Surfe, a traditional food processing way of the northern Nigeria families, has been practised by the people for centuries. It adds glamour and sweetness to meals as its blends with traditional and modern technology. Surfe is a delight in most homes as it involves the removal of the husk/shell of grains before cooking. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE (Abuja) and BEATRICE GONDYI (Bauchi) writes.
Alhaji Suleiman Musa, 55, has been in the business of milling grains for over 30 years starting from a humble beginning at his Suleja base in Niger State. All he knows is the removal of shells of grains and grinding. Surfe is his business, Musa Mai Surfe as fondly called by his customers whom are mainly women always seen around his mini factory.
Clad in dust, Musa mills tens of bags of maize, guinea corn, millet and other grains daily to the many customers that seek his services.
From a small diesel powered machine, Musa’s milling business has grown into using modern electric powered heavy duty milling machines rendering Surfe services to clients in Suleja.
With a staff strength of five, Musa by all standard is an employer of labour from Surfe, a delight of the people of northern Nigeria which has been able to sustain Musa and five of his employees for years.
Surfe is an indispensable activity of the northern woman’s kitchen. The normal kitchen activities in the home of a northerner are not complete if surfe is not a part of it.
Surfe is a Hausa word which means pounding or removing the shell of food grains before use.
It is the process whereby grains or other food stuff are pounded with a mortar and pestle or using a hand mill or machine mill to remove the husk of the grain before grinding it to a flour to prepare food for the family.
Surfe, is usually for food grains like rice, maize, wheat, beans, millet, sorghum and the like. The method is in two phases, the first method is to thresh it to remove the shell and then, you dampen it with water and pound it immediately then you wash and dry it in the sun, so that it can be cooked as it is or made into flour to prepare Tuwo (pudding) Fura or gruel.
Modern technology has also reduced the man hour put into the process of surfe as milling machines are used in most cities today to achieve same or better surfe as the traditional method.
The milling machines can mill hundreds of kilogrammes of grains per hour and per day reducing the pains women go through to achieve their desired meals without the husk of grains.
In a chat with Malama Furera Salihu, 73, in Bauchi, she explained that surfe in Hausa land is as old as time itself as since time immemorial it has been the practice in the northern part of the country to use pestle and mortar in the preparation of food before the advent modern technology.
She said she grew up pounding grains with the mortar and hand mill long before grinding machines were brought to use and everybody now depends on the modern method.
“Surfe has always existed, even before I was born, women have engaged in it. I grew up pounding with mortar and pestle. In those days there was nothing like the modern grinding machine, you had to pound either your maize or your millet with the mortar first before you grind it before you could prepare your food.
“It was a very long and tedious job because for a measure of maize you spent like an hour doing the surfe before you grind. If you were many in the household, it would be shared. Thank God these days you have machines so it is no longer as difficult as before; all you have to do is take it to the millers and they will do everything from the threshing to the surfe and the grinding everything is now easy.”
She explains that the primary objective of surfe is that it adds glamour and beauty to the food but it has no nutritional value only that it tastes better than the one which has not been pounded.
She adds that once you are used to eating surfe meal you hardly eat any other food because it looks brighter and tastes better than the one that has not been.
“Basically the main aim of surfe is for the food to be more attractive and tasty because if you don’t do the surfe your food will look dull and tasteless but if you do the surfe it looks appealing and it tastes better.
Mostly surfe is done with the dried grains but during rainy season, you can roast your grain most especially millet before the surfe. Of all the grains, the millet is most difficult to be pounded.
A Fulani woman, Binta Ibrahima, who deals in the popular ‘Fura and Nunu’ (cow milk and millet) told our correspondent in Zuba, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) that milling millet (surfe) is very tedious and that explains why their product fura and nunu is slightly priced high.
“The surfe of millet, one of our main ingredients, is difficult using the local method, although the use of machine is good, it is way out of our reach. But I can tell you that surfe has been with us for millennia. It is part of the Fulani way. Our meals taste better if the husks are removed.
“Our husbands find us very attractive and loving when we serve them with smooth looking Tuwo (pudding) whether rice pudding or maize. Surfe is part of our traditional way of cooking in the north,” she said.