BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

The answers are closer to home

I believe that our fondest memories revolve around food. One of my early memories of food is my grandmother’s roasted yams, baked in a bed of sand under a charcoal fire, with red palm oil, dried fish, and chicken stew. I can still feel the distinct flavours of the oil dripping at the back of my throat and the burning of the hot yams on my fingertips. I remember more recently my grandfather picking these odd-looking beads and popping them into his mouth as he chewed knowingly. I did not know what it was and so I asked, he showed me how to eat this thing called alligator peppers and bitter kola. His father had eaten it and now he did, and now I did too, and my children will likely. Food is a very personal experience, laced with stories of care and history that often stay with us longer than most other memories.

Whenever we travel, we get the opportunity to not only experience the culture, we also get to taste it. We get to experience the amalgamation of history and resilience, recipes of yesterday adapting to today. Nigeria has an immense opportunity when it begins to be just as audacious with its food as it is with its music and film. Encouraging our guests to come to Nigeria to experience the diversity of its culture with its thirty-six states and over 200 different ethnicities.

Nigeria has a rich and untapped food story. We are much more than the mainstream soups and stews we have been known for. We do not give our street foods the recognition that they deserve. Our Suya is a barbecue like no other, our native joints of point and kill, our cheese- wara.The fermentations of our drinks and all the other ways we preserve foods by drying or salting them. These flavours from ukwa, and uziza from the east, sesame brittles, rice, peanuts, milk desserts and the most fragrant groundnut oils from the north, Nigeria has not begun to scratch the beauty and vastness of our food scene.

It’s always amazing to me when I speak to foreigners who come to Lagos and believe our foods are limited to rice-jollof and fried, then three soups- egusi, vegetable and okra. No, we are much more than that. But for us to deliver an utterly unique Nigerian experience we must do a few things better. Firstly, innovate- make our food approachable, and visually appealing. It can be difficult to approach a cuisine that seems intimidating. This is in no way saying we change our food. I am urging that we rethink how we have used our ingredients traditionally. I permit you to be bold, and move away from the typical way we have done things. Begin to look at other ways we can tap into and explore our ingredients. How can we change, adapt, can we create new flavours?

We at Wheatbaker have taken on the challenge of looking at our flavours. Desirous of bringing a truly Nigerian experience to our guests, we were able to create a local range of ice creams that are authentically us from flavours like zobo, honey and ginger, chocolate surprise, coconut and with the help of Mai Shayi, our exclusive Nigerian coffee flavour.

Read also: World food day: Stakeholders call for increased budgetary allocation to curb food crisis

How can we produce beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic that become an export? How can Nigeria be known for its liquor like ogogoro and all the other exciting things about us? When would we decide we can export our goods that would be loved not only by those of Nigerian descent but the world? How are we able to take our ingredients, and our stories and bottle them and transport them around the world? If at all our flavours are too daring for the world’s palate (which is highly unlikely), what about the 200 million inhabitants of Nigeria and the millions more to come?

After losing my mum recently, I realized the times I feel her close were when I cooked or tasted foods that we shared. In a way, her memory and our history are preserved in those flavours. Flavours I wish to share with my children as well. Can you imagine the collective stories our family recipes get to tell when we are no longer here? We saw it over the Christmas holiday in Lagos. Families reunited after Covid-19, sharing stories over buffet lunches.

I hope that even outside of food as a hotel person Nigerians will begin to see how we could use our resources better. How do we give it a Nigerian twist that is second to none?

As our industry and nation continue to grow, an opportunity is opening. The supply of everything from cleaning products, bed linen, towels, soft furnishing, plates, in-room amenities and a host of others. We would love to be able to purchase these items from local suppliers; suppliers who provide superior, well-crafted Nigerian products and services.

We believe in supporting local businesses. We love being in the position to create jobs and opportunities for Nigerians. The direct and indirect social impact of these efforts cannot be quantified. We have a host of needs and “where there is muck, there is brass.” Imagine the lives that will be transformed simply by us looking inwards to take stock of what we have and thinking of how we can create such a memorable Nigerian story.