Surulere is new Amala HQ in Lagos

Move aside White House, the most valuable Amala vendor trophy has moved base and I say this with all sense of responsibility.

 

 

amala
Mine was so good I couldn’t pause to take a picture so I borrowed this image from Google. It comes very close to mine aesthetically.

 

 

You may have been disappointed by Amala Olaiya a few times, but when it comes to numbers, Surulere trumps every other area in Lagos when the sale of quality Amala is concerned. As usual, I have a story to tell.

 

My car brakes had been screeching for a while and when the husband took the vehicle for routine servicing last Saturday, I assumed all problems would have been addressed. I took him to the airport at first light Monday in the same car and when I was ready to go to work the hymns began again. I managed till Wednesday evening when on my way home from work, the hallelujah chorus coming from the brakes became quite embarrassing. So, on Thursday, I headed to our mechanics, somewhere in Shitta.

 

It was a quick fix, and while on the test ride, I told Kehinde (our invaluable family mechanic) that I needed to buy lunch having gone past lunch order hour at the office.

“I want correct amala, gbegiri and ogufe (goat meat). Where can I get? Sebi, I will see take away plate to buy.”

Kehinde had a tough job deciding where to take me to. He thought for a bit then he suggested the famous Olaiya. I cut in:

“I’m not looking for anywhere fancy. I just want correct food.”

That was when he explained. The problem wasn’t a scarcity of Amala vendors, it was deciding where to go.

 

“There are those who only sell early in the morning, then the afternoon ones, and then those who come out only at night”

I was shocked. “People eat Amala for breakfast? I thought ‘swallow’ was strictly for lunch and dinner?”

 

Kehinde laughed. Then, I asked him to take me to buy Amala Shitta (I had heard people use the phrase often). And he asked, “Amala Shitta ewo? Amala Shitta po l’orisirisi (Amala vendors abound in Shitta, which are you referring to?)” At this point, I gave up and just told him to drive anywhere. And we parked soon.

 

He pointed me to this not very spacious place. Thankfully, it wasn’t very busy inside. All the departments were amply spread out as is typical of an Amala establishment. The sink for handwashing is first, then someone picks out the plate, gives me with directions to the next lady further down. This young lady has a big pot of piping hot Amala placed in between her legs on the floor. I hand her my plate, ask how much a scoop is sold, she says N50, then I ask for N200 worth. Then she directs me halfway back the way I came – this is the soup and meat section. I ask for gbegiri, ewedu, ogufe and assorted meat. This other lady calculates my bill, of course without a calculator, and points in a direction I hadn’t looked in the last 15 minutes.

 

Two well-rounded ebony middle-aged-looking women balanced in this corner, almost behind the door. I went near and one asked, ‘how much you buy?’

“N650,” I replied and gave her a N1000 note.

She handed me change and I walked out with my white plastic bag swinging from my right hand. I wanted to ‘appear’ in my office right away so I could devour the goodness. Kehinde dropped off by his workshop and I sped towards Ogunlana, Lawanson, Itire, and finally hit the Oshodi highway where my office sits on the right-hand side.

 

I surprised myself when I took out another two hours responding to emails and writing before I stood up to go to the kitchen. I microwaved my Amala and moved to the eating section. The second I opened the plate, the smell first tickled my senses. My nose instinctively started running. Now I usually have a problem with people who do not know how to balance the gbegiri quantity with soup. There are the recommended ratios that make a perfect mix, and the soup lady, scored a sterling A in this department. I EMPTIED my bowl and the ogufe was the icing – N200 for that matter.

 

The elements combined in my bowl could never be achieved for the same sum at White House, Yaba, apart from the bucket of oil I’d first have to pour off my plate before being able to eat the food. And while I know that Amala HQ worldwide remains Ibadan, Oyo state, Lagos’ Amala HQ has officially moved to Surulere. Have you had a bite of Amala in Surulere?

 

 

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How I bought N200 meal in Lagos

Nigerians are indeed a resilient lot. In the middle of this stinging economy, someone still sells cooked rice in N50 bits and meat in N50 chunks. But before I get to that, I’ll walk you through the journey.

 

ofada-rice
Ofada! As it should be.

