Thursday, 18 September 2008

Losing Faith in Food

The poem below is actually not new, it predates Sweden; it owes a lot of its inspiration to my brief sojourn in Belgium & Holland in 2005, where "nothing ever taste[d] as it look[ed]..."

Sweden has reinforced it... my confidence in food has been irreparably damaged, sigh, somewhere between the plate and my tongue, food conspires to play unkind tricks on me... nothing is plain, everything is a melange... a "Smörgåsbord", which, quite interestingly, Wikipedia defines as "a Swedish word which refers to a type of Scandinavian meal served buffet-style in Swedish cuisine" -I didn't know that before now, had no idea the word had culinary roots...

Now I spend my days haunting McDonald's and Burger King and doing the occasional Chinese buffet (where I stick to rice and prawn crackers and other readily identifiable stuvs), and my nights assembling rice, beans, garri and gizzard. And plenty of pepper.

Photo taken on my return from the inaugural shopping trip to Stockholm in search of Nigerian food (raw materials, that is)...

by Tolu Ogunlesi

African tourists all, sitting
At The Quay, filling our mouths
With words as we await the white man's food,
Stiff and flattened between the pepper-less pages
Of a carte du jour.

“I'll be darned if Antwerp’s bland sauces
Haven't wriggled their way
Into the dishes of Ilfracombe.”

“The first culinary commandment of Europe,
For a first time African visitor is this:
Nothing ever tastes as it looks!”

“Every helping of white food tastes
Like it was shaven clean. A distant world
From the spiced afro of African cuisine.”

We shall find no rest here –
Not in these bits that sit glumly
On monogrammed plates.

We will eat,
But it is the memories that will silence
Our rumbling stomachs –
Of Lagos, our Lagos, where Isi-Ewu* nightly sails

On raging streams of fresh beer, tongue-paddled,
Headed for the deep oceans,
From whose depths proverbs and Tales by Moonlight
Rise like the mirthful spirits of distant ancestors.

Throughout the days we have left
On this English soil, our backs shall be turned
To all Palaces of Prandial Pleasures. Our plates
Will have no appetites for food out of gilded menus.

We will content ourselves with the smoke that rises
From Lagos’ open-air kitchens,
Smoke that doesn’t require a visa to visit us here,
Laden with news of Home and Happenings;

Smoke that darkens the visions
Of sleepy African gods
And the sleepless tempers
Of Europe’s Green Garrison.

*Isi-Ewu: Goat-head pepper-soup (A Nigerian delicacy)

(c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008


aloted said...

e yah pele o...i understand men...
oyinbo food can be bland...

send me ur addy make i post garri and groundnut to u (I am expecting a "consignment" from naija)..that should keep u going on the hard days..sebi DHL fit carry am?

Anonymous said...

There is an Arab store not very far from the train station... can't remember the address now but I am sure your colleagues can help with that.... You will find Okra and some nice spices there.

Anonymous said...

LoL...african wanderer....
The Arab store is called Aydin Matcenter and it's on Sivia Torget along vaksalagatan. You'll find all the palm oil, Nido, Oxtail, Liver, kidney, towel, okro, plantain etc etc that your "ventricle" craves :-) Also big shopping malls like Gränby centrum stock plantain, yoruba pepper, blackeyed beans and stuff like that.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2, thanks for juggling my memory. Ha... good old Uppsala!

So, Tolu, you see you are covered.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous 1, u're welcome!
Tolu, you need not go all the way to 08.... Visit Gottsunda in Uppsala. All u need is there. I'm looking forward to reading your post titled Gottsunda...The Texas of Uppsala...:-)