Self-proclaimed fufu-head Peter J. Kim sits down with comedian Ego Nwodim and Afrobeat pioneers Femi and Made Kuti to discuss ultimate jollof, Nigerian religi-pop, and the beloved ball of cooked starch that goes by many names.
Self-proclaimed fufu-head Peter J. Kim sits down with comedian Ego Nwodim and Afrobeat pioneers Femi and Made Kuti to discuss ultimate jollof, Nigerian religi-pop, and the beloved ball of cooked starch that goes by many names.
That's a wrap on season 1 of Counterjam. We'll be back in May with season 2. In the meantime—follow Counterjam on Spotify for bonus playlists, and subscribe to the show so you don't miss a thing.
Peter J. Kim: What is going on? I am Peter J. Kim and this is Counterjam on the Food52 Podcast Network, where we celebrate culture through food and music.
Peter: Uhh, take a second and soak in this groove. That, my friends, is the sound of Afrobeat, a style of music pioneered by the late, great Fela Kuti of Nigeria. And yes, we're talking Nigerian food culture this time around: fufu, moin-moin, dodo and so many other delicious things, with comedian Ego Nwodim of Saturday Night Live and not one but two of the standard bearers of Fela Kuti’s musical legacy: Fela’s son Femi Kuti and Femi’s son Made Kuti. This is going to be an intergenerational intercontinental breakdown of one of Africa's most diverse food cultures. But first, here's one hell of a funky song from Legacy +, a double album that Femi and Made released jointly. This song is on Femi’s half and true to the Kuti family legacy, it calls on people to hold their government officials accountable. Here's “Na Bigmanism Spoil Government” by Femi Kuti.
Peter: That was “Na Bigmanism Spoil Government” by Femi Kuti, the first of three tracks that we’ll be spinning today from Femi Kuti and Made Kuti’s double album Legacy +. I want to lead off with a very important note. We'll be talking about Nigeria in this episode, but let's remember that Nigeria as a political entity is artifice. As is the case with so many other African nations, its borders were not decided by its inhabitants. They were dictated by colonial powers, in this case, British colonizers. So I'm going to use the term Nigerian food in this episode. But I want to make clear that when I say Nigeria, I'm talking about an area that comprises a rich tapestry of cultures that spans over 200 million people who speak more than 500 languages. Okay, with that said, I love Nigerian food. It closely resembles the kind of food I ate for nearly two and a half years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon. I was 23 years old, living in a beautiful village called Bankim near the border with Nigeria. It was, as they’d say in Cameroon, in the bush. I had no running water or electricity, and there were no paved roads. During my time there, I started a program called L’Art De Vivre that paired art classes with public health education. Over time, I developed close friendships and became accepted in the community. I spoke a couple of the local languages. I knew how to swig palm wine, pound fufu, fish, tend the crops, and do all the sorts of things that are at the heart of Cameroonian village life. So you'll note throughout this episode that I have a major soft spot for Nigerian food. And, well, it's because it reminds me so much of my time in Cameroon. In this episode, we're going to see Nigerian food culture from two perspectives. On the one hand, we'll hear from comedian Ego Nwodim, a Nigerian American born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. On the other hand, we'll hear from father and son Femi and Made Kuti, both born and raised in Nigeria. When I spoke to Femi and Made, they were at their home just outside of Lagos, and the conversation got off to a bit of a rocky start.
(cross-talking and doors slamming)
Peter: Ok, Femi and Made, I don't know if you can hear me, but we have lost you. And so if you can hear me, you will need you to rejoin.
Femi: Oh, sorry about that. The...we have no electricity, so we have to put on the gen. So before this started, I told him to put on the gen in case the electricity goes off. So, what happened was, the generator broke down. So we have to put on the spare gen. (laughing) So it's--so it's, I mean, we live in a very hectic environment. You need two, three generators because of the electricity, which goes off, on, off, on, off. Uh, Nigeria is crazy. We have to go through this every day.
Peter (voiceover): Thankfully, we sorted things out. We started talking about a dish called jollof rice, which is as close to a national dish as Nigeria has. Here's how Made explained it.