It was my birthday yesterday so I thought to wear a new look. I called an old hair stylist and confirmed he was free to make my hair. I drove up to his plaza on Opebi and while I struggled to find parking space, I called him to assist. Then he said he was standing outside but couldn’t see me. When I inquired where, it turned out he had moved to another plaza on Allen avenue (about 5minutes away). I turned the car around and headed to this new place. While walking me from the car, we had an interesting conversation.

Me: So when did you move and why?

Martin: Ha! This is the second place since Amazing Grace o (the Opebi plaza). I was paying 50k (50 thousand Naira) before (monthly). Suddenly, she (landlady/caretaker) said I should bring 80k. Where will I see that? So I moved to one other place, still on Opebi. We no do 3months, court came to seal the building. I didn’t know there was a problem before moving in. We just came to work one morning and saw government people. It was after that I moved here.

This new place is a whole floor milling with people: hair stylists, nail technicians, boutique operators, make-up artists; were the much I could count. Each had their corners and ‘hustled’ customers. Martins’ corner is well defined and partitioned away from others. His space was well pimped with mirrors on the wall, chairs, a hanging TV, standing fan and the usual accompanying salon equipment.

Barely had I sat when a young lady came with smiles, greeted, and asked if I would be making my nails too. I told a polite ‘no’. Another well made-up face came to market beauty products to me. I said, ‘no, thank you’. Before I would finish my hair, four more people came, greeting warmly first, then marketing one product or service; all beauty related.

It was while I sat in Martins’ chair, that the ofada (a local rice delicacy) matter happened. Martin asked a female assistant to get him N50 rice and two pieces of meat. I thought I didn’t hear right. Who still sells N50 food and how far can that go in filling a man? The food came, covered. Then I ordered for N100 rice and two pieces of meat. It came; concealed in black nylon, placed on a plate with a spoon.

When my hair was done, I grabbed the plate and began to eat from the nylon in complete market style. It was so tasty. Then I ate and I ate and ate and continued to eat until my tummy was FULL. I could not believe I paid N100 for this portion of rice. The beef was sizeable and well-spiced too. It was almost finger licking good.

It was when the rice seller came for her money that I found out the meat was N50 a piece. What?!!! Incredulous!!! People, that’s how I filled my food tank spending N200 in Lagos, Nigeria in the year 2016. I always have a bottle of water with me so I didn’t have to spend on water.

Back to Martins. He used to own a beauty parlour in a fairly big space in Opebi. He had an in-house nail technician and about four hair assistants. He ran his own generator and controlled who and what came in his shop. He even had a small boutique section.

In this new facility, everything is shared: space, water and power. They all use a central generator that kicks in when government power fails. There’s a floor manager to whom they direct all concerns. For the two hours or less that I was there, power must have failed about six times. I heard an assistant grumble about the ‘useless generator that ought to be sold’ and how the ‘useless (erratic) supply’ had damaged two of her plugged phone chargers only last week.

Perhaps the most frightening and singular most important new challenge is that: Martins just moved in with competition and there’s little he can control. This is how he copes in this economy.

How to critique food

Oha soup
Oha soup, a Nigerian delicacy. Photocredit: nigeriacuisine onYoutube

Not every one can write about food.

As common and easy as food sounds, not everyone can write about it successfully. Unless you are writing a ‘how-to-prepare’ piece or just listing recipes, writing about food can be tasking. The following clues are crucial:

* Eat the food first. You can’t write effectively about food you haven’t tasted. You can’t PR food. The reader will tell.

* Write while the taste is still in your mouth. You have to capture the experience and reproduce in a writing while the taste is still in your mouth. Some taste can linger for days or less. Your taste buds will assist in finding the right words for narrating the experience.

* Food writing has to be experiential for both writer and reader. The reader has to taste the ‘pudding’ in your piece and not just salivate.

* There has to be a journey. The journey to taste. And your reader has to stay on board till the end. You sustain her interest with your creative description. Not empty qualifiers. Simple, visible, real truths. of course from your perspective.

* Your job is not well done until the reader decides to seek out the food or vow never to. A decision must be reached.

And now your job is done.

A good piece that embodies the clues listed above is found here.