A couple of weeks ago, my neighbour who attends the same church as I do gave me some food to take home. In the food container that she handed to me was ayemashe (or ayamashe), a particularly spicy but extremely delicious traditional stew of the Ijebu people, among Nigeria's Yoruba population. Its not unusual for me to receive gifts of food from ladies at church, since perhaps they think that not having a wife must mean that I am under-nourished. They seem to have a desire to ensure that I receive proper nourishment and get all the vitamins that I need. Well, I don't know anyone who turns down perfectly good, home-cooked food when its so freely offered. And I do not wish to be the first person I know who does. So of course such gifts are gladly (and gratefully) accepted, even if the ultimate benefit to me is that I'm spared having to shop for and cook food until all that free food has run out. This last time it was ayemashe.
Ayemashe is unique and for me while growing up it was a mystery. Nothing that we ate at home, at our friends' or relatives' houses, at parties, or anywhere, even came close to tasting like ayemashe, a greenish-brownish stew with little pieces of meat in it, which is usually served with white rice. For many years it was offered mainly at small, informal eating places known as buka, (or bukateria, a play on the word cafeteria), and was available with rice for a small amount. For me, ayemashe was a delicacy that was consumed only once in a while. It seemed to me that only a relatively small number of people knew how to prepare it, and that they kept their secret close to their chests.
I have recently observed however that ayemashe has become more readily available and is served at many Nigerian restaurants at home and abroad, sometimes appearing on the menu as "designer stew", (No 22 on this menu). What this means of course is that more and more people have learned how to cook it. So after joyfully consuming all of the ayemashe that Bisola (my neighbour) gave me, the next time we were in the car together on the way home from church I asked her for the recipe, which when it was revealed to me turned out to be surprisingly simple. And from that moment on I was determined to cook ayemashe for myself, but I thought I should search online to see if anyone else had done something similar and posted it. In doing so I happened upon Yetunde's blog, which I must admit I'm now totally hooked on.
The photo at the top of this post is ayemashe on rice, but its not mine. It's borrowed from Avartsy Cooking, Yetunde's blog. I haven't summoned the courage to cook mine yet, but going through her blog has opened my eyes to all kinds of possibilities and the kitchen beckons now more strongly than ever before. I should be keeping you posted..