I think it’s safe for me to say that I developed a love for cooking from watching my mom cook at a young age. It always started with one question, “what do guys want to have for dinner?”. A simple question with such a complicated response. It was usually spaghetti, or some sort of baked chicken with mashed potatoes. If mom had time, she told us to grab some stuff from the neighborhood store so that she could begin preparing meatloaf and gravy for the next few days. When I asked my mom what drove her, what did she have to do be able to cook for us day in and day out, as if she had no other responsibilities. Her answer was simple and straight-forward, “you guys are my kids and I am your mom, we only get one of each other”.
She began to explain to me that she was motivated to take care of us because of the way she was raised back home, in Nigeria. She told me stories of how she was the youngest of 5 sisters. Being in that position, she was often times expected to carry the bulk of the chores and other miscellaneous things that needed to be taken care of around the house. Such as sweeping, fetching water, making meals for the older siblings who were out working or at school (even though she also went to school), and a handful of other things. “I was taught at a young age that helping sustain those who helped raised you, created a strong bond within the family, everyone knew they could rely on each other”. And that was what life in the village was like, people looked out for one another. So when I asked my mom her motivations and such, she wanted to make it a point that she does all of this for us so that we remember and will be able to do the same for her when she gets old, and even for our own future families.
My mother, as she has always said, is a visual learner. Thus she learned the majority of her cooking from her mother by simply just watching. Her first dish was fufu and egusi soup, she explained to me how she burned it the first time, resulting in a small lashing from her uncle at the time. She is somewhat of a perfectionist though, and has since developed this recipe into one of her own specialities. After getting a bit of a background history on her experiences in the kitchen, we migrated to the topic of her favorite and worse dishes. Her favorite snack to eat back home is Chin Chin, which are simply dough, water, cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, all rolled into one rod and chopped into small squares then deep fried. It’s a favorite because its simple and can easily be snaked on anywhere. One of her worst meals ever cooked was soup in which she left to boil down to long, causing the leaves to become to bitter and the meat was to chewy. I personally thought it was funny because if there is one thing my father doesn’t like, is bad soup. He understood the situation of course, but to know the importance of certain dishes in my family, and sometimes see things not go as planned in the kitchen makes the whole situation a little more lighter when you can find some humor in it.
When I asked my mom if there was anything she wanted to cook that she hasn’t gotten to yet, her response was, “I want to experience the world in my kitchen”. She loves trying new things in the kitchen, but because of her work schedule and the fact that most of us are away at college, she doesn’t find the need to go out of the way and make anything other than what she usually does. But she would love for all of us to be in the kitchen together and cook a bunch of dishes from different parts of Africa, and even from around the world.
Through this interview, I was able to sort of gain a historical perspective from my mom in the kitchen. But more importantly, I was able to learn how the way she was raised played a part in how she raised us, what she fed my siblings and myself, and why she cooked.