234next.com, the online newspaper which ceased to exist in 2011, will always have a special place in my heart.
Here are the two reasons why: It published one of my article’s in its Sunday Elan Edition (not my first though, but this reached a bigger audience. Elan’s in print form, and the article also appeared online), and, most noteworthy, it gave me more access to Yemisi Aribisala’s way with words.
Men of God as Superstars was an article by her in Farafina Magazine. My first introduction to this writer and her unique style. I read that article over and again. Then 234next.com came along. With its variety of writers among whom was…who did I see? Were my eyes playing tricks on me?
It was Yemisi Aribisala allright. Writing about food, using the most unexpected, hunger-inducing terms to describe a condiment, relate a Nigerian swallow type and generally stir, furiously, the appetite in me while attempting to meet my timelines on a bright workday morning.
She had me devouring, drooling and salivating over her scribblings and her content. And for one whose interest in food and its preparations bordered on necessity at the time, I looked forward to her weekly posts on something new.
I archived most of her work on my office desktop for reference, and, sometimes, relaxation. And when 234next.com stopped its operations, my backup files were a treasure trove I protected fiercely (with my newly – acquired interest in the process of Nigerian food – making) and promptly forgot to take along with me when I finally resigned from the establishment.
Her blog, Longthroat Memoirs, provided little succor to my deep craving for her work; she wasn’t as consistent with her posts and could go into long stretches of silence or inactivity. While it also contained most (if not all) of her articles from the online paper, which I knew from memory, I was beyond the stage where a weekly dose of 500 words or so were satisfactory.
I needed more. Preferably in print. Something I could hold on to and not have to log in, sign in to access.
Enter Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds, her book published in 2016.
It is not a volume loaded with recipes and step-by-step directions on how to be an olowosibi. Yemisi’s not into all of that. She made that quite clear a couple of years ago. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be either.
Though the book does contain some recipes – some meshed within its content, others more detailed, written out with step-by-step directions as well as her thoughts – it is centred mostly on Nigerian food and how it relates to us as a people. As a deep cultural aspect of our lives. How it divides/unites us. Its effect on our attitudes or suspicions handed down from generations. The respect (or lack thereof) certain dishes are accorded. The role it plays in gender wars/loves, and our numerous ceremonies. The personality/mindset/mood of the cook. The Nigerian palate and its conditioning by several ethnic – specific dishes. And, of course, food as an aphrodisiac (or a husband-/man- bewitching device).
All written in her honest – to – God, straight- faced, characteristic witty style, and, often, with background information on the history of the food in question. She does this as she simultaneously takes her reader on her own culinary crusade in certain locations – Lagos with its signature peppery stews which are eaten with absolutely everything; Calabar, where most dishes are accompanied with fish and crayfish, and whose women are seemingly incomplete without the mastery of cooking techniques; the United Kingdom and a guest’s perceived rudeness if no compliments are paid while eating the meal offered. There was also the case for Nigerian food not taking centre stage like other international cuisines.
Personally, she sated my eyes, filling the void created from a dearth of her work and I got a couple of recipes and cooking tips as a bonus. Though I’m yet to agree with her on her lack of use of bouillon cubes.