I love akara. Palm oil akara. Some call it Akara Elepo. Akara in itself is quite exquisite. But the flavor that comes from frying it in smoky palm oil just adds a whole other dimension to the dish. Growing up, akara was a Saturday morning ritual – as it was in many Nigerian households. But being the finicky akara monster that I was, I had to have mine fried specially in palm oil. So I’d scoop some of the bean paste out before it got fried in vegetable oil for the rest of the household and fix myself a special palm oil treat. *sigh* Only one thing in this world takes palm oil akara up a notch, and that’s frying it like the ones sold by those street hawkers.
No matter how hard I try, I can never replicate it – the smokiness and the crunchiness of the crust. So I’m quite content with buying from the hawkers. The only problem is you don’t come across these hawkers very often. I don’t know what it is, but they just seem to move like ghosts. Finding one used to be a kinda treasure hunt, growing up. Like the one time I spotted one such hawker in my Uni years.
Palm oil akara has a distinct savor it gives off when its frying over a firewood fire, and over the years, my nose has trained itself to recognize it even if it’s just a fleeting whiff in the air. They had this house on the adjacent street from mine where they used to fry it and set out from. I know this because I used to jog some mornings. And every time I went past this house, I would stop to take in that unmistakable savor. Try as I could though, I could never time myself accurately enough to happen upon any of them coming out with their fare. Until…
It’s a Wednesday morning. One of those midweek mornings when you don’t have classes and it feels like you’re King Under The Mountain. So there’s me, jaywalking on the streets of Okoko going to get something to eat from a nearby MamaPut (my love for MamaPut food is topic for another discussion) when I spot her. Spot IT, actually. The box of akara balanced ever-so-gracefully on the seller’s head. The golden-red balls displayed in all their red, golden glory. It’s like a dream, a vision of of of…. Heaven. Me being the shy, self-conscious duckling that I am, I’m not about to start yelling “eis! Alakara!” All over the streets of Okoko just cos I want to buy palm oil akara.
No sir. I’m gonna walk, like a civil lady, up to her and make my purchase. And I ain’t gonna be seen chasing her down either. I’m too tush for that. My plan is to “accidentally” notice her selling the akara as I walk past and then make an “innocuous” purchase as a sort of afterthought. Thing is, she has other plans for herself which don’t fit into my grand scheme of things, so before I get to her spot, she takes off. God. Wich kain tin be this? But mama didn’t raise no quitter, so I make up my mind to follow her around (read “stalk her”) until she stops again long enough for me to execute my fiendishly-brilliant plan. So here we are. Playing Pacman on the streets of Okoko on a Wednesday morning. She stops to sell. Before I reach her spot, she packs up and takes off.
And the chase begins all over again. At some point, i’m considering just damning it all to hell and yelling “Alakara! Alakara!!” whilst running after her. At this point, dignity, self-worth, self-consciousness, tushness, are all just Greek letters to me. All that matters for my survival is getting that akara. Who knows when I’m gonna spot a hawker again. IF I’m gonna spot one ever again. So I’m hastening my steps, my heart is fibrillating, I’m hoping to God that she doesn’t turn another corner and disappear from my life for good. And then.. And then, I catch up to her. Finally. She stops again to make small talk with some other woman.
I give myself one final spur on, still trying to look as ladylike as I can and FINALLY catch up to her to cop me some palm oil akara. But not before I deliver my well-rehearsed, Oscars-worthy, oh-I-didn’t-even-notice-you-there-selling-akara-how-much-is-it-gan-sef-ehnehn-hmmm-ok-let-me-just-try-some performance. Victory. I head back to my room. It takes every ounce of self-control I can muster, not to steal a congratulatory bite before I get back. An eternity seems to pass until I’m safe in the privacy of my room. Then all the airs of sophistication disappear and I devour my N50 prize with no shame or care for anything in the world.
Aaaaaah! Sweet victory!!
A true life account by Arinola Adesina