Our Menu and the Swallow Wars

By Emeka Uzoatu

As the economic stranglehold in the country tightened, all were being swayed by its multifarious tentacles. Most prominent here comes the quake it’s causing on our culinary propensities.

Yes, for gone are the days when mouths were easily fed with just the little legal tender at our disposal. Back then, one could in the least go for the cheapest item on the menu and enjoy a hearty meal.

But not any longer. Now even dishes that were once reserved for the pauper now come at so heavy a cost. And lest our food inflation subsists, we may be in for it. So much so now that the battlefield is now narrowing into a cul de sac. Given, as is,  that what used to be staples are now so hard to get. 

A typical example remains what it has caused in the choice of the swallowables that used to be the easiest to include in menus the nation over. Of course, the made will go for the chewable salads and diced dishes leaving the dipped-in-the-soup and swallowed staples for the downtrodden.

Until now, it’s the reason most families retired sure of at least a square meal. When push comes to shove there was always one root or the other to process into meals. All because even when the other alternatives have their prices spiralling out of reach the roots literally still stuck to the ground.

For instance, there has always been the good old cassava. Though urban inflation has put paid to this viable alternative in the city, those in the rural areas always fell back to it. Whether marinated in water and pounded for fufu, grated and fried to garri or merely sliced and dried for abacha. Any wonder once upon a failed poet thought it should replace bread in our version of the Pater Noster.

Alas days like the above are on the race out. Priced out of reach by whatever indices, it’s fast becoming a problem for people to get what to swallow and snore the hell out of themselves. With the price of garri now dancing on the ceiling with Lionel Richie, the staple is now without the reach of most.

The situation is seldom helped by the situation of what would have otherwise been its viable alternatives. Back then there used to be the likes of the meals made from maize, rice, wheat and what have you. But now they have all joined the conspiracy to make themselves available only to the deep of pocket.

A rice farmer.

So much that the time when well-to-do-families prepared a variety of these at meal times is slowly becoming a historical topic. What with the added responsibility of making the requisite soups to go with each meal. O yes, in more normal times, each had a peculiar soup to go with.

So it’s now pitiable to find families managing whatever meal they manage to pound with just any soup at all – just to quieten the worms, maybe. 

The other day, a family in the Southwest ended up in a mourning mood after a meal of amala and egusi instead of ewedu soup. Something that had never happened going on centuries. They might as well have swallowed it with water!

The story is not different in all the geopolitical zones. 

With rice priced out of the reach of the common man, a dish of tuwo shinkafa is now numbered in the exclusive reserve of the wealthy up north. With the Boko Haram still holding to vast swarts of farmland, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting dimmer by the day.

In the Southeast, the story is not any different. A decent meal of publicly-prepared fufu now has to cope with any soup available. Gone are the days when the home-baked variety of the meal always went with cocoyam-based soups garnished with appropriate vegetables of choice.

Like one iconoclastic man of means living in the market town of Onitsha exhaled the other day. The rotund food-a-holic was lost for words over the items his ‘jewel of inestimable value’ proffered him for a mere pot of ‘draw soup’.

Well, not a man to haggle with his wife over truffles, he had only insisted that the soup henceforth be cooked with just one of its two derivatives. Silently he wondered how on earth a pot of soup should be cooked with both okro and ogbono in these hard times when the US dollar was talking nonsense in the foreign exchange market.

And he is not alone. 

The other day in Warri, it was an Itshekiri chieftain that almost committed murder at a popular outdoor eatery. So disgusted the banga soup served to transport balls of the starch he ordered was so watery, he walked out with an empty stomach. In time to save himself from a life-jail term.

A problem long solved in Portharcourt where the popular soup called native has since become a shadow of its old majesty. Now the flat variety is served first for you to soup it up according to the depth of your pocket. And to afford this, you may just have to break the bank.

Anyway, let’s end on an optimistic note. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) the inflation rate suffered a marginal 0.05% drop last month. A reversal of a 19-month trend.

Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of Nairaweb.ng. He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom.