One of the things that has surprised me most about my experience at LCB is the exposure to other cultures. I moved to France fully expecting to be immersed in French culture, but I never even stopped to think about how all the unique cultures of my fellow students would also shape my experience. One of my friends, Gbube (pronounced, boo-bay, silent G), is from Nigeria and a few weeks ago, Nigeria celebrated 50 years of independence and I had the pleasure of joining in on the festivities.
Being that the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday (it combines all the best things in life: BBQing, fireworks and beer) I was pretty stoked to help another country celebrate. Nigerian Independence day marked my third independence day celebration of the year, the first two being 1)Fourth of July (yes I still celebrated while I was here, you can take the girl out of the USA but you can’t take the red, white and blue out of the girl), and 2)Bastille Day.
Since the majority of guests were culinary students the party was really all about the food and Gbube did not disappoint. He promised heat and boy was there heat, but I loved every burning moment of it. The French do not appreciate or enjoy spicy food, so anytime I can get a little spice I am a happy girl.
Before dinner, while Gbube was finishing up the main dishes, we snacked on yam fries and some gizzards that had been sautéed with what I think were scotch bonnet peppers. Then came the buffet of traditional Nigerian food.
Stewed Goat: I know I will have consistent cravings for this goat throughout my life. I can’t recall if I had ever tasted goat before this day, so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but this particular preparation was OH SO GOOD. I know it’s quite American of me to compare the taste of all meats to either chicken or beef, but the goat itself did honestly taste a whole lot like braised beef short ribs with a slight lamb aftertaste. For the overall flavor of the dish, it’s hard to explain a unique ethnic dish, if you’ve never tasted that type of cuisine, but for my palate, it reminded me a lot of Jamaican food, though with more dimension to the spicyness. The heat was the same level, but there were other spices too that backed up the heat.
To make it, if I remember the process correctly, Gbube started by sweating onions and a mix of hot peppers, including habaneros, then he added the lamb with some tomatoes and spices (I know he said oregano but can’t remember the others), next he added a lot of chicken stock and stewed the whole mix for a few hours until the meat was fall-off-the-bone/could-eat with-a-spoon-tender. Then came am ingenious step that I will definitely be stealing: he decanted the excess goat-infused liquid to cook the other dishes. Isn’t that such a great idea? Instead of wasting all of that lovely cooked-for-hours flavor, he spread the love.
Jollof Rice: And this is where a good portion of the love jus went. I have to admit that the texture of the rice was too al dente for my taste, but the flavor was spot on. You would think that it would taste just like the stewed goat, but somehow the flavors morphed when cooked with the rice. The result was similar to really good “spanish” rice, but with more depth of flavor due to the hint of goaty meatiness.
Dodo (plantains): J’adore plantains. Ever since a family trip to Costa Rica when we were served plantains morning, noon and night, I have been a plantain lover. These were just as a plantain should be…simple. Plantain + hot oil = GOOD.
Efo-Riro: (unfortunately I didn’t take a picture) This is what Nigerians call a vegetable “sauce,” but I would describe it as a vegetable stew. It was finely chopped greens, stewed with a type of smoked meat. I’m not a fan of stewed greens, so this wasn’t for me, but I did enjoy the iyan (pounded yam, pictured above) that accompanied it. Traditionally Nigerian food is eaten with one’s hands and you use iyan as a utensil of sorts. I’ve always had a bad habit of eating with my hands anyways, so I loved having an open invitation to dive right in. The iyan really didn’t taste like much, but the texture was chewy and dense, almost elastic.
All in all, it was a great day and I really loved learning more about Gbube’s food culture. And I now realize that it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. A few of Gbube’s Nigerian friends were at the party and they informed me that even if I visited Nigeria, I most likely wouldn’t be able to try such authentic food, as this type of food can only be found in someone’s home and is not sold at restaurants. What a lucky girl I am!