Review| Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribisala

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Longthroat Memoirs is a lyrical compilation of essays about food – primarily food enjoyed by Cross Riverians and their other South-Eastern counterparts (Cross River is a riverine state in Nigeria, South East here is in reference to South East Nigeria).

Summary: “A sumptuous menu of essays about Nigerian cuisine, lovingly presented by the nation’s top epicurean writer. As well as a mouth-watering appraisal of Nigerian food, Longthroat Memoirs is a series of love letters to the Nigerian palate. From the cultural history of soup, to fish as aphrodisiac and the sensual allure of snails, Longthroat Memoirs explores the complexities, the meticulousness, and the tactile joy of Nigerian gastronomy.”

I spotted the book in the cooking section of my local bookstore, and I was half-expecting it to be a cookbook. I can tell you that it’s definitely not that. It’s more of a memoir: Aribisala describing her experience with food, and narrating her unique food finds in local Nigerian markets—with a sprinkling of recipes. I found that the recipes weren’t detailed enough for me. I tried out her peppered puff-puff recipe, and it was a huge fail (which might be partly my fault). I ended up with an oily ‘puff-less’ mess.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Aribisala’s narrations. The “Eating Dog” chapter which talks about people’s unwillingness to discuss their dog-eating, was one of my favourites because I had a similar experience, when I visited Calabar a couple years ago. Everyone denied eating dog meat (fondly called 404) or relegated the devouring to a past self, but the restaurants that specialised in 404 always looked bustling when we drove by.

It was interesting to see the application of folk tales here. Especially since a bunch of the books I’ve read recently have included folk tales. Aribisala took one of my favourite folk tales growing up, the story of the Lion, Tortoise and Monkey (we called it Sweet Poo-Poo growing up, comment below if you have an alternative title) and found a way to connect it to food. From the title of the tale ‘sweet poo-poo’, you can already tell that it’s not a very appetising story, but the end result was a recipe for Akara (deep fried bean cakes) and suggestions on how to incorporate honey, like my friend Ijapa (tortoise) had done. My mouth watered at the thought of the Honeyed-akara that sent the Lion into a frenzied wild goose chase in the folk tale, and I wondered if Yetunde’s Akara recipe would do that to me (I haven’t tried out the recipe yet, but I’ll give an update when I do).

While I enjoyed this book, it doesn’t really explore Northern Nigerian cuisine. There’s a brief dodgy chapter on ram penis, but it doesn’t have any of the grandiloquence of the  other chapters. I would have loved to see something about miyan toushe, waina, tuwo, the Arabic cuisine’s influence on some of the meals, there’s a whole world of possibilities.

I look forward to reading more books from this writer. She is lyrical, and funny, and passionate about Nigerian food, it’s hard not to have it rubbed off on you. I like that she put her own spin on some of the dishes (by incorporating non-traditional ingredients like leeks and coconut oil) I might not understand it, but I respect it. I’d rate the book 3.5 stars out of 5. You should read it if you want to learn more about Nigerian food, maybe not if you’re a beginner cook looking for recipes.

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