by Chude Jideonwo
I am officially desperate.
Where have all the people who know how to do ‘Afang Soup’ gone?
Why do I have to keep explaining to so-called 5-star hotels across Nigeria that, no, that is not in fact afang soup. It is not even edikang ikong. It is some variation of the generic ‘vegetable’ soup, but it is neither any of these important soups above, nor is it even remotely possible to have the same effect as its elder sisters – capturing the husbands of unsuspecting wives, and turning children away from their hapless mothers because (possibly-damaging-stereotype alert!) Ekaette knows best.
Afang soup is supposed to be something that turns your palate into a five-star hotel. It is luxurious, it is rich, it is full. You can’t swallow any spoon, or whatever morsel you have it with, quickly. You must savour it, you will treasure it, it takes your mouth on a journey, it awakens your senses.
I cannot cook to save my life, but I can eat for Africa. And because I eat, I know food.
And, by God, I know afang.
I know afang is supposed to be thick. The leaves are supposed to come closely together like someone turned them carefully, gently with love, up and down, left and right of the pot. You should feel like oil passed through the food, and left a mark but didn’t throw up.
Too many ‘afang’ soups these days either feel like the owner hates oil, or the owner went around the world looking for left over oil and poured all he could find into the pot (that having been said, the latter is in the minority and I will take small mercy over water-and-leaves).
The ‘meat’- I haven’t yet come to terms with asking people ‘what protein do you have?’ Can we all reach a consensus that ‘meat’ is better than ‘protein’?- doesn’t stand out like a bastard, as if the person finished cooking the leaves and then quickly microwaved meat from the fridge and threw it inside. And my God, whatever happened to the Esam (periwinkle)? You are supposed to suck them slowly from the bottom. You are supposed to find them all over the GADDEMM soup!
After suffering this incompetence for months and months, it suddenly occurred to my long suffering-soul: no Chude, you don’t have to sit and take this attack any more. You have to fight, fight for your rights, fight for a better life for you and your stomach.
Fight for what you believe in.
I have eaten proper afang soup in this my life. Sadly, my mother’s kitchen (where I was reared on the most excellent egusi , banga and groundnut soups you will find anywhere on planet Earth) didn’t have afang, but I had a second mother at the time, a co-founder’s parent. Trips and sleepovers in Sam Shonibare street in Surulere, were an experience I looked forward to because there would almost always be Afang.
The way God made it. And, ladies and gentlemen, what we have now is an abomination.
I could pretend that this is some high-minded piece about our lack of excellence as a nation (if that is what you want, come and collect), I could also pretend it speaks to the death of Nigerian craftsmanship, people not taking their time to receive the baton of history and pass it down with care and precision. This could even be about how we have let down our standards as a nation, by failing to improving upon our meals. I could even moan about integrity and how A-list restaurants are ripping us off because we don’t demand better.
But no. I just want well-made soup.
I just want afang soup that does all the things that afang is supposed to do to your body, soul and spirit.
Because afang, well put together, brings nothing but joy to your soul, peace to your spirit, and celebration to your insides.
And for this experience, I have gone around Lagos, ordering nothing but afang. I have even gone back to the roots – Delta Kitchen, Afi’s Kitchen, oh dear God, I have even gone to Calabar Kitchen. But not even the ‘Calabar’ (a stereotype, again, covering everyone from Ikom to Uyo, don’t be annoyed) people in the restaurants I find appear to have saved this lost art.
Fellow Nigerians, Ukazi (afang leaves) and water with pepper and salt and any meat you like is not afang. Afang is afang. There can be nothing like afang.
Finally, I have had enough.
Enough is enough.
The next person that offers me watery leaves instead of afang soup will regret the day he entered into the kitchen, so help me God.
But before I kill somebody, people of God, can someone recommend a place in this Lagos where people haven’t taken one of the only true exports we have in this my country and completely thrown it to the dogs?
Please, ‘epp me.