Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The F word

The other day I sat in an underground train filled with rush hour commuters, and got questioned for my choice of 'snacking on' food: banana and peanuts, a typically Ghanaian snack. Purely by coincidence, I was also reading a book on Akan Traditional Religion..

*Let me put it into perspective*

Taking the underground - or 'tube' - is part of the average Londoner's daily travel; it has oft been the setting for a naked day challenge in which unsuspecting commuters have suddenly been confronted with people parading the platforms butt-naked. Yes. Every wobbly, taut or withered bit out.

So how people can still manage to stay blasé on the underground is beyond me. Sometimes I feel sorry I don't take the tube more often (this particular journey on the tube had had to happen because I was late meeting a friend, and it was the obvious choice because it would get me there faster. I'm afraid sometimes when it comes to keeping time, I don't do much to help the stereotype that Black people are always late. Sorry) The ads are catchier, the punchlines corkier, and, I personally think it's the one place you could find a plethora of upcoming events in the city and ideas for a cheap holiday. In short, the underground moonlights as a cornucopia of things to see and do.

In spite of it being a melting pot of interesting happenings, the underground is, unfortunately a 'non-place', relegated to one of those locations where there is no distinct relational experience between you and the other commuters. It's a marked difference from getting a taxi or trotro in Ghana and having an animated conversation with the taxi driver/other passengers. (Or a heated squabble over prices, should that taxi driver have tried to pull a fast one by charging an outrageous amount). On the tube it seems the only similarity between you and other commuters is the fact that you're on the same train. The average journey is fraught with polite indifference, and losing yourself to some activity like reading, listening to music or studying your nails with interest, all in a bid to make the time pass without incident or unnecessary contact with other people.

Sometimes it's fun to just look at people's shoes, and amuse yourself with where you think they've trodden. Fun, in an anally retentive way.

It's a formula that works well. You do your thing, I'll do mine: never the twain shall meet.

But on that day, I was sitting opposite a tourist-y looking group of younglings about my age ...and happened to be snacking on banana and peanuts, and the group must have decided to 'sod that indifference crap on this tube', and gawk at me. It must have been an intensely fascinating thing to follow the journey of the banana as it was raised to mouth level and bitten into, with some nuts thrown in for good measure afterwards...

I only became aware of my apparently 'interesting' snack when one of them mused loudly enough for me to hear, that they never knew you could pair a banana with peanuts. Oh? It's a very popular snack for a Ghanaian. Then another guy, a Texan, said he'd tried peanut soup at his Nigerian friend's house once..etc etc

Pretty soon we were all in food heaven, as we traded stories of 'random' stuff we'd tried or liked which others just found weird (mine were crabs, snails and frog legs. I think one of the girls visibly paled at the mention of snails). I love how food, as much as it cuts across race, geography and what have you, and unites many a palette, is quite a divisive subject as well. There's no accounting for why you might call something gastronomical heaven, and I'll just see it as diarrhoea waiting to happen, and vice versa.

Jollof rice, 'red-red' and light soup are all stuff I've cooked for my non-Ghanaian/African friends before. But I personally think the real test for them would have been okro soup (too slimy), or something with 'koobi' (salted fish with very potent smell). But, alas, koobi is not for the fainthearted, is it? While we're on it, I'd be interested to know what snacks or foods you've tried which might raise a few eyebrows..?

It's too bad my tube friends will have left London by the time Ghana's Independence Day rolls by on March 6th. I might have decamped us all to the Gold Coast Bar and Restaurant and treated their palettes to something authentically Ghanaian - it would have been a coin toss between 'aponkye nkrakra' soup, and the beloved koobi meal. Authentic, much?

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