I’m not spoiled. When you’re the oldest of four children, one thing you are not is spoiled. As the oldest you’re expected to be perfect, and those three words that will haunt you for the rest of your life: a good example. It’s bad enough that your parents expect you to be a good example to your siblings, but other parents expect it from you too. If you’re older than their child, they expect you to be a good example and mentor to them. If you dare to misbehave, you will hear about it from multiple parents, and not just your own.
My parents believe strongly in the value of hard work. The minute we were old enough to reach the knob on the washing machine, we started washing our own laundry. The same went for making our own lunches for school, washing dishes and doing chores around the house. If you’re old enough to dirty something, you best believe you’re old enough to clean it. And if you don’t clean it right, you’ll go back and do it over. Working a part time job was also encouraged because my parents made it clear that they had no problem providing us with shelter and food and clothing, but if we wanted $50 jeans, $100 shoes, or $30 wallets on a regularly basis, we were on our own.
One area where I have been completely indulged and…spoiled…is when it comes to cooking, in particular cooking Naija food. When it comes to oyinbo food, all you need is a recipe and you’re set. And awon oyinbo know how to write a good recipe, let me tell you. Every step is written down and explained so all you need is a pair of eyes and you’ll be fine.
(Have you ever tried following a recipe for Naija food? First of all, if you can even get someone to dictate a recipe to you you’re doing well. Of course the recipe won’t have anything described in cups or teaspoons or tablespoons. Instead you’ll be told to take five double handfuls of rice, or “this much” pepper, or “enough” salt, or use a tomato the size of your fist, or enough meat for this amount of rice. Chances are if you follow the recipe exactly, you will be disappointed. Naija cooking is definitely a trial and error thing.)
But I’ve digressed:
Like most Naija moms, my mother is a fantastic cook. Everything she puts her hands on turns to gourmet quality and her soup (efo, ogbono, egusi) can make grown men weep. She loves being in the kitchen: all she needs is her tape deck (yes o! My mother still listens to her cassettes from the 80s and 90s) blasting Naija tunes and she will happily be in the kitchen cooking away for hours. There is nothing she can’t make (except puff puff or buns, and that’s a story for another day).
She tried to get me to spend time in the kitchen with her, she really tried. She would call and call me until her voice was hoarse, but between the options of spending time in the kitchen or curling up and reading a book, or, in recent years, being online, it’s was always a no-brainer for me: I’d rather be anywhere but the kitchen.
(Unless the food is ready, sha. *ahem*)
(ButI can clean a kitchen like it’s nobody’s business so it’s a good trade.)
So, because of this, I never really learned to cook Naija food, though I have a general idea of what is needed for most Naija food because I have started hanging around the kitchen in the last few years. I have never prepared anything more complicated than jollof rice though and even then I don’t think I did the whole thing by myself. I can officially boil white rice but that’s it.
I know I should be ashamed of this because whenever someone (usually my parents’ friends or a Naija guy) hears this, they behave as if they’re about to have a coronary. Yup, I have never made a soup. I have never used a blender to make anything more complicated than a smoothie. I know how to make lots of things in theory but have never made them. This of course makes everyone shake their head and say “How will you ever find a husband?”
(Hmm, maybe they’re on to something…)
I’m not ashamed (yet) because I don’t think it’ll be hard to pick up the skills once I’m on my own and I have to cook food or die of starvation (I do not enjoy suffering so you best believe I’ll pick up the skills kia kia!). I think I’ll have to start a new blog chronicling my adventures in cooking Naija food when the time comes.