Made: It's rice made with stew in the rice, (laughing) and the stew is made to be part of the rice. And yeah, it's, well, it's the best kind of rice there is. And you know, it's--there's this whole argument going on with who has the best jollof rice, Nigeria or Ghana or Cameroon or this place. And it really--it's a pointless argument because it really depends on the cook. I’ve had bad Nigerian jollof and I’ve had fantastic Nigerian jollof. Yes. And you have the choice of rice. It doesn't matter what type of rice you use. I prefer basmati rice.
Femi: Basically, jollof rice, you put--you put as much ingredients as--sometimes we might even have egg in the jollof rice. You might have a corned beef in the jollof rice, so...but you have to be an expert at how you mix it, so you don't put too much of anything. So it's how you blend all those ingredients and mix them all together with the rice.
Peter (voiceover): I spoke with Ego, who thankfully, did not need to fire up two backup generators to make the interview happen. And it's safe to say she shared Made’s love for jollof.
Ego: When we kind of went into this lockdown, I was making jollof rice with regularity. Um, but then that also starts to do a number on you. So I stopped because--and, and then it was like, I'm making a big pot. I only know how to make a big pot of it, right? But I live alone. I'm a single woman. And so I have this big pot of, uh, jollof rice, but--and you say, like, “Oh, it'll last you days and days,” but it would be so good that I would eat probably 3 to 4 bowls in one sitting, and then that's not healthy. So I was like, “This is not sustainable. I have to stop doing this.” And then there was right before I, like, tapered off on making jollof rice regularly, it was like, “It's so good. I want it to myself.” So--but then I was like, “You know, this is not a way to live.” So I started offering it to friends. But I can't make Nigerian food the way my mom does. So then I just kind of sit it out.
Peter (voiceover): As someone who's eaten his fair share of jollof, I can attest. It can be crazy good. Femi shared the way jollof is done at the Shrine, the legendary music venue and restaurant in Lagos that he owns and performs in.
Femi: The best jollof rice are party jollof rice, weddings. When you go to all these big weddings, like there's a--we always have this New Year's party, and the girl who cooks for The Shrine, she has a restaurant in The Shrine. Her auntie used to be a great cook during my father's time, so she took over. She makes--ah, her jollof rice is like killing. When you eat her jollof rice you--there's no jollof rice better than her jollof rice I've ever tasted. She's an acute jollof rice party maker. You know what--she can make for 1000 people, and it's--you know, some people make it, and if you don't get there quickly, the next batch is not as nice. This is--every section of the jollof rice is excellent.
Peter (voiceover): So it turns out that the battle of the best jollof rice isn't just fought over national borders. It's fought within families, too. Femi’s praise for the jollof rice at the Shrine omitted a key detail: the jollof rice is made by his partner, Antonia. Made picked up on this right away.
Made: I have to cut in there because for the record, I just have to state that the best jollof rice I've tasted are by Auntie Dakwo, not Antonia.
Femi: No! Why you being--you want to put me to trouble? (laughing) Now you see, Made is a big fool because now he wants to put me in big trouble, because he's mentioning my partner so--if I don't tell you that our own jollof rice is the best in this world, well, of course I'm not going to sleep. You see? (laughing) Peter, what Made did just now is totally unfair. And I am going to--I'm really angry and upset, because he's taking two names because I didn't mention them. They can kill me, those two names. You see Tonia--now, Tonia makes jollof rice with love. You see, there's a big difference from party jollof rice. Tonia is not making for 1000 people, she's making for people she loves. So she’s--she makes that jollof rice with--”Oh, these people I love, these people are my people,” so there's no comparison. So don't. It's not what I was talking about. You are dead. I want to kill you, you see, because now you got me into trouble. (laughing)
Peter: Uh oh, well, this is not my intent. I don't want to sow any discord in the Kuti family, please. (laughing)
Peter (voiceover): Hoo boy, remind me to never again wade into a discussion of who makes the best jollof rice in a Nigerian family. Ego walked me through her process of making jollof rice.
Ego: I can tell you how to make it. We're gonna sauté some onions and garlic in some vegetable oil. And then, uh, take some tomato paste. And I like mine to be tomato heavy. So maybe I do a little more tomato paste, um, and you grind onions and tomatoes and like, purée them. Um, you can put a protein if you'd like. I usually put like, uh, the beef cubes that people use for stew in it.
Peter: Maggi cube?
