‘This is good food’: Bring back classic Nigerian food in Minnesota

Uche Ilogubu decided to name his eldest daughter Unity.

He “just got off the plane” and became a father less than a year later at age 21, he says. After following his cousin to join a small Nigerian community in Brooklyn Park, he had embarked on a life as an immigrant in Brooklyn Park.

“I was rude and naive, blind and young,” he recalls.

Ilogub said he chose his daughter’s name probably because he wanted a certain sense of solidarity during that critical and often frightening time. He was homesick, but more than that, he was lonely.

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“I felt so lost. So uprooted. I left my best friend behind,” he recalls of his first years in America.

“The English spoken in Nigeria is different from the English spoken here,” he said. “I had to learn how to talk to people. Opening up to people was harder than I thought. I had to learn how to be human again. It was neither easy nor fun. ”

On top of that, when he landed in snowy Minnesota, he experienced the coldest conditions he had ever experienced.

return to nostalgic taste

A key means of survival, he said, was to return to Nigerian cuisine. A dish his grandmother taught him in the courtyard “where it all worked out”.

Growing and harvesting produce, beating cassava and yams with giant mortars and pestle, all take place with music that can still be heard in Iloegbu’s memory.

and trees. There are so many trees.

“Palm trees, plantain trees, mango trees, orange trees, guava trees, cashew trees, coconut trees, papaya trees,” he lists them dreamily, as if somewhere in the middle distance. seems to remember them.

And, of course, in his hometown of Isiara Oboro, about 400 miles south of Nigeria’s capital Abuja, communal cooking and eating is the cornerstone of village life.

This is the experience he hopes his three American daughters, Unity, Amara and Iruka, who are both born and raised in America, will have as well.

But as an immigrant, Iloegub is pragmatic. he gets it done

He came into my kitchen in a colorful dashiki and stuffed a shopping bag with four bottles of Guinness and a package of secreted fried plantains.

These, along with the sound system’s afrobeat, are an important part of the process of cooking hoof, he claims.

Food is placed on a plate while a person prepares to serve

As the Uche Iloegbu gathers more, the prepared fufu is placed on a plate.

Jada Gray Eagle | Sahan Journal

As a Nigerian, a member of the Igbo tribe, and a black man living in Koon Rapids, it is this meal that keeps him grounded.

Before returning to this home-cooked—African—food, he remembers longing for something that would be lost—perhaps forever, disappointing—when someone leaves home.

“Do you know how snakes molt? He said. “Also, it’s not that easy to be black here in the United States.”

He now believes that the urge to avoid his grandmother’s cooking (mashed yams, aromatic palm oil, the intense heat of chiles, the scent of dried fish) may have been a move toward Americanization.

His Nigerian friends experienced much the same.

“Our food has not always been a source of pride. Our food has been demonized. That’s why we have a complex about our food.” He explained while washing the pots and pans again before using them.

“In Africa, cooking is communal, so everything is washing, washing, washing,” he emphasizes.

He uses a powdered yam concentrate that can be reconstituted in his cooking. True African yams are huge, growing up to £100 and can be prohibitively expensive to import.

And although he admits it’s not real, these are the concessions and adaptations demanded by the immigrant experience. It is part sacrifice, part acceptance, and ultimately equals cultural preservation.

“It took me a while to think, ‘Oh, oh, oh, this is ours,'” he said. “This is good food. You may be mistaken, but this is who I am and what I am proud of. Nothing else is better than what we have.”

The stew that accompanies fu fu uses palm oil, which is used not only for fat but also as a seasoning. It melts into interesting golden puddles that add to the stew’s appeal. Just as a pond of melted butter on a divot of mashed potatoes becomes instantly irresistible.

But not everyone appreciates the flavor of palm oil, he says.

“Some of our best friends and even our spouses were like, ‘Are you trying to make that happen?’ But if you were in Nigeria, no one would mind the smell!”

Earthy notes mixed with oils, crawfish and rich spices, these are the scents of home.

escape and next steps

Iloegub’s mother died when he was just 12 days old. “That grave by her house, that was her,” he said.

He was raised by his grandmother, the matriarch of the family, but he never forgot his mother. “As you walk through the village, the elder will say, ‘My son, you must be a little one.'”

As is the local custom, Uche could not experience the joy of being the last spoiled baby. He says other villagers recognized him because he had his mother’s nose and because his mother was a well-loved member of the community. Her talent for working with fabrics was well known.

But as an Igbo, he says he was expected to remain a strong and stoic young man.

“So I had to say, ‘My mother died. So what?'”

That stoicism may have partly led him to his goal Japan — A Yoruba word meaning “flee, flee, escape.”

“to Japan It means to get out of hell. To leave for the green meadows, right? So I was 20 when I had the opportunity to leave Nigeria. ”

He describes Nigeria, the country he fled from, as the kind of country everyone wants to escape from. He said the corrupt government repeatedly victimized his idol, the famous Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti, for speaking out against the government through performances.

As a teenager, Ilogev imagined that he could become Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture. He said government work is often linked with propaganda and censorship. Iloegv believed that if he got the job, he could help change people’s perceptions for the better.

It couldn’t have been. Instead, he left.

Uche Iloeb cuts stew ingredients

Uche Iloegbu scoops and cuts ingredients for stews for guests to eat.

Courtesy of Jada Gray Eagle

capture the world on film

The urge to shape perceptions for the benefit of society never left him. He had great respect for journalists and their willingness to tell the truth. However, he was always more drawn to the accompanying pictures than words.

“I remember my brother had a 110 camera. And I looked into that cute little square and pressed the button and it was so good delicious to me,” he said.

When it came time to decide how to live in the United States, young Iloegvu realized that he could only rely on himself. He didn’t want to “slam numbers for anyone” or fight bureaucracy.

It would have to be just himself and his camera, he says. He still keeps it within reach at all times, holding it up in the air and giving it a little showing kiss.

His favorite work so far is a photograph he took during the social unrest after the murder of George Floyd.

“I see and feel myself suffer, and I see others suffer too. It’s like the division that unites us all. I want to tell those stories because they are similar.Unity.Finding what makes us all the same.”

Nigerian food

When a group of guests gather to eat together, Ilogubu puts the stew in the center of the table, as is done in Nigeria. Everyone is given a fufu ball. The dango is white and has a slightly chewy texture, reminiscent of bread dough.

Fufu is often described as “food to swallow”. That is, it is not meant for chewing.

Author Yewande Comorafe describes fufu as “a way to bring out the best in a dish in every bite,” in a New York Times article, “A Practical Guide to Swallows.”

Comoraf continues: “There’s a trick to eating swallows: to take a bite with a proper pinch between your thumb and fingers, and to roll the dough almost imperceptibly from your palm to your fingertips as you drop it into the soup. Take a sip. .”

Iloegv doesn’t criticize our technique, but offers us a bowl of water to wash our hands before and between bites. Laundry, laundry, laundry.

“Cities change everything,” he said as we took turns reaching for the stewpot for another bite. “Including sharing. You have to be part of a truly dynamic nuclear family to experience this. It’s a joy and a privilege.”

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