A BEST COOKBOOK OF THE YEAR: The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Food Network, The Boston Globe, Good Housekeeping, Epicurious, Delish
The city of Lagos, Nigeria, is a key part of a larger conversation about West African cuisine and its influences throughout the world. My Everyday Lagos consists of 75 dishes that are all served in recipe developer and food stylist Yewande Komolafe's fast-paced, ever-changing home city of Lagos. These recipes reflect the regional cooking of the country and reveal two complementary qualities of Nigerian cuisine—its singularity and accessibility. Along the way, through informative essays that place ingredients in historical context, Yewande explains how in a country where dozens of ethnic groups interact, a cuisine has developed that transcends tribal boundaries.
Yewande's personal narrative is woven throughout the book and cautions against being burdened by notions of authenticity. To those in the African diaspora, this book highlights food that may have been adapted and integrated into the cuisines of the places they live. The bukas of London, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto, and Newark all have their unique vision of Nigeria and are reflected in their food. The recipes, including classics like Jollof Rice, Puff Puff, and Groundnut Stew, are a starting point for the home cook, allowing them to trust the ingredients and achieve the variety of textures and flavors Nigerian food is known for. Beautiful photographs of the city and its people invite readers into the energy and pulse of Lagos, while the food photography entices them to make each and every dish in the book.
This stunning cookbook is Yewande Komolafe's in-depth exploration of a cuisine as well as the definitive book on Lagos cuisine that reveals the nuances of regions and peoples, diaspora and return—but also tells her own story of gathering the scattered pieces of herself through understanding her home country and food.
|Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed
|7.60(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Welcome to Lagos
My flight to Lagos arrives at dusk, and I slide out to an airport buzzing with activity, commerce, and community. For me, it’s also a confusion of crowds after the stillness of a thirteen-hour flight. Once I am in the car, driving to my parents’ house, I can see shadows along the roadside, forms emerging from the headlights’ edges and plunging back into the darkness. Lagos is a city by the sea, a city with a distinct coastline, islands both natural and man-made, and a never-ending expansion toward what we call “the mainland.” Any benefits of an Atlantic Ocean breeze are swallowed up a few miles into the mainland’s humidity. Wherever you are in Lagos, the streets are never silent and never still. A quick glance and all seems calm. But when I look out those car windows into the night, people are filling up the dark like a tide rolling in and receding. They’re striding, chatting in groups, gathering by a food stand on the edge of a streetlight’s glow. They are carrying the city, still bursting with energy and life, steadily into the middle of the night.
As we come up Adeniyi Jones Road, to the small enclave of houses where my parents live, my mother points out landmarks from my childhood. None are immediately recognizable, but her voice is all the familiarity I need: I’m strangely, and impossibly, home. I breathe in the air and feel every inch of my person expand. We step out of the car and are greeted by the heat, the gorgeous glow of old incandescent bulbs in faded sconces, and the foliage filling every spare inch of our yard. Lemongrass, wild oregano, and scent leaf fill the air as I walk up to the front door.
My parents’ home in Ikeja, Lagos, is a green oasis built with concrete and glass. From the dining room I can make out the shape of a banana tree in the corner of the garden. Bright yellow star fruit hang low on another tree. Everything is ripe and ready for picking. I hear chickens clucking, settling in for the night.
Dinner is a light meal of stewed meat in ọ bẹ̀ ata, fried sweet plantains, braised greens, and steamed rice. The scent leaf I noted in the garden has been julienned, garnishing the dishes. It is my first time back in my parents’ home in twenty years. On the plate before me, all of the complexities of a life lived in exile seem intermingled with the simplicity of home.
I had moved to the United States as a student in August of 1998, following in the footsteps of my brother, who had begun university a year before me. I was the middle child, insulated from much of the outside world by two strong-willed and independent brothers. In America, I could rely on my emigration to be guided by the path my older brother was carving out for himself. I could rely on him to help me study in, and live within, this new environment.
