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Reviving the Nigerian Food Culture for Better Living

Culture and tradition in Nigeria are diverse in terms of language, mode of dressing, communication, ethics, and most importantly food. The country has one of the best cuisines in the world, which comprises dishes or food items obtained from different ethnic group. Most popular dishes in Nigeria are Jollof Rice, Suya, Moin moin, Eba, Afang Soup, Banga Soup, Ogbono Soup, Efo-Riro, Nkwobi, Tuwo shinkafa.

Nigeria, a country in the south east of West Africa, with a coast at the Bight of Benin and the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria is bordered by Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, it shares maritime borders with Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, and São Tomé and Príncipe. The country’s coast is low-lying with lagoons and sandy beaches. There is a high plateau of extinct volcanoes in the centre of the country and a mountainous area along its border with Cameroon.

Historically, Nigeria can be traced to settlers trading across the middle East and Africa as early as 1100 BC. Numerous ancient African civilisations settled in the region that is known today as Nigeria, such as the Kingdom of Nri, the Benin Empire, and the Oyo Empire. The three largest and most dominant ethnic groups are Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. These major tribes have foods that are unique and indigenous to them, though, there is a delicacy common to all ethnic groups in Nigeria. Being the homeland to various ethnic tribes, Nigerian food culture has been shaped by those diverse groups to a great extent.

The formation of a country’s gastronomic culture is influenced from their history and survival struggles. Country relations in old historical times play a very important role when assessing cuisines of countries. Nigeria’s vibrant popular culture reflects great changes in inherited traditions and adaptations of imported ones.

Nigeria has three main environmental regions: savanna, tropical forests, and coastal wetlands. These environmental regions greatly affect the cultures of the people who live there. The dry, open grasslands of the savanna make cereal farming and herding a way of life for the Hausa and the Fulani. The wet tropical forests to the south are good for farming fruits and vegetables main income producers for the Yoruba, Igbo, and others in this area. The small ethnic groups living along the coast, such as the Ijaw and the Kalabari, are forced to keep their villages small due to lack of dry land. Living among creeks, lagoons, and salt marshes makes fishing and the salt trade part of everyday life in the area.

Hausa are mostly found in the Northern states such as Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Niger and so on. Their food, largely consists of vegetables, porridges, soups, meat and fish. One of the most beloved Nigerian foods by Hausa people is Tuwo Shinkafa and Kuka soup.

In South Western part, Yoruba people have a very well developed culture, including food. The way and manner foods are prepared and eaten, says a lot about the Yoruba culture. Most foods are eaten with bare fingers, although, some foods can be eaten using cutlery. It is common for Yorubas to sit on a mat laid on the floor to eat, especially in the villages, but in the cities, foods are eaten on the dining table due to modernization.

Igbo are mostly settled in the South Eastern part of the country, and the state in this region includes Anambra, Imo, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and so on. Igbo major delicacies include yam, cocoyam, manioc, corn (porridge, soups), various vegetables, fish and many others. Igbo natives use palm oil and other spicy seasonings for cooking.

Nigerian cuisine like those of other Western African countries such as Ghana and the Benin Republic contains spices and herbs alongside palm or groundnut oil to produce deeply-flavoured sauces and soups with an enticing aroma. There are slight variances on how Nigerian foods are prepared. For instance, there has been a long-running battle, whether Ghana or Nigeria makes the best Jollof rice. In fact, you would be remiss to travel there without fully immersing yourself in the unimaginable range of flavours found at street food vendors, restaurants or in the homes of local Nigerians. There are cultural saying that best illustrate the Nigerians attitudes toward food.

From Jollof rice and pounded yams, to pepper soup and beef stew, are the classic Nigerian dishes you need to try. Lots of Nigerian dishes are based around a staple called “swallow” by locals. They are an integral part of all local meals. Ingredients differ because of climate too; fish, shellfish, fruit and green vegetables are most abundant along the forested coast, while beef, goat, grains and pulses are more readily found in the less-watered open north.

Whether in urban or rural areas, the family is the central institution. Nigerian foods in a Nigeria home is always prepared by the woman of the house or first daughter as tradition permits. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Eating out is becoming more common these days but usually people eat at home. This is why it is essential for all Nigerians to know how to cook these meals, especially the female folk. And with Nigerian men increasingly getting closer to the kitchen, cooking Nigerian food is now for all.

