Food. Something so simple can have such a resounding effect on how we interact with ourselves and others around us.
Staple Nigerian dishes and the accompanying scents were a commonplace in my childhood, having grown up in a Nigerian household. Dishes and scents were also intrinsically tied to community as they were a common component of Nigerian events and functions my family would take part in. The realization that something so common in my day-to-day life could be othered and viewed as strange had not occurred to me until I reached elementary school. Though I was surrounded by Nigerians outside school, the same sense of diversity I derived from those communities was nonexistent during my elementary years.
Scrunched noses and recurring snide comments uttered with poorly veiled disgust met me the first time I brought a Tupperware container of jollof rice and plantain to school. The food I was familiar with was completely strange and unusual in Western society.
The hostility I received by others about Nigerian food is not one that is unique. As I grew older and conversed with people I knew when I was younger, and people I came to know in adulthood, I realized that everyone went through the experience of having our culture and food othered.
As I grew older and became more conscious of the dissonance between Western society and acceptance of other cultures, I became aware of specific things related to West African and Nigerian food. The ingredients for staple Nigerian dishes were not easily found if you did not know where specifically to look, especially when I was younger. Growing up, there were one or two small stores in strip malls where I knew my mom and other Nigerians bought products they needed for cooking. Often, members of the community would travel to Nigeria and while there, purchase and bring back ingredients which could not be found in Canada for themselves and other members of the community.
The scarcity of shops carrying food and spices typical to Nigerian cuisines when I was younger makes sense. Living in Western Canada in the early 2000s, diversity was not rampant. The Nigerian community was small with practically everyone knowing each other.
However, as time passed and I grew older, the Nigerian community around me began to grow. Even when I was younger, the growth of the Nigerian community was something I noticed as I met more Nigerians new to the country in school and in extracurricular activities. With the growth in the Nigerian community, came the increase in accessibility to shops and markets offering ingredients used in creating Nigerian dishes. Simultaneously, the establishment and growth of Nigerian and other West African restaurants began to occur. Whereas people relied on cooking Nigerian dishes at home and sharing them with others in the community, there were now restaurants and organized catering companies beginning to emerge.
Recently in the past few years, West African restaurants and restaurants serving cuisine from other regions and countries in Africa have joined food delivery apps such as DoorDash and UberEats, making access to diverse African cuisine a click away. In Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area, restaurants like The Suya Spot, Obcuisine, Cassava Cuisine, Afrobeat Kitchen, and many more have established themselves, offering accessible and delicious fusions of cuisine from different countries in West Africa.