Ego: Oh, and then Maggi cubes. Oh, my goodness. You can't make it without Maggi cubes. I don't think any gold bouillon cube was going to work. I have a very strong stance on that. I should say.
Peter: Oh, hell yeah.
Ego: (laughing) It's got to be the Maggi cube. Yeah, it's gotta be the Maggi cube. I don't care what's in it, but I don't want to know.
Peter: It’s deliciousness, is what's in it.
Ego: (laughing) Yes, exactly.
Peter (voiceover): Alright. Remember when I talked about how diverse Nigeria was? Well, zoom out to West Africa more broadly, and you have an even more diverse region. But this, I think, is one of the few foods that unites the entire region. Maggi cube. Little cube-shaped umami bombs wrapped in yellow and red foil that go into and onto everything: in stews, on meat sticks, in omelets, on fish, with vegetables. I honestly don't think you can cook West or Central African food without it. I would be remiss to not mention the predecessors to Maggi cube: umami rich ingredients such as iru, which is a fermented locust bean. But peep inside your typical West African pantry and you'll probably see Maggi cube.
(laughing) I have to admit, I was a little star struck while speaking with Femi. I mean, he and his family have shaped the musical culture of an entire region, and the message behind his music and his father's music helped me at a young age, form the progressive political views that are intrinsic to who I am today. As awesome as his musical talents are, he made a claim about his culinary skills that I took, shall I say, with a grain of Maggi?
Femi: I used to be a great cook at one time. Everybody used to say my food was the best until they turned me into the house cook. So I protested. Oh, and they used to psych me. “Oh, oh, Femi’s food is so good, Femi’s cooking is good.” And I just realized I was cooking for years and I was like, “What? Nobody else is doing the cooking in the house.” So I said no, I'm not cooking anymore. I'm sorry. I forgot how to cook.
Peter: Made, have you experienced your father's cooking?
Made: Never. Once, once in my life. He--the people that he cooked for, I was not part of that generation, unfortunately. So I've not tasted his so-called great cooking. But my dad made plantain for me one time when we traveled and it was very nice plantain.
Femi: Okay, that--plantain is not considered--plantain is not considered cooking, really. I mean, that was just fried plantain. Anybody that can't do that--it’s like frying an egg. That's not really cooking.
Made: Auntie cooks plantain with the oil...
Femi: That’s true. (laughing) Burning it. Well, it's true, it’s very technical. You have to know the ratio of the plantain…
Made: When to flip it…(laughing)
Femi: It’s true, it’s true, it’s true.
Peter: Well, Femi, I don't know--you know, if somebody came up to you and said, “I'm a good saxophone player, I swear,” and they don't even play for you, I don't know if you can really trust them. So if your own son hasn't really tried your cooking, I’m just wondering about how good a cook you actually are. (all are laughing)
Femi: Eh, you’ll just have to go with the myth that I'm a good cook.
Peter (voiceover): We heard a little more about, ahem, Chef Femi’s culinary feats.
Femi: During my cooking, I only cooked...my specialty was egusi soup.
Made: So that is...that is my, that is my childhood.
Femi: You can't describe--do you know what is in the egusi soup, Made?
Made: Yes, it’s seeds. You know, you have seeds from like, um, like squash and melons that are dried up, and then they are used as the ingredients to make the soup.
Peter (voiceover): Ego had some feelings about egusi, too.
Ego: That is my shit. Am I allowed to cuss on this podcast? (laughing) That is--that's my shit, it’s my jam. I love it. Egusi soup is my favorite, but I haven't had it in probably over a year because I don't know how to make it. And it's not going to be as good as my mom's if I try. So I just fall back.
Peter: Oh, my God. I love me some egusi soup. I actually have egusi in my kitchen right now, and I make it periodically.
Peter: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, I hit up the African markets and I'm making me some egusi soup. If I can do it, Ego, come on now.
Ego: I know, I know. I'm hearing you say that, I'm just like, I'm motivated but also ashamed at the same time. Because I'm like, you know, I can do it. I could. That's what you're setting out to do is shame me. (laughing) Um, I--you know, I now--I'm like, okay, girl, you need--it's one of my favorites and I like to go extra on the egusi, like when my mom would make it. I did have requests for, like, how much egusi she would use. I had it at a restaurant in L.A. last year, and I--my first time eating at a Nigerian restaurant was last year.
Peter: That's crazy.
