Book Review: Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds

Book: Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds
Author: Yemisi Aribisala
Publisher: Cassava Republic
Year of Publication: 2017
Book Length: 357 pages
Font Type: Small

Random tidbit: Yemisi Aribisala is no stranger to the literary arts nor is this her first foray into writing essays about Nigerian food. You can also find more of her works under the name Yemisi Ogbe.

Why Did I Read It? Well, this is my second book review and coincidentally also happens to be a Cassava Republic book. I swear that I am not paid by the publishers (yet!). I actually came across this book because the author retweeted my review on Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s book. If you didn’t read that, you can find the link here:

Book Review: Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

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As a self-acclaimed stalker, I perused this previously unknown (to me)author’s account, and found that she had just written a book about food. It looked interesting enough but I was sceptical about reading it because I am not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination. Yet just a few hours before leaving Nigeria I stumbled upon the book in a coffee shop. I already had a full bag of Nigerian novels to take home, but aesthetics are my weakness and I loved the book cover. After flipping through the first couple of pages I was sold.

Book Synopsis (from the book cover): Longthroat Memoirs presents a sumptuous menu of essays about Nigerian cuisine, lovingly presented by the nation’s to epicurean writer. From the cultural history of soup to the sensual allure of snails, Longthroat Memoirs explores the complexities and tactile joy of Nigerian gastronomy in a series of love letters to the Nigerian palate. This sensuous testament on why, when and how Nigerians eat the food they do is a welcome addition to the global dining table of ideas.

My Review: One of the first things that struck me about the book was Yemisi’s lack of political correctness. You might agree or disagree with her views, I found myself at times shaking my head in disapproval at some of her statements. However, I do believe there’s a thin line between censorship and political correctness, so I applaud her decision to stand (sit?) and speak (write?) her truth boldly.Soups, sex and the Nigerian taste bud. Let’s talk about sex baby. With sex prominently featured in the title I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was she going to discuss the Nigerian equivalent of strawberries and whipped cream or what? Well sex is discussed, she doesn’t shy away from the sexual nature of Nigerians but it’s more nuanced than I expected. The book doesn’t just discuss sex for the sake of earning controversy points which I appreciated. Although, I think the decision to include “sex” in the title might have been more tactical than creative, but I’m not complaining, it’s lends some excitement to the book title.

So, the rest of the title Soup and Nigerian taste buds. Truly, I didn’t think much of this idea of “Nigerian taste bud” when I picked up the book but as I read I began to question it. I would argue that Nigerian food isn’t really a “thing” in the same way that being a Nigerian is an ambiguous identifier. There are of course common threads, ingredients and recipes but the sentiments surrounding food really differ from state to state, even village to village. Truly the disparity within Nigeria, is as great as the similarities across Western African cuisine, and soups are extremely varied across Nigeria. As I read about ogbono being the king of soups, I had a huh moment. As a girl from Anambra I grew up believing that Ofe Ede (soups with a cocoyam base) ie the ora and onuwbu soups were bae. Now others might disagree with me, and maybe this is simply my family or village preference, who knows? Another head scratching moment was reading that every Nigerian man likes beans, I literally gave the book a bit of a side eye. I do not know a single Igbo man that likes beans. Now, I am sure they exist but you have to admit that it might be an overstatement to say, “all Nigerian men love beans” when as a Nigerian woman that’s not close to my experience.

In the same way Nigeria has so many languages and dialects, food is also a many splendored thing. The author is clearly more familiar with her native foods and the cultures surrounding them. It was quite interesting to read about those as it provided insight I did not previously have. Although my Yoruba flatmate was quick to disagree with some observations, so I guess “Yoruba cuisine” is also a bit controversial.

Despite my questions about these Nigerian food ideologies it was genuinely refreshing to read a book that discussed our cultural dishes thoroughly, played with recipes and tweaked the standards. It’s so common for Nigerians to respond to suggestions about modifying recipes with phrases like “that’s how my mother cooked.” Before reading the book, I did not give much thought to the fact that Nigerian food is so rarely discussed, not by us Nigerians and definitely not by the international world. That we accept all variations of food from everywhere else, but in a sense, hoard our knowledge and flavours. I know I am guilty of not cooking Nigerian meals for my non-Nigerian friends fearing that the tastes and smells might be too strong and off putting. Yet I have thought nothing of the odd and sometimes gross food offerings that have become mainstream. Does anyone really enjoy oysters?

While this book is mainly about food it’s more than stomach deep. It’s about a people, culture, what it means to be a woman in Nigeria, generational changes, the way we see ourselves. Definitely, much more than I expected. In addition, there was humour, such a big plus to read a book that provides some unexpected chuckles. And while it did not mirror my cultural experience of growing up Nigerian, I still found it relatable. It took me longer than expected to finish this book but that’s because it is not a novel to be read cover to cover in one sitting, my usual style. Rather, it’s a book best read chapter by chapter over multiple nights, preferably with food available (particularly Nigerian food). I swear I got hungry each time I picked it up and went to bed each night determined to prepare some culinary masterpiece the next morning.

The only thing I truly did not like about this book was the chapter on Biafra. Again, I’m Igbo, so Biafra is a touchy subject that deals with my heritage. While I appreciate the attempt to acknowledge and address it, and enjoyed the non-Igbo experience, it would have been better left out. There was just something disjointed about the handling of it, which made it come across as attempt to appease. However, if I only disliked about 13 pages in a 357-page book, it’s fair to say I enjoyed the book. One thing I can promise you, is agree or disagree with Yemisi’s politics, tone or interpretation of Nigerian cooking and meals, you will think about Nigerian food differently after reading this book.

Read if you:
– Want to learn more about Nigerian foods: particularly of Yoruba and Calabar origin
– Want Recipes! Or to learn about a vast array of ingredients and spices that are locally available
– Just want to know more about Nigerian culture
– Are not squeamish. Meat is discussed in a lot of detail, the killing of it, cleaning, cooking. You could also always skip those pages.

Where to Buy Online: Amazon.co.uk ; Amazon.com (April 17th) and Bookdepository.com
In Lagos: I got mine from “My Coffee” in VI (https://www.facebook.com/mycoffee.lagos/)

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