Isiewu is not for the squeamish. But for those edgy, adventurous foodies that love danger in food and would likely taste or eat anything.
Some are likely to be Anthony Bourdain fans like me and would have mourned the passing of one of the world’s greatest food adventurer.
I am not as fearless but I am still cool and edgy! Without a doubt, I hate jellied eels, black pudding, haggis, cold tongue, to name a few!
Living with my Grandmother
Growing up in Nigeria and the years I lived with my grandmother from age 4-10 years were the best and most exciting of my life!
She died when I was eleven, and I mourned her like my mother. At eleven, I went on to live with my parents, and my boring middle-class life ended that adventure.
Most of what I would write about food here began inception from those years. This is why I say cherish your every memory as you never know which ones would be your ultimate influence.
That was the period in which I was able to taste all the culinary food on offer on the streets of Lagos. No experience can beat this. It made me adventurous when it came to food. If you have gone anywhere in Africa and did not gone out to savour the street food in the local cafes especially Isiewu, then you have missed out.
In Nigeria, we call them Buka. They are local restaurants with some built of wooden structures that serve the tastiest food on the streets. I am currently writing a new private detective series (I know, I know, Deadly Sacrifice is not even out yet) with a truly inspiring female lead. You will love her, I promise! My characters meet their informants in the Bukas of Lagos. I could not resist that.
Buka Style restaurants
In London, we have a few restaurants that style themselves Buka. Covid-19 has them on lockdown, and I don’t know how they will strive post-lockdown.
Back to Isiewu. I have only eaten this tasty dish 3 or 4 times in my life. Each experience has been memorable.
In Nigeria and I believe most of Africa, meat is valued and it is precious. Furthermore, they are not animals pumped full of antibiotics and fed with gunk so that there is plenty to go round. Meat is grass-fed cows herded by the nomadic Fulani herdsmen and sold to local abattoirs.
Goats are reared in villages or farms and wander around eating yam peelings, banana peels, grass and other raw whole food. That is why when an animal is killed, every part of it is consumed. Nothing is wasted. I learnt to eat every part of an animal. A while back I tried to become a vegetarian but went back to eating meat.
What I will do in the next few articles will be to look at a particular part of an animal, that is a delicacy in say somewhere like Nigeria.
Today I chose Isiewu. It is cleaned and chopped spicy goat head cooked in palm oil, spices and herbs. Goat meat, which I love to eat, has a strong flavour and is tough meat. All of which ticks my boxes.
Isiewu teases your palate because it dances between savoury, spicy and a tinge of bitter. It is an Igbo dish. The Igbos are from the eastern part of Nigeria, and they are known for cooking healthy meat and fresh vegetable dishes. The author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is proudly Igbo.
My first taste of Isiewu was many, many years ago. I had just finished university and was on the National Youth Service Corps(NYSC). All university graduates in Nigeria must serve for a year before they are released into the job market. Most of the time, they use that year to gain some work experience. I chose to do my service in Kano, the North of Nigeria. It was a great year that was full of many adventurous, including culinary ones.
A lot of Igbos went to settle in the North of Nigeria, and some opened local cafes and restaurant. I had my Isiewu with the local palm wine. It was presented in a small clay pot, garnished with onions and herbs. I was told to dig in. I did!
Recently, a friend told me she was cooking Isiewu and asked if I would like some. Would you ask a bird if it wants to fly? Bad analogy, but hey oh! I eagerly agreed.
She cooked it to perfection, and it set my taste buds fluttering. I was all over that dish!
Wherever you are in the world If you happen to go to a Nigerian restaurant post-lockdown, be bold. Ask for Isiewu. Come back to tell me about it afterwards. I will still be here.