Ego: Yeah, it's because I think my mom makes the best Nigerian food. So my mom will sometimes make rice and stew, which is sort of like jollof rice in that it's rice based and there's tomato. The stew itself is tomato based. Um, it's just not mixed. You mix it when you eat it, essentially, you top it with the stew. Um, but my mom will sometimes make stew with fish and I like, have a hard no-stew-with-fish thing, um, but she'll still make it. And it's like, kind of like, fuck you. (laughing) Which--good for her? Honestly, good for her. Um, but she will make a stew with fish and like, enjoys it. She really enjoys fresh fish. But like, stock fish is something I grew up eating. I still enjoy crawfish stock fish. Um, I didn't even know until I--you know, until I moved out and went to college and I started to explore the world on my own. I just thought--also crawfish was like a Nigerian thing. And then, like, no, they eat it down in New Orleans. Like, the things I didn't know!
Peter (voiceover): Alright, this brings me to one of the other foods that I think unites not just West Africa, but almost all of sub Saharan Africa. Which is remarkable given just how diverse the continent is. It's fufu. Well, I should say I know it as fufu, since that's what we called it in Cameroon. In my research, I've come across over 70 names for it. It's called foutou in Côte D’Ivoire, ugali in Uganda, pap in South Africa, walla walla in South Sudan, and on and on. Whatever you call it, though, it's a ball of cooked starch eaten with the hands and used to sop up stews or sauces. Sometimes it's a porridge made of grain mixed with hot water. Sometimes it's a pounded starch such as plantains or yams. It's not particularly flavorful on its own, and it's not meant to be. It's a vehicle for sauce. I ate it pretty much every day while I lived in Cameroon, and I loved it. There's something so satisfying about the tactile sensation of manipulating a doughy ball and dunking it into sauce.
Ego: Growing up, a lot of fufu in my house.
Ego: Yes, lots of fufu.
Peter: I am a fufu head. Oh man.
Ego: Okay, so you need to go live in my family's home. (laughing) They would happily sub you out for me because--
Peter: And by the way, hey Ego’s mom, I love stew with fish. So just saying. Just putting it out there.
Ego: (laughing) You should absolutely go be her child, because I don't like fufu. And I didn't, I haven't since I was a child. I know, but every--listen my, um, my brothers love it. My sister loves it. My sister, when we lived together in L.A., she--she knows how to make okra soup, which is another soup that I absolutely love. And the okra draws, and like it just is--I’m making a hand motion, guys, you can’t see it. But like the okra draws--its so, so delicious. And it's like, spinach and okra and like, oh my goodness, I want it.
Peter: Oh yeah. I mean, like, West Africans don't shy away from the sticky okra consistency.
Ego: Not at all.
Peter: It’s actually desired, yeah.
Ego: It's desired, and I didn't know that--so now, as a full blown adult having my own experiences in the world, going to eat with friends, meeting friends who are foodies as well, because I am very much one, and seeing them not enjoy okra, and be like, “Oh, I don't like okra,” and I'm like, that's psychotic to me, because I think it's so good and because I grew up on it. But then, ironically, like, you know, I grew up eating--they were serving me fufu and they used to try to make me eat it, and I never came around. But my sister loves it. My siblings, they would have friends come over who were American born, white people, American born black people, and they would love it, and they would request it from my mom. Like, “Can I have fufu?” And I'd be like, I don't get it. I just don't get it. But I want to get it. I feel like my card is going to get revoked, but yeah.
Peter: What kind of fufu did your family generally eat?
Ego: Um, so my mom, the way she would make it here, she would use Jiffy. My mom used Jiffy to make it here. Um, but we--I grew up calling it farina, because they called it farina in my house. But she used Jiffy a lot growing up, and then sometimes would use potato flakes, instant potato flakes in hers. Um, and because I don't like it, I never cared to, like, learn much about it. My aunt, um, they use some sort of wheat. My aunt and uncle, they use a wheaten one, but my mom doesn't like it made that way. Um, and then I've talked to her about--how could I forget? I haven't had this in forever. You're making me remember. Garri.
Peter: Oh man. Ok.
Ego: I love garri. So I used to love that growing up, even as a snack. So you can--you can use garri to eat soup the way you eat fufu. Um, it's more grainy if I remember correctly. I truly haven't had this since I was a child. But now I'm remembering. So good.
