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Itsekiri Foods: Banga, Starch, Owo, and Garri

Hi Guys! I’m Oluwalanu!

And welcome (back) to my blog on African cultures!


Today I’m in Warri, exploring Itsekiri culture and I am very excited because today is food day! While in Warri, I tried two different Itsekiri meals. The first was banga soup and starch and the second was owo soup and garri. Let’s start with banga soup and starch!

I vividly remember trying banga soup for the first and only time when I was 7 years old. I remember not liking the taste so I was nervous to try it again. However, you guys know I am always down to try anything once. My motto is that if people out there, who eat it and love it, then it won’t kill me to try it.


So after my visit to the mangrove park, I asked my Keke driver to take me to where they sell the best banga and starch in Warri. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask for the name or exact location. I know you guys are going to fight me for this *hides*. Anyway, when I entered the bukka, I spoke to one of the sellers and asked for banga, one wrap of starch, and fresh fish.


Banga soup is made with oil palm fruits (banga). Later in my trip, I was lucky enough to see a street seller preparing it in Ode-Itsekiri. She pounded the palm fruits, added water little by little, and squeezed the mashed fruits to get the oil into the water. Afterward, she separated the liquid from the mashed banga and used the liquid to make the soup.



Starch is made from cassava. The original color of starch is white but Itsekiri people and others add palm oil when cooking it. That is what gives it a yellow color. Starch is very sticky so it must also be prepared in a non-stick pot.



Now, the fish! In so many cultures in Southern Nigeria, fish is a staple, and that is because we all live so close to the Atlantic Ocean. However, for states like Delta, Rivers, and Bayelsa, there are uncountable rivers surrounding their lands. Fish is such a huge part of Itsekiri people that is it has become one of the important symbols of their culture. There are all sorts of seafood found in the waters around Warri. Thus, that day in Warri, I ate the freshest fish cooked in my banga soup and it was so delicious.


After about 5 minutes of waiting, my food arrived. I dug in immediately unwrapping the starch to dip into the banga. But when I tried to pick the starch to cut it, I quickly realized why people talk about how you have to learn how to cut starch. It is the most sticky and gel-like swallow I have eaten. I struggled to cut it for minutes before finally giving up and asking one of the sellers how to cut it. She said I should twist and pull it. And finally, I was able to pull some apart and dip it in the banga.



My first taste of the banga and starch shocked me because it was sooooo good. I couldn’t believe I didn’t like this meal before. Maybe it was the one I ate or maybe it was just a child’s palette. Who knows but this banga banged! However, I thought the starch was just ok. I would love to try banga with pounded yam. I think I would enjoy that combination a lot better. Either way, I am definitely adding banga to my list of favorite Nigerian soups!



A few days later for lunch, I decided to try the second most popular swallow and soup combination in Warri, owo soup with garri!


After a little research, I learned that owo soup is made with oil palm fruits like banga soup. However, unlike banga soup, Owo is made with processed palm oil. Other ingredients include

tomatoes, onions, peppers, dried fish, your choice of meat, and ground crayfish. Potash or garri or both is also used to thicken the soup, depending on the cook.


In the afternoon, the keke driver took me to another bukka to eat owo soup and garri. They didn’t have any meat I recognized in the soup. I think it might have been bushmeat but I’m not sure. I just remember two girls laughing at me, saying, “don’t eat what you don’t know o” when I asked what meat it was. Again, I’m adventurous with food now so I asked the seller to bring it.


Garri or eba as Yoruba people call it, is very familiar to me. I have been eating it my whole life. Although, nowadays I don’t like it very much compared to other swallows. Garri is made out of cassava just like starch. It is believed that when the Portuguese landed in West Africa, the first ethnic group they met was the Itsekiri people. One of the things, the Portuguese introduced to the Itsekiri was cassava.



When I saw this drawing in Warri, I quickly remembered how while studying Afro-Brazilian culture in Lagos Island, I learned about how the Afro-Brazilians in Brazil traded cassava with the returnees in Lagos. Their slave masters in Brazil were the Portuguese and everything was adding up.


Cassava is a plant native to Brazil, which the Portuguese learned about after one of their ships first arrived in Brazil on its way to India around 1500. In Brazil, cassava is used to make the popular dish, tapioca, which is now also a staple meal of the Afro-Brazilians in Lagos. Across Southern Nigeria, from Lagos to Calabar, we use dried grated cassava to make garri (eba).



Anyway back to eating owo soup with garri. I don’t know what I was expecting but the first thing I noticed was that owo was a lot grittier than banga soup. It was delicious but I definitely preferred the banga. I didn’t finish the food but I could maybe attribute that to the fact I was eating it with garri.


All in all, I really enjoyed exploring and learning about Itsekiri foods! Hope you guys did as well!



Oluwalanu…xx

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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I am a writer and illustrator from Lagos, Nigeria.

 

In 2015, I started a company called IheartLagos with the aim of showcasing Lagos culture in a unique and fun way.

 

That journey took me down an exciting path, discovering and learning so much about Nigeria.

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