For someone who was nick-named baby elephant as an overweight kid, I was quite a picky eater. I still am. Getting into a relationship changed a lot for me, particularly with food. And I don’t think we talk enough about how falling in love can change what we’re willing to eat. You find yourself wanting to try their favourite flavour of ice cream, or like me, somehow contemplating why plantain may not suck.
Before you fight me, let me explain. I’ve never enjoyed eating foods like plantain, bread, custard or pap and sweet potatoes. Plantain was too sweet, I only liked the crust of brown bread, hated the lack of texture with custard and pap, and sweet potatoes just don’t need to be sweet. I also liked my food in a specific way if I was going to eat it. For instance, my bread had to be toasted, and specifically, without butter. And if I was going to come close to fried eggs, they needed to have chopped tomatoes and onions to be enjoyable.
I think what stressed my mum out the most was feeding me rice or pasta. I could never eat either if they got soft. Let’s just say I knew pasta needed to be al dente without knowing what it even meant. And when every inch of my white rice wasn’t covered in stew, you were practically wasting your time trying to get me to eat it.
Things got worse when my parents took me along for holiday trips to Cardiff, Wales, in 2000. My father was enrolled as a master’s student at Cardiff University, so I spent quite a bit of time travelling with my mum to visit. I loved the rush of being in the airport, getting on the trains and exploring huge malls. But the food was my least favourite part of our trips. Those memories of exploring cuisine outside eba and ogbono, my favourite soup, became clearer in 2003 when I was five years old.
The first time I was given mashed potatoes and chicken nuggets, I wailed. I didn’t like the idea of eating food that looked pre-chewed. Of course, being abroad hadn’t taken out the Nigerian in my mother, so she force-fed me through the tears. Then, oh, when I tried hamburgers at McDonald’s for the first time? I didn’t understand the concept of eating a thick piece of meat in between dry bread. I also didn’t like the taste of the mayonnaise and ketchup. My dad wasn’t going to let me waste the pounds he’d just spent, so I deconstructed the hamburger and ate only the meat. That was my last time at McDonald’s.
So I wasn’t the most exotic human when it came to food as a kid. My palate didn’t evolve as a teenager. When I was 15 and travelled to Ethiopia for a school trip, I was so adamant about sticking to rice and meat. The most interesting thing I ate off the buffet list was pancakes and sausages.
Ghana was probably the only country where I allowed myself to try new foods. And it was because of the similarities with our cuisine. The difference was how they were paired. For instance, yam and egusi were a thing, and I absolutely loved the taste. I also fell in love with waakye and shito because it was basically rice, beans and pepper sauce when I skipped the garri, spaghetti and egg that’s typically mixed into the waakye.
As I got older, going on dates was very difficult. I didn’t eat pizza because I didn’t like the look of cheese, or shawarma, because of the cream. My go-to snacks were scotch eggs, meat pies or muffins. And at restaurants, if I wasn’t ordering small chops — without the puff puff — as a starter and jollof rice as my main dish, then I’d order chicken and chips. Yes, I was basic.
I was also not the type of girl to take to big events because I’d shamelessly pick at my food or spend the whole evening loading on cocktails and finger foods like samosas. Maybe I wasn’t made for a man with exquisite taste in food.
When I got into my first real relationship at 19, it was with a guy who wanted to try everything. The funny thing was how opposite he was when it came to trying new things outside of food. He preferred a routine and strict pattern, but I was more laid-back and open-minded. Too bad none of my spontaneity translated to food. I was still searching for jollof rice wherever we went.
But my next relationship completely took me out of my comfort zone with food. I met Akinola* at uni when I was 20, but we started dating two years later. He was way more outgoing than I was, so I’d found my match when it came to spontaneity in a relationship.
But when it came to food, we clashed a lot in the first few months of dating. He always wanted to share a plate with me and I couldn’t stand the way he ate his food. For instance, rice. The guy preferred to eat raw onions and tomatoes with his than just plain old white rice and stew or jollof. And unlike me who spread stew across rice or pasta without mixing, he needed to furiously mix the stew in the food — I disliked the sight of it.
I think the hardest experience with Akinola was trying coleslaw for the first time. I never liked the sight of vegetables soaked in cream but the guy made it seem like the next best thing since ogbono. And now, I can’t imagine eating rice without coleslaw.
The most shocking thing I allowed myself to try with Akinola in 2022 was shawarma. The guy couldn’t let go of the fact a human being had never tried shawarma. Heck, it pained him to order shawarma alone when we went out. One day, I just gave into the pressure and tried it.
I think my best experience was trying pasta at his birthday dinner in March. I never understood the Twitter pasta craze — I still don’t — because it doesn’t seem right to douce it in cheese. It took me like 15 minutes to finally pick penne pasta because it was the only option with a tomato base and no cheese. His birthday and our date trying Indian curries at Cilantro in June are memories I’m happy we created rather than my default decision to turn down new food.
Maybe pasta is overrated and you need new options: Nigerian Women Need to Leave Pasta Alone and Try Out These 8 Other Meals
Honestly, Akinola has helped me learn to compromise with food a little bit. It’s been nine months of dating, and I’ve crossed so many lines, especially with how I cook. Never in my life did I imagine chopping spring onions and carrots into my chicken pepper soup or dicing up tomatoes in my rice for anybody’s son.
Plantain, sweet potatoes, amala, custard and pap are food boundaries I’m not willing to cross. And a new addition to my list is bread and akara because two dry foods shouldn’t be forced into one. How does it pass your throat without choking?
While I’ve started exploring foods my boyfriend enjoys, I’ve also forced him to fall in love with my go-to meals like fried yam. Eating roadside yam and sausages has even become our favourite pastime. But cooking together has been the best part of exploring our relationship. I wonder what food adventures love may take me next. Maybe I’ll give amala a shot since I’m stuck with a Yoruba man.
Read this if, like me, you’ve never tried amala: A Step-by-Step Guide to Loving Amala