Peter: Yeah. So can you explain just what garri is?
Ego: Yeah, garri is like, also--also starchy. But is that cassava?
Peter: Yeah, yeah, it’s cassava.
Ego: Um, and--and I'm asking, I'm like, you know more about--(laughing) I love how much more you know than I do. I'm just like, yeah, my life.
Peter: I’ve actually got your mom right here, and we’re just laughing our asses off, so, yeah.
Ego: (laughing) She’s like, I’m embarrassed. Um, but yeah, garri is like a starchy--it's also kind of doughy, the way they serve farina. Um, but it's far more grainy and--it's grainier, and it--if anyone knows cassava, like I've been to Brazilian restaurants and they serve, um, yucca root. I feel like it's almost in that same world. Is yucca root cassava-like?
Peter: Yeah yeah, actually, cassava’s a crazy root because it has so many names. You can call it manioc, you can call it cassava, you can call it yucca, it’s all the same stuff. It’s a tuber, essentially.
Ego: Okay. This is meant to be an educational moment for me, right? (laughing)
Peter: There you go. There you go.
Ego: I'm like, this entire podcast episode, I am simply learning. Um, because all these things were just given to me growing up. I was like, I don't ask questions. This is what we eat. But, um, that's how I would describe garri. But how would you? Because I feel like you're going to do a better job with it.
Peter: So I think actually, what you're talking about really is, I mean, so fufu is kind of like a family of things. And it's like, essentially blobs of starch that you like, dip into stews. And so--I mean, I think what you're telling me is there's a certain kind of fufu that you don't really like, but I think you actually do like fufu. (laughing) It's just like, maybe you don't like, maybe you just don't like the Jiffy fufu.
Ego: Yes, we're unpacking this right now. This is important to me, because I do like the--I do like garri.
Peter (voiceover): I realized at that point that Ego and I just had a different understanding of what fufu was. For her, it's specifically made from Jiffy. In other words, corn. For me, I think of fufu as comprising a larger family of starchy staples. Ego, in my book, you do like fufu, just cassava fufu, and you're still a card-carrying Nigerian.
This episode of Counterjam features three songs from Legacy +, which, as I noted, is a double album that was jointly released by Femi and Made. Here's what they had to say about it.
Made: My dad and I were releasing two separate albums, were planning to release two separate albums in 2020. And my dad came up with a brilliant idea of the dual release for the parent and child, and as far as we saw, it never happened before. So we thought it would be so monumental for me to come out in this way to the world, because I haven't--this is the first body of work I've ever produced and shared. We thought it would be inspirational, to share that love we have between us.
Femi: The sounds, the rhythms. It's all about love. I love Made’s album--not because I'm his father. I tell him so, hearing you...tell us your view, brings total satisfaction to me.
Peter: I will say that listening to Legacy +, to me feels akin to eating a plate of food that has had a lot of love put into it. It fills you up, but you keep coming back for more. Here's a song from Made’s half of Legacy +. He plays every instrument in the song. It’s crazy. You’ll hear that the Kuti legacy is not only alive and well, it's being taken to new heights. Here's “Free Your Mind” by Made Kuti.
Peter (voiceover): Next up, we're going to go through six key differences between Nigerian culture and American culture, on both the food and music fronts. Stay tuned.
Peter (voiceover): Based on my conversations with Femi, Made, and Ego, I identified a few key ways that Nigerian culture differs from American culture. Number one: Nigerians do not like bloody meat.
Femi: We don't like red meats. (groaning) Our meat has to be really well cooked. I can't--and, and the way we will tell them in the restaurant, they're like insulted. “What? Why are you spoiling the meat?” We’re like, “No, I can't eat”--And then they sometimes get offended because they don't like preparing their meat like that. We--I mean, sometimes we really, we cook it, then fry it, and it's very still very soft, but it's really well, very well cooked meat.
Made: Yeah, I remember going out with one of my friends, a friend of mine, and she accidentally ordered, like, medium-rare for the steak she ordered. (laughing) She felt challenged it.
Peter: (laughing) “What is this bloody meat?” It's like barbaric.
Made: Yeah, I mean, the first time I had it, I even knew it was an option, it seemed like total madness to me. You want the blood in the food? People do this?
