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The secret ingredient of my secret ingredient soup

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Simisola

Well-Known Member
#1
By Yemisi Ogbe

I find that elderly Nigerian women who have made an art of cooking often give me "a look" when I show enthusiasm over something they have made. If I say something like, "this is delicious, how did you cook this?" A wall immediately comes up, and I'm not sure what it is.

Is it boredom or shock and disdain or that it is just not cultural to talk recipes? The conversation tends to end on a detached "Its just Egusi soup" or "Its just Ikokore" and a ‘take it or leave it-this fuss you are making is a little unseemly!' attitude. No one has ever leaned over and whispered conspiratorially like Mr. Ping to Po his son in Kungfu Panda... "The secret ingredient of my secret ingredient soup is..."

I think it might be the dearth of Nigerian cookbooks and the fact that we mostly cook how our mother's taught us to cook. All Nigerian mothers without exception would rather be strung up and quartered than have their daughters defined with those two grave words "cannot cook."

Nigerian women of my mother's generation mostly cook with the mindset of "this is what well brought up women do to keep their households running smoothly and keep their husbands happy". It is a functional art and therefore I suppose most of their generation are not watching BBC food channel and obsessing about whether Cos is preferable to Arugula.

Yet all Egusi soups are certainly not the same. There are those people who cook Egusi and you are happy to eat it, and there are those who cook it and you are weeping with joy. The details, the techniques, the quirks and secret ingredients are there, but they are not being compared at tea parties. Rather there is a dignified nonchalance typical of women who cook in my mother's generation. They are not on show, they are just cooking.

The secret is not neatly processed into pages of recipes either on paper or even in their minds. The frustration is therefore getting the secret out from the subconscious, the very bottom of the soup pot of the virtuoso cook, the "olowo sibi".

I cannot express how much I fear these words: "There is no recipe. Its just the way I cook it!" It means you have to eat humble pie and take time out to travel to Kotangora if necessary to watch the cooking being done and extract the minute details yourself. And you have to watch carefully, you might miss something.

So here I am in the market again, hanging around and eavesdropping on everyone's conversation. For the last thirty minutes, I have watched a pretty young lady with her hair stylishly swept up on one side pricing the head of a smoked fish like her life depends on it.

I am simultaneously pricing fish, and Mumsie the fish lady is being difficult and insisting that I pay N5,000 for the fish. In the process of negotiating, she mentions that the head of my fish alone costs N1,500. Is that so? I counter, well then cut the head off and sell me the rest of the fish.

She is visibly scandalized. She points out the girl pricing the fish. How can I talk about the head of fish in such an irreverent manner...and the conclusion plays out in my head over her words like an epiphany... the secret ingredient of the Nigerian secret ingredient soup is fish head.

Fish head is the secret ingredient in Ekpang Nkukwo and in Afang and in Edikaikong. Furthermore, ground up smoked fish head is the secret of that coy pot of soup with no meat in sight. How come it is so delicious? Certainly not Maggi; the answer is fish. If not ground up smoked fragrant oily Fish head releasing all its flavour into the soup, then crayfish.

That same day, I heard a discussion about waterleaf and how one must always use the smallest leafed variety in cooking Afang, so as not to drown the soup in the vegetable's water.

Another woman came to the fish stall and declared that her fish never goes in the freezer otherwise its taste is ruined. And while listening to all of these gems, I wonder how on earth I will be omnipresent at every incidental context where secrets are being freely exchanged?

I remember about eight months ago cajoling Aunty Thelma to tell me how she gets her Fisherman's stew to move like velvet, and because I didn't watch her cook it, that process never really fell into place. This year, from interacting with other soups from Cross River state, I learnt that the trick is in the chopped onions melting into a frumpy thickness plus a little Ogbono added almost at the end...

I have to acknowledge that I have my work cut out for me.

Food matters
 

Obariba

Well-Known Member
#2
Fish head is the secret ingredient in Ekpang Nkukwo and in Afang and in Edikaikong. Furthermore, ground up smoked fish head is the secret of that coy pot of soup with no meat in sight. How come it is so delicious? Certainly not Maggi; the answer is fish. If not ground up smoked fragrant oily Fish head releasing all its flavour into the soup, then crayfish.
Food matters

I love Ekpang so much and know how to suck the hell outta the mfi :cow:
 

Obariba

Well-Known Member
#4
YE!!! :shock:
you know about ekpan?! ye!!! infact it's me and you now!!

but this woman has made my mouth water now, i love it so much.
*sigh*
Oh Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal that stuff is the bomb ...to the point my cousins helper even made me some to travel back to the states she froze it and put it in a freezer bag ...... it is one of the 7 wonders of the Nigerian world ooooh :cow:
 

Thickmadam

OHHHHHH YEAHHHHHHHH!!
#5
one of my favouritest meals.
*sigh*
i think i have tears in my eyes just thinking about the last one i had.
Oh Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal that stuff is the bomb ...to the point my cousins helper even made me some to travel back to the states she froze it and put it in a freezer bag ...... it is one of the 7 wonders of the Nigerian world ooooh :cow:
 
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