I remember being fond of Amala, growing up. As a child who did not fancy eating, surprisingly Amala had a way of whetting my appetite and melting my heart.
Most Nigerians who eat amala, love this food to its light weight morsel and it can be eaten at any time of the day (I don’t mind eating amala in the morning). Popularly paired with ewedu and gbegiri, these partners in crime when garnished with a variety of different cow parts aptly branded as Orisiris’ will leave your stomach rumbling for more.
There is something about amala when eaten hot, it gives the replica of a sauna effect to the body. It is a sweaty contest that engages the two hands while the right hand is swooping the amala in, the left hand is busy wiping the beads of sweat oozing out from the pores of your face. Most people savour the Buka-type of amala but many of these roadside canteens are poorly ventilated, this leaves the armholes of your clothing sticky with sweat and engraved with circular bold patches. But when you step out, there is a wide grin on your face, a toothpick hinged unto of your tooth because it was a keenly contested fight but you knocked the amala out and won.
Amala is a very important food in Nigeria especially among the Yorubas, it is locally labelled as ‘Oka’ and originates from the Western part of the country. It is crowned one of the prime Yoruba culinary especially among the people of Oyo state. This popular delicacy is made from yam or cassava flour. The flour also known as Elubo is processed from yams when they are peeled and dried. Ever wondered why it is dark in complexion, Amala derives its colour from yam when it turns brown after drying it.
Nothing kills the swag of any amala faster, than when there are lumps in tiny clusters all over the food. But thanks to the omorogun, when wielded with precision and just the right amount of muscle contraction, the amala served is soft and uniformly textured. This morsel is believed to have some medicinal powers ingrained within its fibres that fuels its consumers with grit and oomph. A famous Yoruba saying also attests to the medicinal prowess of this food, “Iyan ni onje, oka ni oogun, ki enu ma sile ni ti guguru’.” This saying is translated thus, ‘Pounded yam is food, Amala is a medicine, and popcorn is an appetiser.’ It is indeed a medical prescription for some folks, they cannot do without a dose of amala daily. It is a violation of their fundamental human rights to deprive them of this delicacy.
What the love of amala can do knows no bound. Sometimes while eating, the soup may drip down to the elbow but the mouth refuses to let go and sucks the trickle at the tip of the elbow. This may not exactly be your style, but some folks can go to that extent for the delight of this wholesome food. How do you like your amala, island or mainland style? While some people want their amala swimming in the soup – Island, with the ewedu and gbegiri forming an asymmetrical circumference round it, the stew is poured like local gin over the amala in obeisance and the beefs stand like pillars adjoining it. But others still prefer their amala detached from the soup, served in different china wares.
My late grandfather, Pa Jude Akanbi was an amala aficionado. He loved eating amala with efo riro and ogbufe washed down with freshly tapped palmwine. It was always hard for him to hide his glee whenever my cousins and I visited him in the village during the holidays. Grandpa never failed to share his darling dish with us, having us form a crescent round his table, each taking turns as we partook in this hallowed communion.
There are some unspoken rubrics governing amala, but the principal rubric is, amala must be eaten with the fingers at anytime and anywhere. Lest we forget, the amala contest is best fought with the fingers engaging these steps in no particular order – rolling the morsel slightly into a ball, then lapping up the soup with the morsel quite rounded, while intermittently tearing the beef, showing no mercy and breaking the bones with pleasure. Amala is a hand to mouth affair, how dare you use fork and knife to eat it? This classy act of using cutlery is a disrespect to the holy grail of this esteemed dish.
The teeming number of local restaurants who have carved a niche for themselves as connoisseurs of this local delight ‘Amala joints’ continue to triple every day, with wide tentacles reaching many cities in the country. Foodies who are resident in Lagos, know there is a directory of cool spots where this food is sold with Abula, a combination of ‘Gbegiri and Ewedu’ soup and eaten with its characteristic colours of heat and sweat.
Amala is chiefly eaten by all and sundry, crisscrossing its way through different tribes, borders and it has gained a national status. The Oyo state government hosted a fiesta, ‘Ajodun Oka’ late last year to celebrate and preserve the ‘Amala’ culinary heritage which is a symbol of pride to the nation locally and internationally.
Originally Published on Kalahari Review