Peter (voiceover): Number two: Nigerian food is insanely spicy.
Ego: For all the people I told between the ages of like 8 to 21 that I did not like spicy food, it was because my mother's idea of spice, I realized, is not that of the world. And her idea of spice--(laughing) Her idea of spice was, like, absolutely psychotic. And just--her food, it would just be all pepper. And also at that age, too. I'm like, I don't think kids that age want--but like all pepper, like to the, to the point where you're like, there is no dimension to this flavor, this dish anymore. It is all pepper. And so I would always tell people I didn't like spicy food. That is simply not true of me, Peter. I have learned. I'm like, no. I think I went to a restaurant once and they asked me, spicy or mild, and I go, “You know what, it’s time I try spicy again in this lifetime.” And I had it and I go, “Oh, well, this is fine.” (laughing)
Peter (voiceover): Number three: grocery shopping in a Nigerian village is a dynamic experience.
Femi: In the supermarket, you don't negotiate. The price is the price. Tags are right on the--on the whatever you're buying. In here, you the buyer must always ask for more, and the seller will always decrease. Negotiation goes all day with everybody, so--and of course, it's kind of very beautiful.
Peter: This was a part of Cameroonian culture that was initially very hard for me to get used to because, you know, I'm very used to just like, you pay. There's a price. You pay the money, you get your thing. But over time I learned, you know, as you say, I went to the market. If you want to buy tomatoes, it's just like, uh, “You want to charge me 200 for this? You want me to starve?” And then you get this--that's like whole theater, right? And then you're like, waving your arms and, like, “Oh, how could you do this to me?” and then--and then you--then you make the deal and you buy the damn tomatoes. (laughing) Afterwards, you're like hugging and like, laughing because it's all just a--it's like a--it's a form of like social bonding, too.
Peter: So there's actually a funny story. I came back to the U.S., and there's a store called Radio Shack that, actually I don't know if it really exists anymore, but I was going there to buy, like, a part for my cell phone, and, um, I asked what the price of like a charger was, and the guy gave me the price and I just stood there and I sucked my teeth like this. (teeth sucking sound) I just stood there waiting, because it was a habit for me when somebody gave me a price to just make that sound (teeth sucking sound) and wait, and my friend came up to me and said, “Peter, this is very awkward. Like, they gave you the price already (laughing), like, nothing's going to change.
Femi: Another thing. Another thing about the market is, I think it's a way of communication as well, because you go to the market and everybody's asking, “How is your family? How is your child?” Blah blah. So a conversation start--starts while you're negotiating for whatever you're buying. So it's not...and then you become close, become like friends, because you, you have a customer. So if this--where you're buying from treats you honest, whoever is not rude or very polite in this respect, it's not just about buying. People that go to the market find that joy as well, of that conversation that goes on in the market.
Peter: That's right. And I feel like something is really lost--something is really lost in a country like the U.S. where we're moving towards, you know, when you go to the supermarket here, there's machines where you just stand in front of a machine. It says, “Place your item on the scanner,” and then you put--
Femi: I hate those machines.
Peter: You know, I guess it's convenient, but at the end of the day, you know, if we keep doing this more and more and more, when are we ever going to be talking to each other and dealing with each other as human beings? And so I love the fact that the market really forced me to really get to know the people in my village.
Femi: Yeah, you even know your names. You know their names, you get acquainted anyway. Not too acquainted, but acquainted enough to trust each other.
Peter (voiceover): Number four cooking techniques in Nigeria are hands on, literally.
Ego: I went to stay in the village, and the first night my mom told one of my cousins, “Okay, she's hungry. Could you make her something?” And she went and made me rice and stew on like some sort of cast iron skillet over a fire--over firewood. It was perhaps the best rice and stew I’ve ever had in my life, over firewood outside. And it was so good. My God.
Peter: And that takes so much, like, attention, to just like, maintain the right level of flame. And then, like, cooking is just a whole--I mean, like cooking in a village setting in Cameroon, or I imagine in Nigeria, it's just such a different--it's such a different activity because first of all, there's no cutting boards. So you're cutting all of your vegetables in your hand directly over the pot, you know, and then you have this fire you're actively managing. You know what I mean? It's a really--it's a totally different kind of experience. It's much more of like this organic kind of give and take with the food. You’re really like sort of dancing with it, rather than, you know in the U.S., where it just goes on the stove top, you let it simmer, you know?
