Saturday, June 12, 2010

Salutations to the Gut and other Africa Cookbook Additions

An irresistible  gift edition of a 1962 essay by Nobel prize-winning Wole Soyinka, Salutations to the Gut (Bookcraft, Ltd, Nigeria, 2008) is a paean of praise to the Yoruba, a "leading race of lyrical gastronomes." As he says in it "It is sad that daily the business of the world becomes more hurried, and the few who still possess leisure lack true poetry of food." It was kind of pricey for me, so I resisted the book for about a week, but the poetry and illustrations charmed me at last. It is not a cookbook, but a celebration of life and good food as exemplified by the Yoruba, "the true hedonist who has felt in every morsel the soul of the open kitchen."

A second book, Granny's Special Cookery Book--Nigerian and Brazilian Dishes by Virginia Akerele
was also published by the Nigerian publisher Bookcraft in 2008. It immediately caught my attention for several reasons: my love of Brazilian food, my exploration of Afro-Brazilian culinary links, and finally because I'll travel to Nigeria in a few weeks and am eager to learn more about Nigerian cuisine. I didn't realize how much influence freed Brazilian slaves returning to Nigeria and settling around Lagos on the coast in the 19th century had on the cuisine (e.g., the  introduction of several ingredients, such as bell peppers, olive oil, and garlic). Various versions of imoyo is another example. However, the recipe for "tapioca" in Akerele's book is quite different from the one I was taught in Rio.

My third addition is a set of 3 small booklets by Laurene Boateng, a dietitian backed by a group of other healthcare professionals committed to helping Ghanaians address healthy eating and other fitness issues. They also have a useful website called  Ultimate Nutrition Ghana and Ms. Boateng hosts a weekly radio show called "Food in Focus" on an Accra-based radio station. The paperback booklets I bought were all published in 2009: Healthy Eating Made Simple, Basics (87 pages); Eating to Manage Hypertension, Basics (42 pages); Eating to Manage Cholesterol, Basics (45 pages). I am thrilled to see this kind of effort beginning, and wish them well. My only problem was that some of their suggestions seem to be aimed at only a small portion of the population. For example, the books stress eating brown rice and brown bread and whole grains, but even at 2 of the major shops in Accra I could find no brown rice nor whole wheat flour, much less pasta. I know there is a local rice, and it may be available at the outdoor markets, but I wonder how easy it is for ordinary folks to purchase the kinds of ingredients, like imported olive oil, that are being recommended. A number of Ghana's indigenous foods seemed to be missing from the discussions, whereas Western-style ingredients were praised. That made me nervous, as did the stress on eating things like salads. The cover of Healthy Eating Made Simple celebrated eating lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions, and, goodness, were those radishes or apples on the cover? However, these comments are not meant to undercut the importance of the booklets: they're definitely making important health information more accessible to Ghanaians.


Nancy Guppy, said...

I listened to Wole read at the Calabash book festival in Jamaica last month. Inspirational man. I look forward to your recipes and experiences in Nigeria. My nephew is half Nigerian and that started my interest in the cuisine....

Fran said...

Nancy: thank you for your comment. I agree. Your right--I'll be posting about my Nigerian culinary experiences.