By: ÌyanuOlúwa Fágbiyè T.
Let me take you on a journey — a journey that involves the mind, body and spirit. A journey to the ancestral lab narrating the chemistry behind the exquisite cuisine Akara. Akara (with the Yoruba accent do-do-do) written as Àkàrà . Historical records show Àkàrà transitioning story and journey out from where it was originally made dates way back to the 17th and 18th Century when about 1.7 million slaves were taken during the slave trade to northeastern state of Bahia in Brazil.
The slaves took along their food culture with them. Àkàrà from the Yoruba language indeed lost it at that point it was called Acarajé (If this word is broken into bits you call it ‘Acara’ synonymous to Akara. ‘Je’ which is eat) the similarities and origin behind this can’t be far-fetched if looked deeply.
The captured slaves lost part of their identity because of the trade, it is evident that the food culture wasn’t lost totally they held on to their rich food culture which in return fostered the uniqueness and prosperity of akara. Àkàrà which the Brazilian call Acarajé was transferred based on cultural contact and diffusion of cultural elements what anthropologist call acculturation.
Àkàrà is a typical household meal for Saturdays this doesn’t mean it can’t be eaten on every other day but many homes like in Nigeria enjoy and mostly make it on Saturdays not forgetting the twin sister moi moi. This always come on Saturdays because of the process involved in making it.
Speaking of eating it on every other day, I remember at some point when growing. In the morning, on my way to school I see the ladies who sell koko/akamu — fry akara everyday at the frying point located at the main junction. They usually make the koko or akamu from their houses but fry the akara at the junction the junction is usually crowded by mostly bike riders also known as okada. I got a closer look at how they go about the process — after peeling the beans, they ground and further beaten using a wooden turning stick to incorporate air some even use mortal and pestle. This technique was what was passed down to them same technique is still used till date. Only that advancement in technology has taken over which gave rise to the New Nigerian Kitchen where equipments like a hand-whisk or standing mixer even a food processor is used to incorporate air to make the batter more airy.
Àkàrà is enjoyed across Africa it is made using black-eyed beans or honey beans / ewa oloyin,
The process begins from sorting out the beans, the skin of the beans is usually peeled off and later ground into a thick bean paste to the bean paste, freshly chopped or ground dried peppers are added, onions and salt is also added. I’ve seen quite a lot of reinvention overtime with the addition of seasonings and crayfish which actually taste real good when added moderately. It is later deep-fried in hot peanut oil or palm oil it is enjoyed with bread, pap, custard, oat. Overtime I’ve read and heard a whole lot of myths behind frying Àkàrà with palm oil. Firstly, I’ll like to clarify that there’s nothing wrong with consuming red palm oil frying it with Àkàrà generated some controversies in oral traditions where many claim the palm oil changed into blood this isn’t true and those who tell such stories have no proof the only thing this does is to demean and foster the preconceived notion or idea that palm oil isn’t edible but, scientifically palm oil has been proven to be edible and highly nutritious.
Writing this made me think of a better way of appraising and acknowledging this phenomenal cuisine. It goes thus;
Akara the fritter
Our Saturday cravings,
Akara the food of the goddess.
The one who survives the rigorous process of shedding its skin off just to please eaters,
We celebrate the technique behind this great creation.
Akara is never perfect without the unavoidable and irresistible knights — Onion, pepper and salt.
The one meal that is deep-fried in hot oil just to look perfect in the eyes of the beholder.
Àkàrà do-do-do (with the Yoruba accent)
A dish that has traveled through the length and breadth of the world from the region: Nigeria, State of Bahia, Salvador, Mali, Ghana, Benin, Togo, The Gambia.
Brazilians call it Acarajé,
In Nigeria, even though it is called koose in the northern part the never changing name Akara remains constant on everyone’s lips.
In conclusion, we can always do better by celebrating our cuisines and putting it on the world food map reinventing how it’s made and hopefully, we get to put away stereotypical views and actually co-exists as humans — as well, see Àkàrà Burger on menu list in restaurants in the nearest future till then keep enjoying this delicious masterpiece.