Ego: Yes. You know, that's, um, speaking of cutting in your hand, do you know that I thought that was normal? So I mean, I grew up here in the U.S., but I grew up with my mom cutting onions in her hand. I mean, we had cutting boards. We had them for sure. And so up until truly, like, maybe three years ago, I was like, this is not, um, necessary here in my kitchen, where I can just use a cutting board. It's not a necessary risk. But I just thought it was normal. And so I was cutting in my hand, and I think I was cooking with a friend once who was like, “Why are you doing that?” And I was like, “This is how my--I don't know. This is how I know how to cook.” But I learned to cut plantain and cooked plantain from my aunt, the British one, um, cutting the plantain in my hand, and I still do to this day, Peter, I still…
Peter: I love that.
Ego: I still...and so like the onions, I'm like, okay, we'll do it. We'll do it on a cutting board because I now understand that that's maybe not necessary, but in my mind, like the part of making the plantain so good is you gotta cut it in your hand, and so I just cut in my hand.
Peter: You know what? Ego, I'm going to tell you, from the way I see it is, that is your connection between you and Nigeria via your mom.
Peter: Because it's amazing that your mom still cuts things that way. I love that. I love it. I love it. I love it.
Peter (voiceover): Number five: when it comes to food, Nigerians go straight to the point.
Femi: Another thing I find is the three course meal in Europe especially.
Femi: You start with dessert--no, uh, start with salad, uh, and then after the course, you have sweets. We don't do that. We go straight to the dish.
Made: And we collapse after.
Femi: We deal, we deal with our business straight away. So African people we are not ready. No, we don't mess around with salad. And that salad, I remember taking my band out on top for the first time, and they bring out the salad. Everybody's like, “What? What's all this?” We're all like--then the cooks get really upset because nobody's eating the salad. (laughing)
Made: The two things I have to add to that, one is our necessity, our demand for sauce. And they just gave us rice--
Femi: They gave us rice with no sauce!
Made: We were all lost. And the second thing is food portions were really huge amounts.
Femi: No, because we have--everything is compounded in the one dish dish, an appetizer, everything, one course meal.
Peter (voiceover): And number six, at least in Ego’s estimation, Nigerian singers could take it down a notch.
Peter: The other bit of Nigerian pop culture that I was exposed to a lot--well I don't know if I call this pop culture, was like super religious music. And so some of the bush taxis in Cameroon, the drivers would just be blasting Nigerian religious music. And there was just one singer. But she had a song that was like a hit when I was there, and it was called “Bouncing In The Lord.” (laughing) I'm going to do an impression of it. It was like (singing), “I am bouncing in the Lord, bouncing in the Lord, I am bouncing in the Lord, bounce, bounce, bounce.” And I remember being jammed in these little taxis for like, oh, a seven hour ride, and just listening to freaking bouncing in the Lord. (laughing) And I’m like, I'm not bouncing in shit right now.
Ego: Can I say that, that just low key sounds like a hit, so I get it. But also for Nigerian culture, I don't know this song, but you did a wonderful impression of Nigerian singers, like, you know, traditional Nigerian singers who I feel all think they are sopranos when in fact perhaps they either are not musically inclined in reality or should maybe bring it down several notches and try out being an alto. Like, I don't know. (laughing) But that is a thing: very off key, the pitches, all off. Like my my uncles and my mom, my mom cannot sing, my uncles, but boy, would they belt, and they'd all be doing that high pitch. And I'm like, “You know, you can bring it down, right, and, like, kind of get into a comfortable zone.”
Ego: Um, but one of my favorites, as you're singing in the high pitch, is from my mom's village. This cassette tape, I don't think I'd ever be able to find it online, but I remember they used to play it on car rides, and we wouldn't listen to exclusively Nigerian music, but like, they play it on car rides. Um, and it would be, uh, “We’re lighting the way, man, from evil/We’re lighting the way man, from evil/Agrasa/We’re lighting the way, man/Our motto is knowledge is power.” (laughing)
Peter (voiceover): If you've listened to previous episodes of this show, you know, I love asking folks the question: if you were stuck on a desert island and you had to eat one dish for the rest of your days, what would it be?
