208 - Nigeria - A Culinary Pioneer
By Mary Luz Mejia
Like many of you, I had never tried West African cooking before this season of Street Eats. But now, I’m glad I got the chance to learn about some of the foods that have left an indelible imprint on the cuisines of numerous countries. Most of the food we look at in the series has had some sort of influence from conquerors, colonists or settlers - and in many cases those influences can be traced back to West Africa. Countries like Brazil, Cuba and even the Southern United States attribute the origins of several of their dishes to Mama Africa with delicious results.
At Ola Restaurant and Catering Services, owner/chef Ola Ogunkoya prepares Nigerian classics with flair. And she takes the craft of cooking seriously, training as a caterer in her hometown of Lagos, Nigeria, and following that up with a catering school stint in London, England before making her way to Canada. Sitting on the corner of a quiet intersection in the city of York, Ola Restaurant offers diners some of the best pounded yam (or Iyan) with catfish in the city, as well as her legendary Moin Moin (African steamed bean cakes with corned beef in the middle).
Men and women used to take on the labour intensive job of pounding yams - an everyday staple in Nigeria (71% of the world’s yam production comes from Nigeria). Two or three people would gather round large mortars and use heavy wooden pestles to pound the African white yams into a pulp, ready to be turned into flour. In fact, there’s a saying about hard work in Nigeria that goes: “It is the work of one's hands that decides what one eats for dinner - for some it is pounded yam, for others it is pounded plantain or nothing.”
Today, yam flour is widely available in pre-packaged bags, making the process of creating a mound of Iyan (which looks like a smooth ball of dough) as simple as boiling water and stirring until velvety and thick. With clean hands, the idea is to break off a piece of the Iyan and dip it into your sauce or stew. Ready-mixes notwithstanding, it’s even easier to make a quick stop at Ola’s for a taste of one of Nigeria’s most popular meal time dishes.
Ola Restaurant and Catering Services
1644 Weston Road