BY SOLOMON AYADO
There is sudden increase in number of of Amala restaurants in Abuja, especially the municipal area. SOLOMON AYADO who frequents some of these joints, look at the mystery behind the increase.
The rate at which Amala restaurants are springing up in Abuja is now a thing of worry. Unlike in the past when majority of people viewed the places as stations of food for low earners, nowadays, taking a meal in such spots have suddenly become a thing of pride. Scores of persons including men, women and children, both the rich and poor, have unexpectedly developed a burning desire for Amala.
“Now, this is a buka that has attained cult status among Abuja amala lovers. From the itinerant worker to the student, from civil servants to bankers and Oil and Gas Industry workers in flashy rides; this none-too-clean buka has come to represent more than just a restaurant. The knowing smile of acknowledgement shared by colleagues and friends when Amala is mentioned is quite simply bizarre. Only Coca-Cola with Coke can trump this,” a regular Amala consumer said.
The relative satisfaction people find whenever they have meals in the Abuja Amala restaurants which, hitherto was neglected, can be likened to the biblical stone that was rejected but later became the chief corner stone. For Amala, people struggle to fix themselves on the queue, grab the dishes, same thing in making sure they are served a preferred meal.
Amala is a reverenced Nigerian food made out of yam. The yams are peeled, sliced, cleaned, dried and then blended into a flour. The yams are white in colour but turn brown when dried and this gives amala its dark colour after being prepared. It is consumed with Gbegiri (beans soup) or Ewedu soup.
According to history, Amala, consumed with Gbegiri (beans soup) or Ewedu, is traced from the Western Africa and eaten mostly by the Yoruba people in Nigeria. It was first prepared in 1052 by Aduke Agbedegbeyo, child of Onile Ile in the present Atakumosa local government area of Osun state in the days when Sango was the Alaafin of Oyo and Oya was his wife. It was further gathered that it was same year Sango spat fire for the first time.
Gbegiri (beans soup) was first prepared in 1156 by Anike Onibudo, child of Ajanlekoko in Tankere village of Ibadan West LGA of Oyo state.That was the time Timi Agbale, Okunrin bi Okuta was the Timi of Ede and his conflict with Gbonka of Oyo empire was at its peak. The first portion of Gbegiri, according to history, was tasted by Alabi Abolonjeku of Molete in Ibadan. Abolonjeku happens to be one of the fore fathers of Adedibu, the exponent of Amala politics. He combined Amala with Gbegiri when he visited Tonkere on one of his culinary related visits to the Oyo empire. Today, the delicacy is being consumed world wide.
Ofcourse, there are several types of Amala including yam flour (Amala isu), cassava flour (Amala lafun) and plantain flour (Amala ogede) respectively.
However, the most common type of Amala is derived from yam. The yam can be barbecued, roasted, fried, grilled, boiled, smoked and grated. Research said the yam Amala is made of dried yam which gives it a black or brownish colour when added to boiling water. It is high in carbohydrates and packs a lot of calories.
Also, the amala derived from Cassava flour can be processed into dry powder. The plantain flour popularly known as elubo ogede has low carbohydrate level that makes it a good food for diabetics.
But how is it prepared? There is a process which seems simple but not easy to actualize. Firstly, start with boiling water and once the water has come to a boil, flour is now added and stirred until all the water is absorbed. More hot water is added, then the dough is left to simmer for some minutes. The dough is kneaded until it has the desired texture. But according to experts, kneading the dough into a smooth paste is the most difficult part of making the Amala.
LEADERSHIP investigations revealed that several Amala spots are springing up in Abuja like wild fire. Nicknamed ‘amala joints’ because of the singularly existence of the commercial food activity in the places, they are scattered all over the length and breath of Abuja, the federal capital territory.
A first time customer to the restaurants is confronted with a strange outlook of the place as flashy cars of varied brands are parked compactly. The dexterity which the customers struggle to line up, secure plates in order to be served calls for worry. They position themselves in a single file, curious and eager, such that any attempt to not employ careful movement within the place can have the oily soup splash someone’s well dress.High profile personalities throng to enjoy the meal on a daily basis. While some come with their family members, others enter with their concubines on first date.
When LEADERSHIP visited the popular Mama Oyo Amala spot situated at finance junction in Wuye area of Abuja, the atmosphere was tensed owing to the numerous cars that parked. Finding an empty space to park vehicle here is not an easy task.
At the popular Amala garden in Utako, the situation is not different. The all wings of the garden comprises of makeshift buildings operated by different restaurateurs. Apart from the garden housing a mini fruit market, there are canopies set in the place where alcohol and other beverages are sold. A lot of people unwind here after close of work. There is a barber shop, laundry and a supermarket for assorted provisions.
In Mama Oyo Amala joint, there is no big man, superman or gentleman. There is this equality that instill in anyone who visits the place. This is mostly because there is no preferential treatment. On entry, you quickly make your way to the service wing, place an order after having picked out your bowls, then you are immediately served by the stewards (women). The soup has assortment of meat referred to as ‘orisirisi’. On the single file, you make your way coordinately to the cashier, pay the fare according to what you are served and finally choose a preferable spot to seat. No one offers water for hands washing here, the tap is rushing at each corner and as you are through, so you wash your hands and go.
Most of the people spoken to and who where met at various joints attested to the fact that Amala is nutritious and relatively cheap as compared to food in other classy restaurants in the city. A plate of Amala cost only between N300 and N350.
“I come to eat here everyday. The food is so sweet and very cheap too. One thing I like here so much is that there is no class here. You cannot come here and show yourself even if you are the president of this country. The service is very okay and so the atmosphere. Everybody here minds his own business. Since I relocated from Lagos to Abuja, this is where I eat,” stated a banker who simply gave his name as Segun.
Ofcourse, getting to the Amala joint to eat is not based on tribal sentiment. All persons of varied nationalities including foreigners are served here. Another patronizer said he is Igbo by tribe but prefer to come for lunch or dinner in the place.
“Amala is a delicious delicacy and it does not matter where you come from. What matters is what you want to eat and where exactly you feel to get what you desire. I come here everyday at noon to eat Amala. Most times, I come here with my friends but whenever they go back, they start to visit the place without letting me know. I love the food and it is not costly at all,” Uche stated.
On why the spots are springing up, a taxi driver attributed the development to the recent economic recession and said a lot of persons are minimizing their expenses. According to him, it is capital effective eating in the Amala joints than in the foreign restaurants.
“The reason for the emergence of so many Amala joints is not far fetched. Things are very hard because of the ongoing recession. Most people cannot feed properly and businesses are not moving well. Like in the past, I use to visit Chinese restaurants regularly but it is very difficult nowadays due to lack of money. But here, even if I have N200, I eat and get satisfied,” the taxi driver who pleaded anonymity stated.
One ofowner of one of the Amala spots in Abuja. Alhaji Safiyat who said she was into the business for about two decades said she is originally from Kwara state but had started the business in Ibadan. Although met at Amala garden in Utako, she was very busy attending to customers and declined to make further comments. She agreed to speak to press on another arranged date.
At the moment, the patronage for the indigenous Amala spots is gradually taken over modern restaurants in Abuja and newer joints of the delicacy are springing up everyday. The ongoing recession is chiefly said to be the reason behind this fast growing trend but wether the government would evolve quick measures to stabilize the economy, only time shall tell.