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!

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!

(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