Street food plays a large part in the snacking habits of Nigerians. Makeshift kitchens with wood fires offer crunchy bean fritters (akara) to be eaten on their own or stuffed into soft white bread; slices of yam (dundun) fried in palm oil (preferably) or vegetable oil, wrapped in newspaper and accompanied with a spicy tomato sauce; crispy fried fish or meat; all hark at the promise of happy stomachs, messy fingers and possibly a spot of grease or two on one’s otherwise pristine clothes.
But it is not all fried food: the evening air carries with it the aroma of spice-filled smoke, heralding the arrival of suya – various types of barbecued meat. Tell the Mai Suya (suya chef) the type of suya you would like – beef, chicken or ram and watch as he places the skewers of meat above the hot coals; slices it with an impossibly sharp knife and neatly parcels it in newspaper. Accompanied by slivers of fresh tomatoes and onions and as much yaji (suya spice) as your palette can bear.
Sweeter treats include the aptly-named puff-puff: dollops of sweetened dough magically puffing up in large woks of hot oil and much beloved by children and adults alike.
Healthier options come in the form of seasonal produce: juicy mangos dripping with promise; ready-peeled oranges; bright-red watermelon segments; boiled or roasted corn-on-the cob served with tangy African pears or fresh coconut are just some of the temptations that await one. Roasted peanuts (ekpa) are available all year round and are often sold together with popcorn (guguru).
Non-Nigerian treats such as meat pies, sausage rolls and Scotch eggs are precariously piled into high pyramids on large trays expertly carried on the heads of youngsters weaving in and out of the cars stuck in traffic jams. Ice cream vendors on bicycles with insulated wooden boxes offer a welcome relief from the hot sun.
- *50g roasted peanuts
- 6 ehuru (4g, toasted and finely ground)
- 2 tablespoons Cameroon Pepper (or other dried pepper)
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- **1 teaspoon salt or 4 Maggi Cubes
- 3 teaspoons ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1kg beef (brisket gives the most authentic texture, but any tender cut will do. Allow about 250g of meat per person). Slice the meat against the grain in wide pieces, slightly thicker than ham, and tenderise with a mallet if necessary.
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, finely sliced
- 16 wooden skewers (soaked in cold water for at least 2 hours)
- Grind the peanuts to a fine powder, using a mortar and pestle or a coffee mill. Add the rest of the yaji ingredients and grind again, ensuring they are thoroughly mixed together.
- Place half of the onions in a wide dish. Thread the beef onto the skewers so that they look like a stretched-out accordion. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, rub the oil onto the meat (this will help the yaji stick to it). Place on top of the onions.
- Now, sprinkle 1- 2 tablespoons of yaji, rubbing it into both sides of the meat. Place the rest of the onions on the meat, and leave to marinate (covered, in the fridge) for a few hours or overnight. When you are ready to cook the suya, either discard the onions or gently fry them in a small amount of oil, and serve on the side.
- Cook the skewers of suya on a charcoal barbecue or iron griddle for about 3-5 minutes on each side, depending on how rare you like your meat. Alternatively, place under a grill at 180°C (350°F, Gas mark 4) for about 10 – 15 minutes on each side.
**Biggie, one of the best Mai Suyas in Abuja kindly gave me lessons in making yaji, and Maggi cubes are an essential part of his mix. Leave them out if you prefer not to use commercial stock cubes.
The dry ingredients will make about 10 tablespoons (110g) of Suya Spice. Alternatively buy some ready-made rub.
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, finely sliced
2 pitta breads or wraps, cut in half
Chicken, goat, gizzard, liver and even fish may be marinated in the same way. Cooking times will obviously vary.