Less than a year after my arrival in America, my brother passed away. He suffered from sickle cell anemia, a disease I have as well, a condition that created a bond between us that extended beyond the typical bond of siblings. We had always been conscious of our limits, and my parents overly protective of them, but in the United States, the world was new to us. We were still finding our way. The disease took him just shy of his twentieth birthday. His death in Newark in 1999 left me devastated and untethered; at seventeen years old, I was alone in a new country.
My college years in Maryland were marked by this grief. I tried to cope by distancing myself from emotion. At this point, the forward movement of my life was not self-driven. I was fulfilling the responsibilities that had been set out for me: study, obtain a degree, and use the education I received. I was raised by two parents with master’s degrees from foreign universities, and in a way, there was an understanding that their children would follow in their footsteps.
I moved through college slowly, unsure of myself every step of the way, but I knew that completing my undergraduate degree satisfied my parents. By the time I received my bachelor’s degree, I had become what a lot of young immigrants become: a twenty-one-year-old slowly adapting to a new culture and its emphasis on youthful expressions of independence. I became convinced that I had fulfilled my obligation to my parents. Immediately after college, I announced I was going to culinary school.
This decision served two purposes:
I could embrace something that I had always loved, and I could remain in the United States. The culinary school’s structure and student visa gave me the peace of mind to focus my passions. It also gave me valuable tools I still draw on today, an education in the ways food is prepared and presented in the United States, and insights into how food is discussed in the media and in print. What happened in culinary school transformed the next fifteen years of my life, in ways that I could never have imagined.
I came from a four-year college where I did not have to be enrolled in summer courses to keep my status on a student visa. This was not the case in culinary arts school, as I found out during my first summer there. I did not enroll in summer classes and the bursar’s office mistook my non-enrollment to mean that I was no longer attending the school. They notified the office of immigration that I was no longer a student at the school. I alerted the school immediately of the mistake, but they were unable to fix it. The machinations of the US immigration system were already in motion: a visa status revoked, a series of letters generated, and a hearing set to order my removal. I would have to leave the country where I had carved out a home for the previous six years.
My life as an undocumented immigrant in the United States is a story that millions of others have lived and experienced. And like all those stories, it has its thread of unique experience. After I decided to stay, I went on to complete my courses at culinary school and began working at restaurants. The restaurant world can be a refuge of sorts for the undocumented. It is also a world that can push grief, suffering, or trauma from the forefront of your consciousness. The intensity of kitchen environments, and the adrenaline rushes they generated, propelled me forward. There was no discussion of my immigration status in the restaurant world. There was no focus on my life as the exile I was slowly becoming.
But I knew too that my sickle cell wouldn’t allow me to pull twelve-to-fifteen hour shifts forever. I couldn’t live on my feet. Persistent restaurant shifts make demands of the human body and will eventually fully consume it.
My move from restaurants to print publications, test kitchens, and cookbooks was an act of survival, and it is here where parts of my story may diverge from those of other undocumented people in the food industry. I transitioned from an environment populated by others without status, to a world where it quite literally didn’t occur to anyone that I would be undocumented.
My workday was different—I began assisting on shoots, styling food, testing recipes for others—but the substance of my work was exactly the same. In restaurants, I cooked the food Americans have come to identify as their cuisine. Although its source material is European, it is modified by indigenous or local ingredients and informed by the contributions of millions of immigrants who’ve arrived on these shores to inject their culture’s food into the assimilation and appropriation that surrounds them. The food I cooked in restaurants was the food I prepped for magazines and cookbooks. It was the food I studied and executed in culinary school. It is the food that people have been highlighting for generations.
My career in food media did not afford me the same distractions as my restaurant work. I began to consciously question whose food I was making. I didn’t see myself reflected in it. This is a critical part of work in any field: is our identity part of the substance of our work or are we merely stewards of someone else’s? More and more, I began to see that the food I was making for others omitted my own voice. I began to yearn for the food I had made growing up; the food my mother, grandmother, aunties, and ancestors had gifted me.