City dwellers tend to buy their food from “chop bars” (bars that sell food), street vendors, hawkers (peddlers who shout what they are selling), or from restaurants. They may purchase dishes such as Ukwaka, a steamed pudding made from corn and ripe plantains, and Moin-moin, a steamed cake of ground dried beans and fish. These dishes may be served with jollof rice (a spicy tomato-based rice), cassava, yams, okro, beans, plantains, or kebabs.

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In cities such as Lagos, Calabar, and Abuja that are touch-down sites for most people travelling into the country, you can never be at a loss as per where to eat. The only issue would be finding the best place to do so. Local restaurants are called “Bukas” and even if they might not look so posh, they offer sumptuous meals that will definitely delight and fill your tummy.

As much as local meals are in abundance, there are provisions for intercontinental dishes. Be it Indian, Chinese, or Italian. The island of Lagos is known for its many hotels and restaurants that offer gourmet dishes with class. Various cafes that offer beverages and smoothies are also available. Hotels such as the Sheraton, Rhapsody, the Southern Sun offer classes and are visited by the elite. One eatery that offers intercontinental food as you might be familiar with it, is The Place in Ikeja, Lagos.

Nigerian stews, such as ikokore (made with fish and yams), are typically spicy and eaten with rice, yams, cassava, and corn. Peppers and chilies are used regularly in dishes and as a relish. A Yoruba Proverb says, “The man that eats no pepper is weak, pepper is the staff of life…”

Nigerian soups include Banga soup, Miyan Kuka, Okro soup, Ewedu soup, Pepper soup, Egusi soup, Afang, and Edikan Ikon soup. The ingredients used to cook these soups range from local condiments such as processed Locust beans (Iru), to vegetables such as spinach, Waterleaf, Bitter leaf, and Pumpkin leaves. These soups are generally eaten with ‘swallow’, starchy foods such as Fufu, Eba, Amala, Starch, Pounded yam, etc.

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The Nigerian dishes never run out of protein. Various meats such as beef, mutton, and chicken and different species of fish are often used to garnish it to your relish. Also common in the southern regions of the country is the use of seafood such as prawns, periwinkles, clams, snails, and crabs for preparing soups and stews. These dishes will blow your taste buds!

The rise of the experience economy has ushered in a growing role for food experience in tourism. The recent developments in the field of food and tourism experiences underlines the ways in which food experiences can be adapted to meet tourist needs, how culinary tourism can play a role in local development, create new tourism products, stimulate innovation and support marketing and branding. The linkages between food and tourism also provide platform for local economic development, which can be strengthened by the use of food experiences for branding and marketing destinations.

As Nigeria seeks restructuring of the national income streams, should also make more of available gastronomy. This will not only make our tourism more attractive and endearing, it would also stimulate local and national economic development. Food tourism is an experiential trip to a place, for gastronomic purposes, which includes visits to primary and secondary producers, of food, food fairs, farmers’ markets, cooking shows and demonstrations, tastings of quality food products or any tourism activity related to food. For this reason, building Food tourism entails the careful and thematic curating of gastronomic experiences built on the local culture, local products, and local retail, and packaged in such a way that it constitutes the main motivation for tourists to travel to a particular destination.

Reversing Malnutrition Trends in Nigeria

Besides, a report entitled ‘Understanding Nigeria’s protein deficiency status and evaluating campaign activities’, says 45 per cent of Nigerian’s population do not consume protein daily, especially households in northern Nigeria and lower social classes, due to poverty and unemployment. Close to 14 million people in Nigeria, including children, are malnourished. Children from large households also suffer worse malnutrition outcomes.
This relationship is significant in urban Nigeria as well. The Nigerian Protein Deficiency Report 2020, conducted by Ipsos Nigeria Limited, showed that the level of protein deficiency in Nigeria is high, even though seven out of 10 households believe that they have enough protein intake.

The decrease in purchasing power naturally leads to a lack of funds to buy nutritious foods. The main nutritional problems in Nigeria are inadequate intake of proteins and micro-nutrients such as vitamin A, iron and iodine amongst other nutritional and health problems. Nigerians must begin to eat a protein-rich diet, especially children, pregnant and lactating mothers.

Encouraging the Nigerian food culture will boost healthy living, open up business prospects at the micro and macro levels. Food tourism, on an industrial size, would enable all communities in the country generates income locally, expanding the target market of SMEs involved in food retail, providing job opportunities for local chefs while fuelling other sectors of the local economy such as agribusiness.

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