The Universal Language: Food

No matter where you are in the world, people come together in two areas: food and celebrations. Nigeria is no exception.

My friend Daniel, a Nigerian native turned Auburn Tiger, highlighted these two things when describing his adjustments here in America.

Daniel told me how much he loves chicken (don’t we all?) and we discussed how something as simple as chicken can be prepared to taste so differently. It’s true though, isn’t it? The reason has to do with spices. Nigerians typically use a more savory palate to prepare dishes. Here in America, we tend to mix it up, using spices that are both sweet and salty, sour and tangy.

Jollof rice and chicken is a staple Nigerian dish, according to Daniel, and is typically served on holidays including Christmas and Easter. Maybe you could try to convince your family to include jollof rice in your Easter dinner this weekend. Hey, it is worth a try, right?

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Jollof rice and chicken

Plantains and beans are other foods often littered throughout Nigerian meals. Daniel also told me about akara, which are fried bean cakes. I am, however, less convinced about bringing these to my Easter dinner. I know we love to fry things in the South, but I think beans is where I draw the line. Sorry, Daniel.

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Akara, fried beans

We all know food and parties go hand in hand. We can see that on birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and even on the days when you make a good grade and celebrate with a Toomer’s ice cream sandwich. (I know I am not the only one.) Food lifts spirits and gives people a way to connect.

In Nigeria, festivals are where this takes place. The streets are lined with different delicacies where people come together in vivid color to socialize and observe the art of dance. If you aren’t participating, you bring the kids and make it a family affair.

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Young Nigerian girls showing off their dance and smile at a festival.

As Daniel and I were discussing these festivals and how food plays an integral role, I couldn’t help but compare that with my family’s celebrations and memories shared over a good home cooked meal.

Growing up, we always ate Sunday lunch at my grandmother’s house. Aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone. It was guaranteed.

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My grandmother- doesn’t she look like she could make the best chicken and dumplings?

Therefore, when thinking back on my childhood, and life in general, the times sitting around the table eating my grandmother’s chicken and dumplings are some of the most influential times in my life. For me, it was over food that problems were solved and dreams were realized. It turned cousins into siblings and meals into family affairs.

I realize that there are a lot of stark differences between Nigerian celebrations and south Alabama Sunday lunches, but there are also a lot of similarities.

It is all fundamentally about the same thing, love.

I know it sounds cheesy and it probably is, but that is what food and celebration is about. It is about using tastebuds to tie people and experience together.

(Plus, nothing says love like your grandmother’s homemade cobbler. You can practically taste the hugs in the crust.)

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