From Nyanya to Wuse: A White Soup Love Story
If you are a Nigerian and you haven't heard of white soup, then I feel it is my duty as a moral being to kindly ask you to step out from under your rock because a wonderful world awaits. Called Afia Efere by the Efik and Ofe Nsala by the Igbo, white soup isn't actually white at all.
Crazy, I know.
I still remember the first time I tasted white soup, not vividly, my mind has paid time’s toll and blurred those precious memories. So, I do not remember if the sky was sunny that day or if birds flew about chirping and cooing in joyful abandon. What I do remember, clear as though it was just yesterday, was the unexpected feeling of pure joy as I, sitting in the cafeteria of the old NAFDAC office in Garki, tasted white soup for the first time. I never did eat in that cafeteria again. NAFDAC moved the next month and the cafeteria cook has probably moved on to hopefully better things.
A couple years later, older and with a more discerning palette, I had decided to find out if my childhood memories had indeed exaggerated the appeal of white soup. Nostalgia is a funny thing. Sure, it makes us more human, but there’s always that thing where what you really liked as a child isn’t any good. And that, can be heartbreaking.
The first problem I had to overcome was locating the right spot. I couldn't just taste any ol' white soup and pass judgement on white soup in general. They say you must kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince, but I’m not interested in kissing any frogs. The odds of a bad white soup experience had to be next to zero. So, with my ears to the ground and a lot of asking around, I narrowed down my options to two spots: one in the semi-urban enclaves of Nyanya, and the other in Wuse, Abuja’s apparent commercial heart.
The first spot was located precisely in "Abacha Road", an unfortunately named small town nestled between Mararaba, Karu and Nyanya. It was a small dingy looking restaurant named Calabar Kitchen. At first glance, it was terribly disappointing to be honest. From the rickety looking plastic chairs carelessly arranged around equally rickety looking tables, to the general unhygienic look and aura of the place.
I didn't have white soup that day.
Not because the place scared me off, I've been to worse. No, it was simply because that they were out of white soup already. Three more times I went and three more times I left disappointed. Fed up, I decided to give Wuse a shot.
Kool Kitchen, located in Wuse Zone 3, was a nondescript joint with plain and simple decorations. The aroma, however, told another story - one of great promise. The bowl of white soup and the accompanying plate of pounded yam placed before me was a marvel to behold. The simmering bowl of soup was rich with diced chicken pieces, which all had a nice golden glaze.
Each mouthful was a fiesta of flavours. The chicken was just the right amount of chewy and the accompanying pounded yam was perfection. Silky smooth with a little bit of stretch to it, the pounded yam was everything pounded yam should be. The broth was a bit of a letdown, it was silent throughout the whole meal and adding nothing to the experience. All in, it was a great meal, but it had failed to blow my mind.
Not ready to give up, I decided to give Calabar Kitchen one more try. The first thing that hit me was the very generous serving of soup. This time, I went with goat meat over chicken in the hopes that the goat meat would bring better luck. The goat meat was divine and rich in flavor, lacking the characteristic toughness associated with goat meat. The real trump card here was the broth. It was thick with assorted ingredients and contained a host of flavors, which against all odds complemented each other.
The white soup at Calabar Kitchen was thankfully a lot closer to my childhood memories and it rekindled the flames of my long-lost love. The little boy in me felt validated.
Maybe nostalgia isn’t so bad after all.
Fori Joseph is a part-time conspiracy theorist, who spends most of his time reading fantasy books and then criticizing them.