Food Crossroads (Part 2) Home is where the jollof rice is

Felicitas Then and Ozoz Sokoh
Felicitas Then and Ozoz Sokoh | Photo: Jeremiah Ikongio

The Goethe-Institut Nigeria is supporting authors and publishers from Nigeria and the diaspora with the Literary Crossroads project, in the context of which literary trends and topics are discussed. The associated Food Crossroads aims to detect and understand similarities and differences between Nigerian and German cuisine. In the second and final part of the article series, German social media influencer Felicitas Then tells of her culinary experiences in Lagos.

As a television cook and travel blogger, I am very fortunate to travel a great deal for my work. Italy, Spain, Austria, South Africa or the Dominican Republic: I’ve been able to experience and taste all of these countries this year. But no destination was as exciting and horizon broadening as Nigeria!

Lagos Food Tour with Felicitas Then Lagos Food Tour with Felicitas Then | Photo: Jeremiah Ikongio Since my life, both professionally and personally, revolves almost exclusively around food, my stay in Nigeria also began with an impressive food tour through the streets of Lagos. I can say that I always try everything! That day, I ate yam-root porridge with goat-tongue stew, I tried boiled beef skin, and sweated over a spicy suya shashlik. I quenched my thirst with fermented palm wine. I do not eat all these dishes to prove how fearless I am, but because many of these foods have been served this way for decades or even centuries. Through them we can learn a great deal about the history, agriculture and people of the country.

The biggest culinary difference I could find between Germany and Nigeria is that Nigeria holds onto its original dishes much more than we do. While you can hardly find German restaurants in Berlin, but plenty of Vietnamese snacks, sushi restaurants and pizzerias, on the streets of Lagos they still cook Nigerian food. When I spoke with foodies, they told me that the first thing they do when they go abroad is to search for Nigerian restaurants and that they always long the most for jollof rice.

Felicitas Then at the live cooking Felicitas Then at the live cooking | Photo: Jeremiah Ikongio

Two bread-loving nations

Despite the differences in climate and history, there are of course parallels between Nigeria and Germany. Bread plays a major role in both cultures. Germany is known as a bread-loving nation, there the rustic sourdough and wholegrain breads are appreciated the most. In Nigeria, on the other hand, they love a light, fluffy wheat bread that is served as a side dish. The Nigerian side dish of pounded yam is also very similar to German mashed potatoes and in Nigeria it is also eaten with goulash-like stews.

Apart from actual ingredients or dishes, we all have the emotional connection to food in common. Culinary traditions in both Nigeria and in Germany are always associated with family, with rituals and the feeling of being at home.

Felicitas Then with Balogun Safurat from Goethe-Institut Lagos at the food workshop Felicitas Then with Balogun Safurat from Goethe-Institut Lagos at the food workshop | Photo: Jeremiah Ikongio

Travel broadens the mind – not just the taste buds

While the willingness to experiment with traditional recipes, swap out ingredients, or alter flavours may not seem so great in Nigeria, I could feel an immense culinary curiosity, which might speak for a future of many fusion dishes.

Of course, travelling – no matter to which country – is not only extremely valuable for one’s culinary horizon. Prejudices disappear, fears turn out to be unfounded, one’s own boundaries are overcome and new friendships are made. And these things are exactly what I was able to experience in Lagos.