Ego: I'm going to say...I'm gonna say egusi soup. I'm going to say egusi soup, yup. I love egusi soup, and I haven't had it in so long. I feel like if I ended up on an island tomorrow, I would for sure fuck with it for at least a year, (laughing) because I haven't had it in so many years. I mean, I have not had egusi soup in forever. So I would go with egusi soup, my mom's egusi soup.
Peter (voiceover): Remember how sweet it was when Femi and Made talked about how they inspired each other to make the double album? Well, let's see how that sweetness held together when I asked them the same question about what they’d eat on a desert island.
Femi: You see, with African dish, you can just take as much as possible. (sound of Made laughing) So I'll take boiled yam, beans, and plantain. Why are you laughing? You are so stupid, really. (laughing)
Made: No, it’s ok. I would take pounded yam, egusi that has turkey and chicken.
Femi: Ah, you can't take chicken and turkey together. That's not fair. No.
Made: Why? (lots of animated cross-talk and laughing)
Femi: You can’t take--no. Chicken is a body. Turkey is another body. You can’t take two. You can't. No, no, you can’t.
Made: Yes. In fact, right now--I’ll tell you something, this guy--
Femi: You cannot take a cow and a goat to eat--no. He said one. Right, Peter?
Peter: (laughing) I am not inserting myself here. (lots of animated cross-talk)
Made: And I’m being blessed to have one meal, I think I’m allowed to pick my one meal for the whole time there will be.
Femi: No, you can take turkey, or you take chicken. You can’t take cow--you can’t take cow--
Made: Ok, you can’t take plantain and yam. You have to pick plantain or yam.
Femi: No, no, that’s not true. That’s not true, because--
Made: Why? Just yesterday, two days ago, you ate chicken and meat together.
Femi: Who? Me?
Made: Yes. Beef and chicken. (laughing)
Femi: No, that was where they cooked this--it was wrong. Doesn't mean it's right.
Made: But you ate it! (laughing)
Femi: No, no. But when I look at it, when I see that kind of cooking, I’m just like, what? What is this? Why did they do this? You know, it's like hearing, um, it's like mixing a bad song together.
Peter: (laughing) I love how 10 minutes ago we were talking about father and son love, and here we are. (laughing)
Femi: You also take--what did you say, pounded yam?
Made: Pounded yam, egusi, turkey, and plantain.
Femi: How does plantain fit in with that combination?
Made: It doesn't matter about fitting. I am allowed.
Femi: Okay, Because I am a fanatic of plantain, and I can understand your--no, I can allow you. Okay, I can let you take plantain. Okay? I accept that combination, but really, it's because I--I will have done the same thing.
Made: Can I take boli instead of just plantain? Can I take boli?
Femi: No, leave the boli, you have to take groundnut. If you take boli--(more animated cross-talk)
Peter: Can I make clear that you two are on separate islands, so it will be--you’re not on the same island. (laughing)
Made: Yes, so that’s why I can have boli.
Femi: Uh, so we can go to meet each other and share the food. (laughing)
Made: No, we can’t--
Femi: His combination is very good, because, have you ever tasted--have you ever tasted boli?
Peter: Of course.
Femi: This is like a very important delicacy in the--uhh, you just, you open the plantain and put the ground nuts in the middle. It's like a sandwich. Ahh. (slurp sound)
Made: I love it.
Peter (voiceover): There you have it. The humble plantain came in to save the day. To close out this episode, we're going to listen to a song from Femi’s side of the album. It has an epic horn hook and a driving groove that makes me want to get on my feet. Here's “As We Struggle Every Day” by Femi Kuti.
Peter (voiceover): So that's a wrap for season one of Counterjam. Thank you all for tuning in. We'll be back in a few weeks with season two, so be sure to subscribe to get the update. And if you have a moment, please do leave a friendly review in Apple Podcasts. Thank you to our guests, Ego Nwodim and Femi Kuti and Made Kuti. And I want to assure you all that no familial relationships were harmed during the taping of this episode. Shout out to Femi and Made for providing the music. Please check out and purchase the double album Legacy +. And shout out to Ego’s mom. You can invite me over any time for farina and fish stew. Shout out to the Food52 team and above all, Coral Lee, the brilliant master puppeteer who runs the show. I'm Peter J. Kim and I'll catch you on the next season of Counterjam.