Thus far in my journey of cooking one meal from every country in the world, I have cooked 12 countries on the African Continent. The last few years of cooking these countries have taught me a lot about an area of the world that I previously didn’t know much about… particularly that it is so diverse!
I recently sat down with Tayo of Low Carb Africa to learn more about the food of her country, Nigeria!
This conversation was particularly fun for me, because I was able to draw parallels between Nigeria and some of its neighboring countries that I’ve cooked already! I also learned so much about what makes Nigerian food unique and special (aka ground crayfish and fermented locust beans).
Join me on our journey to discuss Nigerian cuisine.
Tell me about your background with Nigeria and what life is like in the country!
I grew up in a large family in Nigeria with six sisters, so you can imagine how much fun and noise we generated on a daily basis. Things were a lot simpler in those days, so fun activities included just playing outside, and we were only limited by our imagination.
Schooling in Nigeria is an interesting experience and is a lot stricter than here in the U.S. Teachers were held in very high regard (and still are), and talking back was highly discouraged. We gave our teachers the same respect we gave our parents and if there was a report at school that we misbehaved, we were punished when we got home too!
Academics are very important to most Nigerian families and most parents pay their kids tuition even through college since public college tuition is quite affordable. Students are discouraged from working while studying so as not to get distracted from their studies.
I’ll say one of the biggest surprises when I moved to the U.S was the food culture. In Nigeria, every meal is cooked at home, and we eat mostly organic food made from scratch and not processed food. It was a shock when I first came to the U.S and found out not everyone cooks at home every day, and it was not uncommon for families to order takeout several times a week.
What are family dynamics like in Nigeria? How about interactions with people in your community?
Most Nigerians my age grew up in large families. It was pretty common for kids to have five to seven siblings. A lot of mothers were stay-at-home mums or worked as teachers or at jobs that would allow them to be back home with the kids by afternoon. It’s different now as most parents work and family units are a lot smaller. Most married couples have about 3-4 kids these days.
Communities are usually close-knit, and most people are friendly with their neighbors. During Christmas or other holidays, it is quite common to exchange dishes with your neighbors and friends. Nigeria is home to hundreds of tribes, each with their specialty, so you get to eat so many different, delicious cuisines.
How is the food in Nigeria different from its neighboring countries? In what way is it the same?
We have slight variances in how we prepare Nigerian foods, and there has been a long-running battle whether Ghana or Nigeria makes the best Jollof rice.
Tell me about Peanuts in Nigerian cuisine. How are they used? What are your favorite recipes with peanuts?
Peanuts (usually referred to as Groundnuts in Nigeria) are a staple in the country, eaten in so many different ways. We like to boil it whole in its shell, roast and salt it, or prepare delectable stews. One of my favorite peanut dishes is the African Peanut Stew, which tastes amazing!
Tell me about the food in Nigeria. What types of meat are common to eat? What vegetables?
Nigerians practice nose-to-tail eating, which means no part of the animal goes to waste! We use offal meat (kidney, liver, intestine, tripe) to make pepper soup, a very popular delicacy at parties. We also love to eat beef, goat meat, lamb, chicken, turkey, you name it.
The most popular vegetables are Lagos spinach (efo shoko), African spinach (efo tete), bitter leaves, pumpkin leaves (ugwu), water leaves, jute leaves (ewedu), and scent leaves (efirin).
Most of these leaves are specific to particular regions of the country and used to prepare their native dishes, usually a form of stew or soup. Most people eat a vegetable stew dish several times a week.
Our foods are quite hot and spicy and always very flavorful. Almost everything we make contains dry ground pepper (similar to cayenne pepper) and Maggi cubes (our brand of bouillon cubes).
We also use ground crayfish, black pepper, and curry in many of our dishes, as you’ll see from the recipes on my blog.
What are your everyday Nigerian foods? What types of things are common for breakfasts, dinners, snacks?
We eat bread, eggs, sausages, cereal, akara (fried bean cakes), dodo (fried plantain), or moin-moin (steamed bean pudding) for breakfast. If you’re having a late breakfast, then it will be something a bit heavier like rice, spaghetti, or boiled yam.
We enjoy pastry snacks such as meat-pie, chin-chin, buns, and puff-puff.
We like to eat fufu with soup dishes, rice, yams, pasta, plantain, porridge, or beans for dinner. Normally, we eat it with some form of meat, like chicken, goat meat, or beef.
Is there anything eaten in Nigeria that’s not eaten anywhere else in the world? Anything surprising?
Most of what we eat is consumed throughout West Africa as our cuisines are very similar.
What’s your very favorite recipe from Nigeria? What is your least favorite food that is traditionally Nigerian?
My favorite Nigerian recipe is Efo riro (African spinach stew). It is made by sautéing tomatoes, bell peppers and habanero peppers in olive oil or palm oil, and then stirring in chopped spinach.
It is made with our traditional spices – ground crayfish, iru (fermented locust beans) and dry peppers. The taste is amazing and it is a great way for kids to enjoy spinach.
My least favorite is beans (black-eyed peas). I always struggled with this since I was a kid.
Are there any ingredients that you love that just aren’t the same unless you’re in Nigeria?
Some ingredients can be quite tough to get if you don’t reside in Nigeria, which makes sense considering the logistics involved in shipping them here and preserving them.
For instance, ground crayfish, which gives a delightful umami flavor to our dishes, is quite expensive in the U.S and usually sold in small quantities. They are also not as fresh, so the flavor is just not the same.
Tell me about your food blog! Why you started it, what it features, etc.
When I started my blog, Low Carb Africa, a few years ago, there were no African blogs strictly catering to those on a keto or low carb diet. I had started the keto diet a few years before that, and a few friends and family members constantly asked me for recipes.
My husband encouraged me to start my blog, and I hesitated because I didn’t know how it would be received. Africans are very proud of their dishes, and we don’t like our recipes to be radically changed or altered.
I started my blog as an experiment to chronicle all my low carb creations and see how they resonated with other Africans out there. The result was an astounding success!
I have received glowing feedback from other Africans (and non-Africans as well) on how much they enjoyed my recipes and how flavorful they are.
I also create recipes from all over the world and infuse them with African spices and flavors to make them even tastier! Most of my recipes are spicy, but I always give instructions on how to adjust the spiciness to your preference.
I have so many recipes I love on my blog! I already mentioned African spinach stew but another favorite of mine is Mafe – African Peanut Stew. It is so versatile and can be eaten with cauliflower rice or fufu.
What made you decide to make the African recipes on your site low-carb. Are there challenges that come with this?
African dishes, though incredibly mouthwatering and delicious, are usually very high in carbs. After a while, consuming all those carbs might begin to cause weight gain and other health problems.
On my blog, I talk about some of the side effects I experienced on a high-carb diet which included migraines, joint pain, and nausea. It was like my body had developed an intolerance to what I was eating.
I needed to make low-carb versions of my beloved dishes since I didn’t want to give them up. However, the biggest challenge was, could I genuinely reproduce the textures and flavors of my African recipes using low carb ingredients?
I must admit, it took a bit of creativity on my part, and I am continuously experimenting with flavors and ingredients to make sure the dishes are as close as I can get to the real thing.
So the answer is yes, I can create textures and flavors that are similar to my African dishes, with just a fraction of the carbs.
If you enjoyed this interview, make sure to check out some of the other food interviews on The Foreign Fork, including: