To Bee Honest…
I’m neither a foodie (which may be a hard sell after reading this article) nor a restaurant critic but just an everyday dude seeking to get value for the lil’ change I have, since Abuja is bent on achieving the title of the most expensive city in Nigeria. I came to Abuja in 2011 for NYSC after a 9 year sojourn in USA & a few other countries (Canada, Brazil & England). A constant factor in my journeys was always finding where to get the most out of my limited resources (food and booze wise). My father always told me that “afo adiro ekwu ife o rili” which translates to… the stomach doesn’t say what it ate. So armed with this attitude, I stormed into cities and tried to squeeze a dollar’s worth out of 15 cents.
One of the things I miss “sometimes” about the United States is the gluttony that exists among the people & the food companies urge to satisfy it & keep you RUNNING back to them. I remember when I first got to Atlanta (the city after my heart) I went to Wal-Mart as a JJC (figure that out if you don’t know what it means) and saw rotisserie chicken for $3.99, “lord ha’e mercy!!!” I jumped on it like a kite tryna lift that lil chick. The snack section didn’t help either as I ran into 1 liter coke for $0.99 and $1 bag of chips (prolly made in Haiti) and so much other junk that got me fat & happy. Grocery shopping was my favorite past time on planet earth & it was a weekly event which I looked forward to every time. By 2008 when I visited Nigeria, I was an impressive 270lbs (a mere 2 & 1/4 bags of cement) on a 6ft 3″ frame. I still expected the dry Nigerian social & dine out culture and boy did they prove me wrong! The music scene was growing by the minute; people were beginning to dine out as hangout spots competed to keep up with the demand. I ate so much “point & kill” in Enugu to the point I started sweating out oil & water & I mean literally! That whole setting and the “free feeling” in Nigeria brought me home every Xmas until 2011 when I finally came for NYSC in Abuja.
I had always seen Abuja as a politician’s paradise where they invest all their loot and indirectly drive up the cost of everything. The common man is always trying to get a piece of the loot through inflated prices which spread across all spheres of life in Abuja. I was a bit skeptical at first, but I vowed to make it fun for myself and sniff out all the “actions”. I noticed a lot of eatries which catered to the “wanna-be” ajebos and O.Is (okuko igbo) trying to form class & stuff like that. I was a bit turned off because I kept on thinking of how I was going to live off junk food, coupled with the fact that it was American-inspired cuisine made by Nigerians? Hell…NO!!! It made me imagine a Chinese chef cooking bitterleaf soup (wat da freak would it taste like?). Anyways I resurrected the philosophy that helped me survive and savor the taste of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which was eat anything appealing to the eyes & nose. From the tastiest beef “e’rythang” to sugar cane juice and crisp fried cassava. I decided to do the same in Abuja, ditch all those ajekpako spots and find all the local flavors and to my delight, here’s a few list of what I think is “da ish” in this city:
1) Quality Link Garden located in Wuse Zone 7 opposite NAFDAC. This garden is “world famous” for being the home of protein orgy & the most heavenly chunk of cowtail ever cooked in human history. I can’t bear witness to how its cooked down to that fall-off-the-bone consistency but I suspect it simmers & stews all day in its natural juices amped with local spices like uda & utazi. Its 2 super-sized chunks of meat wit 1 kpomo so tender that you may bite your finger in the process (yes finger, no cutlery allowed except an oversize spoon to sip that steaming broth with all the goodness infused in it. Wash it down with your favorite beer or chilled palmwine on set & I guarantee you MAXIMUM SATISFACTION. Needless to say this garden helped me put on 5-7kg during my service year, lol 😉
2) UNIQUE HOME KITCHEN at Mabilla Barracks, quietly tucked in a corner, churning out lip-smacking soups ranging from afang, okro and vegetable to banga, white soup & egusi,6-days a week & resting on the 7th like God did. Anyways, there’s something synonymous with Calabar women and cooking & this one isn’t an exception. It is a typical rice & swallow place but what sets her apart is the quality & variety of soups available. Different soups each day but “okro Wednesdays” and “white soup Fridays” definitely standout & pack a punch you never see coming. The liver, tripe, kidney, intestine, goat meat & stockfish sitting in these soups will unsuspectingly throw a hook down your throat that will keep you coming back daily. To even top it off, the owner is a young lady with a “phatty” for a lil eye candy. If that doesn’t entice you, the food will DEFINITELY.
3) Mogadishu Cantonment aka Abacha barracks is almost common knowledge in Abuja now but it stands out to me for a reason, I go there just to let loose, gnaw on the spicy fish & kebabs, drink my beer & for Christ-sake have loud, lousy, local & vulgar conversation. Since it’s not hidden, expect to see any Tom, Dick & Harry there. The croaker fish is basted with a paste of pepper & spices and char-grilled then served with a side of shredded cabbage and dulop of onion, tomato & pepper mixture fried in oil. Now sit down, inhale all the aromas while you enjoy your catch.
4) There’s a hidden treasure located in between Afri Hotel fence and an empty plot of land. Its a constructed tent that houses 2 tables and 4 benches on which an anonymous woman serves utazi-infused white soup with pieces of chicken & goat meat…which makes a hell of a combo. Order it with a smooth side of pounded yam and you are in for a fruitful day. If you are salivating over that soup, try the goat-infused stew with rice and few slices of plantain & the rest they say is history.
5) Choices in Garki II may be old and rickety but that heart attack on a plate aka goat head is worth dying for…trust me! First , all goat head lovers, you can attest that there’s nothing more frustrating than an incomplete goat head (I’m talking about a pair of eyes, ears and that juicy tongue). Choices guarantees you’ll never experience that, so the goodness comes in 2 wooden plates…steaming hot, 1 containing the eyes, ears & tongue (called particulars in goat lingo) & the other plate, houses the rest of the goat head hacked into sizable chunks in oil sauce topped off wit onions & leaves for easy devouring. The elevated view also adds to the ambience and maximizes air flow. A trial will surely convince you.
6) I don’t know the name of this place but the rice damn sure would give your home cooking a run for its money. It’s located off Chicken Republic on Aminu Kano in what seems to be a Hausa/Northern community. At first glance, Islamaphobia might set in but once you overcome that fear and step in, you are greeted with a spectacular aroma of rice and every other addition you can imagine. An order consists of fried rice with diced livers, a freshly-made salad with generous amount of cream & egg. You also have a choice of meat to go with it. Downside may be portion size for large appetites like mine but it’s definitely worth a try.
7) Bala’s Indomie Stand is 2nd to none when it comes to the indomie game. You’ve never had indomie this good until you try this perfectly cooked and stir fried indomie in peanut oil (kulikuli oil) with vegetables and egg. Go a step further and buy some freshly made suya at Yahuza & let these cooks join these items in matrimony to send your taste buds exploding with flavor. Stands are located in Wine Shop (Wuse 2) and Zenith Bank (Zone 5)
Contributor – Jack