I actually love Abuja. It hit me when I skipped along that familiar oh-my-goodness-degree, tarmacked runway at Nnamdi Azikiwe airport a little while back. The sun slapped me around the face like beat down-toughened hands of an overzealous auntie, reminding me that I’m entirely too AC-spoiled for my own good.
I entered the baggage area, remembering the exact point where airport staff anxiously scanned your aural temperature during the Ebola Days. Oh, such sweet memories! Anti-bacterial gel scarcities driving the market price up, even though we all fully knew that Ebola was a virus… SMS hoaxes advised people to eat salt to avoid contracting the modern day plague. The Sign of Peace at church became a thing of the past and holy water blessings were optional. We were not playing. At. All. One thing Nigerians do very well is survival!
I knew God was on my side when my teal blue suitcase lumbered along first on the conveyor belt. As I awaited my bag, I pretended I was on the phone to dodge the furtive attentions of a lustful, middle-aged bystander. That’s another phenomenon I’ve noticed in Nigeria. If you travel there WILL be at least three “uncles” ready to hit on you in the airport. Whether you’ve sweated to biblical proportions and the flat of your back resembles the Great Flood, or you are giving the world the stinkiest of side eyes, it just doesn’t matter. Regardless of aesthetics and attitude, there will be one “uncle”, an older gentleman of uncertain years anywhere between 42 and 67, who is eyeing you up and down like the biggest piece of meat in a pot of soup. You will almost hear his lips smack as he mentally visualises the depths of depravity to which he will descend with you clasped in his outstretched claws. He is salivating and all you see is:
I’m sorry for the visual, but you need to know. Be warned and beware. He and a procession of other thirsty dudes will hit you up with business cards outstretched as if Printivo wasn’t having a 75% off sale.
Anyways, I digress. One of the best things about Abuja is the stunning geography. It is a mishmash of Lion King-esque, flat-topped green trees, bald, grey mountains and lazy, ancient rocks that nobody ever bothered to move.
Jabi, Abuja, FCT, Nigeria.
I remember rides from Maitama to Bwari during my tenure at Law School. The affluent, manicured suburbs melting into the lamp-lined motorway that snaked lazily into the mountains. There was a point on the journey where you left modernity behind as you took a sharp right turn off Nnamdi Azikiwe Expressway onto the road to Kubwa. Suddenly you are assaulted my hawkers and stalls spilling out of the Kubwa “Modern Market”. You wend through sluggish traffic, each turn taking you deeper into smaller and dustier and more crowded roads, like a fly dragging itself into a spider’s web. Despite the hustle and bustle, you can’t deny it: Abuja is bloody gorgeous.
Feeding the Foodie
Last weekend I was surrounded my friends and family, laughing and happy and traffic-free (a Lagosian’s fondest, wildest fantasy). Gist was strong, but the food was even better; and when it comes to eating like a king on a pauper’s budget, local knowledge is in invaluable. Good restaurants come in many forms: upscale fine dining, homely bukas, sit-outs elegantly dressed by starlight, and let’s face it, out and out shacks. Knowledge of the diamonds in the rough almost forms a part of folklore, our oral tradition. Never mind the fancy trappings of Transcorp, sometimes the best food comes in the most humble places.
So, since sharing is caring, here’s a rundown of what you shouldn’t miss in Gwarinpa, Nigeria’s largest estate and home to swarms of young professionals:
1.TUTTI FRUTTI/ YOGABERRY
Frankly, I know there is a God because there is such a thing as Tutti Frutti. With branches in Wuse 2 next to KFC and in Gwarimpa, this self-serve frozen yoghurt place is something else and then some. The décor even reminds you of something vaguely lickable.
But the froyo! Oh my giddy aunt. I look into the bottom of that cup and I see the face of the Almighty. The tangy, milky sweetness, meets the refreshing coolness to melt into unholy/godly perfection in my mouth. I love Tutti Frutti only slightly less than my mother. I mean, if I’ve got a frown on my face, just wave some Tutti Frutti under my nose and I’m all sunshine, rainbows and butterflies. It’s just some pretty amazeballs froyo.
Yogaberry gets a word in but the yoghurt tastes a bit cheesy, a mon avis. Yogaberry tries, sha, but it ain’t no Tutti Frutti.
Shwarma or “shawarma” (pronounced sha-wah-mah) is a new national cuisine. It’s shredded chicken, cabbage and various veggies safely tucked into a toasted pita wrap. And due to my protein addiction, I proudly profess myself a huge fan. The shawarma nation is strictly divided into two camps: With the Sausage and Without the Sausage. Three guesses where I hail from. 😉
Nadrim is a local favourite, kind of attached to a supermarket like a delicious, boozy afterthought.
Let’s face it, Abuja is the home, birthplace and pinnacle of suya. Those smoky, seasoned little titbits of proteinaceous joy are a religion and I went on pilgrimage. Yahuza is my priest and confessor. I have spent many a penny in this chain of suya joints, always conveniently tucked away beside some kind of attraction. This time I found my way to Gwarimpa branch, and typical delights awaited my delectation.
First of all, don’t let the humble environment distract you. This is suya made the right way, in a massive smoking oven stacked high with whatever cut of marinated meat you might prefer: beef, chicken, gizzard, liver, kidney, the world is your oyster. Don’t even get me started on the yaji! Be still my beating heart! Yaji is the soul of suya. It is the powdered spice mix, the recipe of which is a secret closely guarded in the “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you” tradition. (I suspected ground peanuts, smoked paprika, ginger and garlic but what the hell do I know?)
Of course, pair suya with some pillowy soft masa (Hausa roasted rice cakes), and you are well on your way to nirvana. Naturally, tell your salad-dodging self that you have an interest in the accompanying raw salad/self-defeatist decoration of cabbage, tomatoes and onion. Then tell yourself you couldn’t possibly a bite any more once you have conquered the meat. Forget everything you parents ever taught you. Eat the meat first! Dooooo it!!!
4. POPCORN JOINT
Just opposite Yahuza is a pretty impressive popcorn joint. Yes, these places exist, offering flavours ranging from “sweet” to fruit flavours to cheese and onion (!!!) There’s even a 7D cinema close by. I clearly wasn’t paying attention in Physics class a gazillion years ago, but I didn’t think this was actually possible. Unfortunately, the name escapes me, but the flavour didn’t! It was pretty bomb.
5. MYSTERY BUKKA
This place gets an honourable mention. It redefines “hole in the wall” place but it is soooo good!
So my friend showed me a funky little bukka in the middle of nowhere and I must say, my mouth was pleasantly entertained for N500. In the midst of a recession, that price point is pretty damn irresistible. For the cost of a recharge card, we ate like kings enjoying their speciality: fried turkey, party jollof, pepper sauce and salad. I wish I had two more hands so I could give this four thumbs up! :-p
Note: With bukkas and all other Nigerian street food, you take your intestinal health in your hands. Proceed with extreme caution! Food poisoning is not cute!
All in all my trip was food for my belly and food for my soul.
Abuja? Forty-four thumbs up!