There are so many depressing things about Nigeria. So depressing, I have practically stopped writing about the country, because writing about Nigeria, means writing about horrible things, and I’m tired of writing horrible things. I have focused on what so many people will call trivia and mundane, and have since elevated them to the serious and relevant, because life is so short to always have to be concerned with the serious aspects of life, especially when they are as depressing as Nigeria. Who would’ve thought I’d find myself here, chief critic of those who fail to acknowledge the socioeconopoliticoreligious side of things as relevant, as unserious, now a proselyte of the same thing I criticised. I’ve moved to the “I canor come and go and kee myself” mode, and aiming to be President of the “tayad, and weak peoples” club. There may not be virtue in cowardice, but I dare say, when it’s all done, it’s from the cowards house that the ruins of the strong is gazed upon, a la Chinua Achebe.
While we’re here though, lemme introduce you to one of my little pleasures. I’m a food person, and I don’t know if I ever told you that as a kid I only stopped eating after developing stomach pain, from not just consuming my food, and having a second helping, but also helping my mum (my dad’s plate was a no go area) finish hers, including any of my sisters when they happen to lose their appetite for one reason or the other. Like my dad, illness never affected my appetite, and one of my mum’s word concerning food, which is that “one should eat to satisfy hunger, and not appetite” will forever remain with me. It makes sense now that I have to cut a lot from my diet for health reasons. Sometimes, I wonder if it was the tale my mother told me, about how during the war, she missed breakfast while ensuring that others in the family had eaten, and ended up not eating for days during the trek that followed the straffing of her village by Nigerian Airforce jets flown by Egyptian pilots, contributed to my insatiable appetite as a kid, or the years of force feeding me “àkàmù” that made me the glutton in my early years. It is really painful, how after years of fantasizing about the exotic foods you’ll lounge on once you “hammer“, because of your food history, just to find – after making all the money, that you can’t eat as much, as well as in variety for health reasons.
We were not poor growing up, but my mum didn’t consider it trite for a kid to have a whole piece of meat, till the kid was about ten. I made myself a promise as a kid, that once I started making my own money, I’ll “destroy” meat, and I did. Right from the first Naira l made coaching secondary school students, after finishing secondary school, to money from selling radiographs while in Dental School, to “PP” during Housemanship at Military Hospital, but
Serving in the North of Nigeria finished it for me. I ate, drank, and smoked meat, in all the forms meat was made there, from suya, which I was already familiar with in the South, to Dambu-nama, to Kilishi, to one that’s even powdery in nature. I ate meat till it started germinating from my head. I ate meat with bread, soaked it with garri, ate it with nothing, and sometimes only meat for a whole day. Once in Bonny, where I worked for a year after my service year, I went to the abattoir to buy “innards“, to make stew, and while boiling the meat, I simply ate it all off the pot, and had to keep other ingredients I’d bought for making the stew for another day. There was this one time I was surfing through Bible passages and came across the words, “the kingdom of heaven is not meat and bread“, I smiled and strengthened my resolve to eat all the meat I have to while here on earth, to avoid stories that touch the heart, in heaven.
Of all the meat I’ve eaten in my life, and in whatever form I’d seen them made, none has been as delicious and tantalizing as Isi Ewu. I fell in love with it while I was just a boy, accompanying my sister’s to buy it for my dad at “Simple Corner“, when we lived at Akoka. Back then I was allowed just a taste of it, but more of it on the occasions my mum made them, when my father returns home from work with a nylon bag filled with Goat Heads. This preparation of goat head, with bitter herbs,palm oil, pepper, a dash of “akaun” (a catalyst), onions, salt and other ingredients, was one I difficult to outgrow, like I did with other meat delicacies. It also wasn’t affected by restrictions l had to endure for health reasons, as with beef because it was goat meat except for the salt, which on some occasions I can remember to warn the “chef” to leave out while preparing my calabash. As it is, Isi Ewu is the only meat based delicacy where I still allow myself to ingest salt, even when I feel it attempting to tear my heart apart. You know, my dad had lived with dietary restrictions in the final years of his life, but I couldn’t watch him been denied of something I knew he loved so much, so once a while, I’d make provisions to have Isi Ewu sent to him at his place, sometimes to my mum’s displeasure, but I knew he appreciated it, even though he wouldn’t dare smile to much, so as not to incur his wife’s or my sisters’ anger.
Interestingly, it is still at that Simple Corner that I’ve eaten the best Isi Ewu ever, okay scratch that; it must be that bucataria in Hadejia, while serving in Jigawa State many years ago, that I’ve had the best. Yea, that “buka” where an ex, a fellow corp member brought her new boo, from the new batch on a day I had a boil on my left eyelid. And to have my injury massaged with pepper, the sales girl asked me, “bloda, no be dat gial wey you dey carry come hia before be dat?“, in the hearing of other customers sitting close to me. I know I would’ve told that girl something she would never forget in life, had she not just been a mere twelve year old, and couldn’t have known any better. The deal however is, even the Isi Ewu at that roof top bar beside Shoprite at Ikeja, for the cost and ambience, remain mediocre to Simple Corners’. My attempt to have a taste of this delicious meal anywhere in Igbo land have so far been thwarted, either because of it’s unavailability whenever I come by, or the fact that it isn’t popular there, which I find very scandalous. The one I had in Port Harcourt was an embarrassment, but l kept that to myself because I didn’t want to discomfit my guest, however l made sure that by her own lips she testified to the sumptuousness of the Lagos miracle, to which I responded with indifference, while gobbling down the accolades like I was the owner of the restaurant, or even the chef, as the case may be. I have seen Instagram posts of Isi Ewu by a friend in Maiduguri, at the hotels he lodged in while there, and would’ve also loved to go there to measure the strength of their offering ‘pon my “Ewumeter“, but I find I’m not as brave as I used to be in the past, when I could’ve dared Boko Haram, Marauding Herdsmen, Armed Bandits and the likes, just for a taste of Isi Ewu and good old 1759.
To fully enjoy this delicacy, you must wash it down, not just with water, or a soft drink, or just any other beer for that matter, rather it goes very well with Stout. The burnt hops is “the shit“, and the all round bitterness (the deal), births a sweetness that is heavenly. What I do, is arrive there usually with my Babe (my wife that is, before you start thinking evil thoughts), and after making my order at the chefs’, we go into convos, and watch those using cheap beer, soft drinks or water to wash their peppersoup and “Nkwobi” down, and pitying us for not being rich enough to afford what they are chowing, until our package arrives in all its glory. First, the small plastic basins for washing our hands, which I won’t use since I’m “onye ocha,nna ya di oji“, just to make them marvel at how I manoeuvre my way around the Isi Ewu, complete with the tongue, eyes, ears and other parts, with cutlery to boot. Then I take a sip on my stout, not from a glass, but using a straw, just to send them into a frenzy, so they know I came there not just to satisfy my appetite, but to evoke theirs allover again. If you don’t find yourself levitating at some point while chowing on Isi Ewu at Simple Corner the way I do, I’ll refund you.
Published by m'khail madukovich