented African Locust Beans – smells foul but tastes heavenly!

In the Yoruba language, we call the African locust beans iru, but it has many names in different parts of Africa – dawa dawa, eware, ogiri, sumbala, The biological name is Parkia biglobosa. When boiled down and then fermented it produces a savoury flavour that is used as a natural seasoning for soups and stews, and has incredible health benefits.

In Nigeria, once the wealthy understood its benefits they got their cooks and Chefs to add it to native dishes proclaiming that it tasted like the mouth-watering food their grandmothers used to make. If you want to know the truth, I learnt how to cook with iru from my grandmother and great grandmother – may their souls rest in perfect peace.

Iru is a natural umami. I came across umami in my chef fan journey as I love to watch chefs cooking on streaming platforms. I am their groupie!  But seriously, it was when I got interested in Japanese cooking. Umami roughly translates in Japanese as “pleasant savory taste” and is the fifth taste of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. The Japanese see it as a wholesome taste that completes a dish. I am no culinary expert but just fascinated by food, its taste and smell.

I started my Japanese cooking with Ramen and wanted the broth to have Umami. The only way to gain a quick umami taste is through monosodium glutamate(msg). Japanese Chemist Dr Kikunae Ikeda and businessman Mr Saburosuke Suzuki II created Ajinomoto, a pure msg and the start of artificial umami in 1907. The height of any cooking is that wholesome taste with depth and flavour that cannot be copied except through cheap msg. Ramen is basically noodles in sauce with all sorts of bits thrown in. Sorry if I am upsetting ramen purists😀.  

Usually when we make our food we add some stock cube or other kind of flavour enhancing from the supermarket. Perhaps, either chicken, vegetable or beef stock. That stock has been made to create umami, and once added to your cooking, completes its taste.

But villagers all around Africa discovered that if you fermented the locust beans and added it to a traditional sauce, you transform the taste from basic to flavoursome. Think about what drives you to the best restaurants. It is no more than a complex combination of the five basic tastes.

For example, many years ago I had the best vegan vegetable mix from a health food shop in Greenwich, London. I had to to track down the small catering company that made it because I could not believe that they could lift the typical taste of the food just by the quality of the vegetable and the dressing, but they did!

Back to iru or the locust beans. I need to describe the smell before you rush to an African food store to try and procure it. It is a a combination of foot odour and unwashed crevices. I leave that to your imagination! But when I add it to my traditional Nigerian soup, especially with stockfish, it is finger-licking delicious. Do not blame me though, if your house stinks afterwards, it is all part of the joy!

Does it work for another kind of dish? I have not tried it. I intend to add it to my ramen sauce as an experiment.  

Here is a list of the health benefits of locust beans. I am not a health professional so this is just a guide. Do go and do your own research.

1. Full of polyphenols and therefore an antioxidant 

2. The whole plant itself has health benefits. The bark is used to treat wounds, including leprosy

3. It is used traditionally to treat hypertension 

4. The bark is also made into powder for carob

5. It is rich in lipid, protein, carbohydrates and other nutrients

6. The bark is used to relieve toothache

7. Eating the locust beans helps improve vision

8. Locust beans are from the seed of the carob tree

Cooking my Christmas Turkey The African Way

Growing up in Nigeria, my nourishment for how the West celebrated Christmas was the steady diets of American movies. We considered British films boring and too realistic for comfort and only watched British comedies. Therefore, we cuddled up to American Christmas family angst. A father, mother, and two children or a father, mother, grown children, and grandchildren share a massive turkey and have lots of drama. Perhaps dad was strict while mum was the peacemaker amidst several sibling issues and rivalries.

Everything was done with the backdrop of a massive Christmas tree with twinkling lights and tons of beautifully wrapped gifts waiting to be unwrapped. In Nigeria, my parents did not have any pretension to this. No Christmas turkey but chicken or beef with plenty of white rice, Jollof rice, Moin Moin, and stewed goat meat. This, I believe, influenced my Christmas story Jollof Rice and Crayfish mystery in the culinary cozy mystery anthology by seven crime writers of color – Festive Mayhem 2, where my lead character Elizabeth tries to solve a mystery around jollof rice.

My first shock was how tasteless my turkey was, even with the two days of marination. I managed to dismiss this as beginner’s luck and promised to do better the following year. I had started work and attended tons of Christmas meals by this time. I made sure to choose the Christmas turkey from the menu and was shocked at how bland it was. I would then drench the slab of white meat in gravy and cranberry sauce, which made it palatable. After these, I settled for ducks for other Christmases — too scrawny! Goose — too fatty! Beef — well, too beefy! (I can’t help that!)

At Christmas, presents were to be new clothes or money. I was fascinated by the American way of celebrating Christmas. I could not wait to celebrate my first Christmas in the UK. I pored over recipes and the best way to cook my massive turkey as a foodie. I bought stuffing, gravy(Aah Bisto!), bacon strips, and everything that would allow me to produce the golden, mouthwatering creation of my American dream. I almost wished for a re-creation of drama in my front room as well. I loved Home Alone best!

I then determined to make the turkey my way – the African way. To be truthful, Africans defeat the turkey’s mountainous girt by chopping and dicing it and then seasoning and roasting it in the oven. Or better still, they steer well clear! I consider these cowardly (sorry, my darling African brothers and sisters). After thinking long and hard, I decided that the best way to tackle this and produce a tremendous tasty turkey. I planned to combine every spice in my kitchen’s cupboard plus salt, add plenty of powdered cayenne pepper, and stir in olive oil. Then ensured that my turkey was slathered in this, inside and out. I added chunks of onion as my stuffing and marinated for three days!

Afterwards, I set the turkey inside the oven. When it came out of the oven four hours later, it was golden brown, the juice and a bit of Bistro became gravy, and I was living my African dream! The turkey was delicious, all eaten up and enjoyed by my family, and I never looked back! I had almost forgotten the traditional way of making turkey till one day, a friend asked me how I made my turkey and what stuffing I used. I gave her a strange look and proudly described my method. My description was so funny that it was added to a script in my church play and had everyone in stitches. So, if you fancy a scrumptious, delicious spicy turkey for Christmas, then subscribe to get my free SPICY TURKEY Recipe Card! Remember that you can also cook this turkey and remove the pepper. The beautiful image of the golden brown turkey is by Alison Marras.

Here’s my gift to you. A free Turkey Recipe Card