I’m not sure where I learned it. I suspect, romcoms released in the early 2000s. But whenever my crush aired my texts or I had just received a talk down for not washing plates I was supposed to indulge in a huge tub of ice-cream, that I’d finish alone.
But being a Nigerian living in Nigeria I always hit a couple of roadblocks with that plan. The first was what I’d think is a bowl of Fanice in the freezer would turn out to be egusi. The second was that even if there was ice cream it was reserved for special occasions. Which meant that on the rare occasion that there was ice cream in the fridge and I indulged my mum would give me ten more reasons to need ice cream by the time she found out.
So what did I do when I found out my crush actually liked another girl, or that I wasn’t going to be going on a field trip which all my friends would be going on? I indulged in a huge plate of Starch and Owo with a dash of Okporoko on the side. Two swallows in and no matter what was wrong in the world my body will start to feel alright.
I’m Urhobo so my love for Owo and Starch comes as no surprise to most people. But I never had it until I turned 13.
On a two week holiday in Ughelli with an over-indulgent aunt, I discovered Starch and Owo.
For many people, Starch is an acquired taste. For me it was love at first swallow. Maybe it was in my genes and I was bound to love it. Or that I spent the two weeks sharing huge bowls of Starch and Owo with family I had never known. And immersing in culture I had never felt a connection with.
But I think what sealed it for me was the fact that the first swallow ignited taste buds I didn’t know existed. At 13 even though I wasn’t sexually active, I was pretty sure it was what sex felt like. At 23 with a couple of lovers notched on my belt I can tell you for certain that it comes pretty damn close.
Ice-cream bowls full of stew isn’t my reality alone. So I talked to a couple of friends and tried to find out what comfort food meant to them. Some of the butty ones actually got to indulge in ice cream #cantrelate. Others talked about their grandmother’s okra soup or jollof rice from an Iya Bas they’ve been going to for several years.
For my friend Boyin, plantain is all she needs for everything to be right in her world. Not just any plantain, the kind that is fried several days after it has become overripe. After her first breakup instead of a tub of ice-cream, I showed up at her house with hugs and a bowl full of plantain.
As time passed comfort food for me evolved. In my later years in boarding school, it was a meat and vegetable based snack the sellers liked to call samosa (but was most definitely not) from Queen’s College’s tuck shop (QCOGs if you know, you know). Getting samosa meant cutting out of class early and battling hundreds of hungry girls to get mine before they ran out. And it was worth every elbow jab to the face, and getting punished by a senior I cut in front of. But only after I had eaten my samosa.
In University it was jollof rice from Shop 10 in UNILAG which I ate almost every single day for 5 years straight. It came in especially handy when I got my first E in Criminal Law. That day I must have eaten a thousand naira worth of Shop 10’s Jollof.
You might never have given it a lot of thought, but we all have our comfort food, and it usually looks nothing like what the movies sold us. You’ve probably never thought of it as comfort food. Just that meal that made you stop crying when you are just gotten the shit beaten out of you. Or the first thing you eat when you get news that you just lost a job you loved.
So what’s your comfort food?