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Busayo Oderinde: Demystifying Food Myths

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We all know of one or two myths. Even as adults we explain an occurrence based on the myth. E.g. when it’s raining and the sun is shining, a lion is giving birth. If two chickens are fighting and you stand a broom horizontally, the chickens won’t stop fighting till you remove the broom. I wonder where they came from.

Growing up in Nigeria, you are bound to have heard (and probably believed) one or two indigenous food legends or myths and hold on to this belief for so long that you believe this myth is the reality and no one can convince you otherwise. We are all guilty of this.

The truth is that every culture, race, nationality, tribe has a few myths surrounding food. We have myths and legends for everyday life occurrences anyway so why should food be any different? Most of these sayings and beliefs came about to teach a lesson or correct bad behaviour but  some are just plain ridiculous . We believe them anyway, because they are told to us by our elders and you know how we are with respect and believing our elders.

An example of a popular foreign food legend that quickly comes to mind is “A WATCHED POT NEVER BOILS”.  The principle behind the saying is sound and I can testify that when I am staring intently at a pot on the fire, five minutes feels like fifteen or twenty. If I am engaged in something else, time flies. I am sure it originated to teach an impatient child or cook patience or the ability to focus on other things when expectant of a meal.

Let’s examine a few of our own food myths and legends.

NEVER SPEAK WHEN PLUCKING THE FEATHERS FROM A CHICKEN. (Claim: It will keep growing back)
I believe this one, because it happened to me very recently. Some friends and I were cooking and this fellow brought a live chicken for us to kill skin and cook. (I did not like this one bit. First, I did not like or understand the stress needed to do that and two I don’t really like the taste of freshly killed chicken. It has a gamey taste I don’t really fancy) Anyway, the guy killed it and it was time to pluck the feathers, we dipped the chicken into a pot of boiling water and started plucking. We told this guy about this myth and he said he didn’t believe it and it’s not possible, and so kept talking; I kid you not, little spikes came out of the chicken, I mean the place we had picked clean, it was not like an entire feather came out o but little spikes that had to be picked again. So I don’t know how to describe this phenomenon but it happened and I believe it.

A PREGNANT WOMAN CAN’T COOK MOIMOI (Claim: It will never get cooked all the way through)
I know you are laughing but it’s a belief a lot of people have. I was with two aunts recently and they were cooking moimoi. Aunty one wanted to learn how to cook better moimoi from the expert Aunty Two. They were talking and I was helping out and then they said this statement. I started laughing but Aunty two said it was true; that while she was pregnant her moimoi was never cooked all the way. I couldn’t deal, just kept laughing. Aunty one agreed and said she had heard it before and I think probably believed it too. They say it’s the same for beans. In my mind I was like, have you not heard of Pressure cookers?

But on a serious note though, a lot of people have issues when it comes to cooking perfect moimoi.  It’s a struggle for some people but I will say people should check credible food blogs and practice and practice, you will get it right. I know someone who when cooking moimoi puts an atarodo (habanero) and a knife on the pot to cook it perfectly. (Wonders never cease) All I can say is “to each his or her own”.

NEVER EAT MANGO AND GARRI (Claim: It will seriously harm your tummy)
We have all heard this; for us here, it’s as popular as the Mentos and Coke no no. So for the sake of research, I drank garri and mango. Caveat: it was a little garri and I made sure the mango was very ripe and well…nothing happened. I am very fine. But I do have a strong constitution. I can eat anything so don’t necessarily follow my lead.

IF YOU WANT TO KILL A DUCK, YOU MUST PUT COINS ON ITS EYES OR HAVE COINS ON HAND (Claim: To appease some Duck god)
This one is ridiculous to me but it’s a thing. A friend told me a story when we were in Secondary School. She said her family’s car hit a duck and people came out and said they must go look for coins, I can’t remember the exact amount, to place on the dead animal to appease whatever Duck god. They said they were not allowed to leave there until they did. I don’t like ducks though. The animal creeps me out but they are some good tasting poultry, I think it’s the best tasting poultry period. Ever had Duck l’orange? Amazing.

DON’T EAT WHILE STANDING (Claim: The food will go to your feet)
Boo helped out with this. I was also told this as a kid but it’s a no brainer really. Our parents were simply teaching us good eating habits. It was said the food won’t go to your stomach but straight to your feet. I don’t blame them; it is a good gimmick, and I will probably tell my kids the same thing.

DO NOT EAT WITH A KNIFE (Claim: you will have very bad dentition)
Again, this is just to teach table manners, you should not eat with a knife. The way it was explained was that if you eat with a knife, your teeth will “scatter” and be very unattractive. Kids are gullible and can be stubborn; it’s effective to use a little fear to teach a lesson. It worked in my case.

YOU CAN’T COOK EWEDU “JUTE” WITHOUT POTASH (Claim: you will not have a good ‘drawy’ consistency)
This saying is not true at all. It’s just a saying mired in tradition. I blend up jute leaves using a blender and cook it and its good and ‘drawy’ (for lack of a better word). I think the trick is to use little water. It’s not a must to have potash before you cook perfect ewedu or okro.

DO NOT EAT EKURU/EGBO/ ‘EKO’ WITH PALM OIL (Claim: It is sacrificial food for the gods)
My colleague told me this myth. I started rolling my eyes but then I googled it and was shocked to find out it is a thing. This is peculiar to the Yoruba tribe though. Ekuru is made from beans. You peel the skin off the beans like you would for moimoi. Grind and steam it in leaves and eat with a sauce. Egbo is made from maize; it is thoroughly cooked and mashed with groundnut oil. Eko is solidified pap also made from maize. Although some people eat it, it is frowned upon because they are supposed to be sacrificial meals to deities. I really did not know what to say about this but I am just reporting what I heard.

There will always be myths surrounding food.  If you do not believe it, put it to a ‘safe’ test like I did with garri and mango or laugh it off. Life is not that hard. Please don’t judge those who do believe them.  But I think we should salute these ingenious sayings, and to understand they might not have started with malicious intent.

These are just a few examples but I am sure you have heard all types. Please feel free to share.
Have a great weekend people, love and chocolates.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Monkey Business Images

My name is Busayo, a Food Enthusiast, I love love food, its a huge passion for me and I believe Chocolates make the world a happier place. Feel free to contact me via email, [email protected]

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