The New Nigerian Kitchen:
For the longest time, it didn’t occur to me that ‘sweet’ was a word generally confined to …actual sweet dishes. In Nigeria any food considered delicious – sweet or savoury – has the potential to be ‘sweet’. ‘Mehn, the soup sweet die’. ‘Mehn, the soup is delicious – the savoury ‘soup’ which is actually a stew (we’ll come to that) is described as being sweet.
The construct of Nigerian English is interesting. Some of the words are borrowed from Nigerian languages, like dun meaning sweet in Yoruba, a word that can be used to describe the deliciousness of a dish, the depth of romantic love and more.
I remember talking to a friend, a non-Nigerian about Egusi soup with white rice, about how ‘sweet’ it was…and all of a sudden realizing sweet wasn’t the word I wanted in English. Though I didn’t think delicious was sufficient, it seemed more suitable than my former choice.
And on the topic of soup (refer to paragraph 1), what we call soups in Nigeria are actually stews – the Egusis, Ogbonos and the like. ‘Soups by general definition are liquid and for ‘drinking’, like our pepper soup which by the way isn’t always peppery. Spicy, yes. Peppery? Not always. The limits of language/ lexicon can lead to misleading representations. If I didn’t know of pepper soup, would I stop to ask what it was made of? Perhaps not. I imagine that I might avoid it altogether if I wasn’t into that kind of heat.
I know too having cooked, feasted and lived on various cuisines that it is important to make a distinction between pepper and spice. One that capture the fullness of what spice is versus pepper.
Pepper – an instance of flavour, one dimension that is mostly characterized by heat – fiery heat and not much else.
Spice – a plethora of flavours and fragrances, not just from one source but of many. Multi-dimensional in scents that could be floral, earthy, woody, nutty, of caramel and sometimes a touch of heat – that’s spice.
Stews are defined as slow-cooked mixtures of meat and vegetables. Our soups are soup – pepper soup, but more importantly, our soups are our stews – leafy vegetable ones, those thickened with seeds and nut and the like.
Language is interesting and Nigerian language, food language is even more so. In the end, none of the descriptions, partly right or wholly wrong impair the deliciousness, the sweetness that is our cuisine. Long live Nigerian English and cuisine. May our soups remain ever sweet, Amen.
Written by Kitchen Butterfly
Image Credit: @kitchenbutterfly