Food is one of the necessities of life. I love food as a young person, and I am delighted to also write on the dishes Itsekiri people enjoy. Good food does not come by chance, it takes a whole process. I remember one time, an elderly Itsekiri pointed out that, you must dress up as woman when you want to cook Itsekiri food. Well, I cannot argue with this as in Iwereland, the first and best legacy bequeathed on a child either male or female is the art of good cooking. Our dishes have won national cooking competitions especially the favourite yummy Obe-Eyen (Banga Soup) mainly accompanied with Usin (starch).
Research surveys on diets showed that in Africa, the best-nourished people are mainly those who live close to the lakes, rivers, and seas and consume the products from the seas and rivers such as a variety of fishes like igangan (Catfish), ide (shrimps), idibi (crabs), etc. Well as a proud Itsekiri person, I can tell you we are a distinctive and special riverine tribal group. We were naturally fishermen and skilful traders dwelling in the Niger Delta, never mind that migration has changed a lot of things.
The sumptuousness of our prepared food is coupled with a high level of hygiene which is an asset to us. You would hear a few folks say, “Oton Itsekiri ee ka tin” meaning an Itsekiri child cannot be dirty. It is recorded that in the good old days and in some households presently, using the modern-day blender for Itsekiri food is like a taboo. Just maybe, we’d give a pass to our Itsekiris who cannot access mortar and pestle or grinding stones. However, I can attest to the difference in taste when you use the local tools compared with today’s innovation.
The flora of Delta state where we come from as a people, ranges from the mangrove swamp to the evergreen forests and the savannah by the coast, in the middle and the northeast regions, respectively. Common tree species in the area include Iwo (African nutmeg), Umeni/Banga stick (Liquorice), Gbafilo (Guinea plum), Egidije (Grain of selim), Effirin (Scent leaf), Ighereje, Ataiko, Jejileme (Fresh lime leaves), Iweti (Tea Leaf), Orugbogbigbe (Dried bitter leaf), Iyanyan and Beletetie. These spices and herbs from different parts of trees found in our terrains are used as a core of our meal preparations. They are also known to have appreciable amounts of nutritional and medicinal properties that are beneficial to our health and wellbeing.
It may interest you to know that Itsekiri has over 100 varieties of meals. Some of our delicious meals are listed below and these would form part of a series on food that would be posted every Thursday going forward.