The Dutch like black licorice? Gross. But are you ready for this? Most Nigerians and Ghanaians don’t like food that is too sweet. We’re talking cookies and cake here, people. During my junior year semester abroad, I lived with an awesome host family in Accra, Ghana. To show them how much I appreciated their awesomeness (and because, let’s face it, a girl can only eat so much fufu before she needs a cookie to wash it down) I decided to make no-bake cookies for them. Oatmeal, chocolate, peanut butter and a ton of sugar: no-bake cookies are yummmmmy. Well, my plan didn’t work out so well for two reasons: First, the cookies didn’t set up at all, so instead I ended up with a giant pile of chocolate-peanut-butter-oatmeal on a tray (yes, it looked a little bit like poop). And second, after my Ghanaian host family kindly ate a few spoonfuls of the stuff, they found it too sweet. What?! Mind-blowing cultural learning experience. (Not to worry, no food was wasted – I ate every last bit of that cookie pile over the course of the next three days.)
During my time in West Africa, I’ve learned that people here generally prefer savory tastes over sweet, and even the sweet stuff is low on sugar for my taste. Of course, you can buy cookies and candies in every market, but people seem to eat very little of it. It is mostly me and small children begging for sweets.
So where was I going with this? Oh, yeah! I was going to brag about how I’m starting to get the hang of this country . . . and when I decided to make something sweet for friends this time, I baked a cake that was not too sweet – a little sugar, a little honey and voila! Nigerian-approved honey cake:
150 g butter (Google translate to find cups!)
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup sugar (plus a little extra, for good measure)
1 tablespoon water
-- combine these ingredients in a saucepan, then cool
1 2/3 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
-- sift dry ingredients (or just stir with a spoon, who sifts?!)
2 beaten eggs
-- combine all ingredients
Bake at 350°F (or the number 7 on my crazy oven dial) for 35-40 minutes.
(And don’t forget to grease the 9x9 pan – or whatever you have handy.)
The original recipe called for some fancier ingredients and included a lemon glaze which absolutely did not work in my Nigerian kitchen, but around here we like to eat it just the way it is – straight out of the oven and with a cold Coke. Preferably, there is light (electricity) while we eat, but I can say that honey cake tastes good in the dark, too. It is a dessert even an American could love.
Now that I’ve come to terms with the fact that Nigerians like slightly-sweet sweets, I have turned out some pretty delicious cakes. (Alas, no cookies, since I can’t find a baking sheet anywhere and cookies seem a too labor-intensive for my tiny oven and roasting hot kitchen.) I was extremely honored when a friend, Abigail’s sister-in-law Victoria, asked me to make the cake for her engagement ceremony. Engagements are a big deal in Yorubaland – they involve dowries, ceremonies, dancing and, most importantly, eating amala. So I was really nervous about turning out a good cake. I even had to take two days off from research to mentally prepare and then bake. Ok, I took three days. But in the end, the cake turned out perfectly! Here is a picture of the couple cutting the cake at the engagement.
And the wedding was beautiful. Engagement on Friday, church ceremony on Saturday and Thanksgiving service on Sunday, with different outfits and different kinds of food for each day. Nigerians may not like sweets, but they certainly like to throw parties. (Below is a picture taken at the Saturday wedding – I post it to the blog only as evidence of why white people should never be allowed to wear Nigerian clothes. Best to stick with our nondescript t-shirts and Chacos.)
I don’t know how the bride and groom survived all of the festivities. Even I had to take a few days off from research to recover afterwards! But I was so thankful to be invited to take part. So here is to food opening up doors to friendship – may my cakes here in Nigeria never be too sweet and may I always have room to eat amala.