Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribisala

Longthroat Memoirs

Genre Nonfiction: Essays

Blurb “One of the most enduring myths on the Nigerian Femme Fatale – mammy-water, ‘winch’ or husband-snatcher – has to do with the cooking of fish stew … A woman can do what she likes with a man when she knows how to satisfy his appetite for food.” Longthroat Memoirs presents a sumptuous menu of essays about Nigerian food, lovingly presented by the nation’s top epicurean writer. As well as a mouth-watering appraisal of the cultural politics and erotics of Nigerian cuisine, it is also a series of love letters to the Nigerian palate. From innovations in soup, fish as aphrodisiac and the powerful seductions of the yam, Longthroat Memoirs examines the complexities, the peculiarities, the meticulousness, and the tactility of Nigerian food. Nigeria has a strong culture of oral storytelling, of myth creation, of imaginative traversing of worlds. Longthroat Memoirs collates some of those stories into an irresistible soup-pot, expressed in the flawless love language of appetite and nourishment. A sensuous testament on why, when and how Nigerians eat the food they love to eat; this book is a welcome addition to the global dining table of ideas.”

Editing Mostly well edited, a couple of errors.

Review The title, Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds caught my attention, and I was intrigued about what would be written on the relationship between Nigerian food and sex. Longthroat Memoirs gets top marks for originality. Yemisi identifies a “gap in the market” and sets out to discuss this gap and she does a good job of it. In the book, we read about Nigerian food and the stories behind the food. So, it’s not just a recipe book of Nigerian foods, it looks at the relationship between food and culture and also serves as a travelogue about some parts of Southern Nigeria.

Isi Ewu (spicy goat head).

Utazi Isi Ewu

The essays aim to put Nigerian food on the global scene in a way that hasn’t been done before by giving Nigerian food a “personality.” Nevertheless, one gets the sense from reading the book that it is intended for the Nigerian audience, as an awakening to celebrate Nigerian food. Yet, it makes allowances for non-Nigerians and even some Nigerians by explaining unfamiliar concepts and ingredients. Yemisi asserts in the introduction that Nigerians don’t talk about Nigerian food. She says this may be because of the concern that those who don’t know Nigerian food intimately may make some painful, uneducated remark about it. I think it is because Nigerians don’t have a relationship with food which they think requires such discussions. For many Nigerians, food, like air is required for sustenance and so they cook and eat it and that is that.

The book discusses mundane activities of everyday life in a witty and engaging manner. This highlights the author’s keen sense of observation of the ordinary and her creativity in writing about them. Reading about hand-shelled egusi evoked nostalgic feelings about shelling egusi as a child. I also remember watching my mother haggle over the more expensive hand-shelled egusi (compared to the machine-shelled ones) with traders in the market and wondering what the fuss was about.

Nigerian soups including egusi (melon seeds) soup (bottom left).

Utazi soups

The essay on dog meat was very interesting. Nigerians love their meat – “[a]ny Nigerian soup worth its salt must contain meat visible from the other end of the room.” Years ago, an older cousin who was visiting us at home said she had become a vegetarian. After she left, my mother commented that if she could no longer afford meat, she should say so without claiming vegetarianism. Yet, Nigerians (including the author) who do not eat dog meat, thumb their noses at those who do. The author accepts the hypocrisy of determining which animal to eat or not based on “random parameters such as the animal’s intelligence, affability to humans and hygiene.”

Visible meat in ogbono (bush mango seeds) soup.

Utazi Ogbono

Half way through the book, there are pictures of some ingredients discussed in the book…yayyy! For some reason, I wasn’t expecting any. The pictures are very helpful for those who may be unfamiliar with many of the ingredients. A few more pictures would have been ideal given how much detail the author gives about some ingredients or maybe, this is my Oliver Twist moment as the pictures looked lovely.

Picture of ogbono (bush mango seeds) in Longthroat Memoirs.

Ogbono seeds in Longthroat Memoirs

The only essay which didn’t work for me was “Dead Man’s Helmet” on the civil war in Nigeria. The rationale for including the essay was logical, yet the difference in narration made it out of place in the book.

Being unadventurous with food, I may never try some of the recipes in the book. But I would definitely recommend this book as it is well written; it informs about Nigerian food, history and culture. It highlights how stereotypes about food and culture are perpetuated by Nigerians. It educates in a subtle and entertaining manner. I’m from southern Nigeria and would appreciate a similar take on food from northern Nigeria. Any takers?

Read an excerpt from Longthroat Memoirs: The Girl who Fainted at the Sight of an Egg.

Number of pages 555

Publisher Cassava Republic

Damage N2,500 on Okadabooks

Rating 8.5/10

You can buy a copy of Longthroat Memoirs on Okadabooks or Amazon.

Longthroat Memoirs was reviewed by Lady B. Pictures of food, except as otherwise stated, are from Utazi restaurant in Lagos, Nigeria.

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