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)...
OUT OF GILDED MENUS
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
10 years ago