Pounded Yam In Vienna

by Dele A. Sonubi

I came to this big city of Austria where cold is so bitter that it bit deep into the soul of the skin. Usually because there are no direct flights from Lagos to Vienna, one always has to go through one European country or the other to get here. Owing to the length of travel, there is the general feeling of one travelling from Nigeria so far away to come to Austria. And so here I “so far away in Austria

When I came, I was sure that for the entire four weeks duration of my holidays I was going to be more than far away from my normal Nigeria (Yoruba) meals. I was prepared for the long wait during which I would miss “eba” amala, occasional tuwo, fufu and lafun with their complementary “ewedu”, “gbegiri,” ila, and ogbono soups! I was therefore ready to eat leaves and fruits as these “white” people call it cabbage and sala. I was really ready to adapt my stomach to the dictation of the moments. My host came in and announced that there was an African and indeed Nigerian restaurant not far from where we stayed. At the restaurant, Pounded yam with its complementary egusi soup (the favorite dish for foreigners in Nigeria) was served. He described the place and i followed him with the “eyes” of my inner mind. Suddenly he suggested we go there and I became more than curious.

We walked to this little space and entered the room. It was filled with some friendly looking Africans, about eight of them. They were busy drinking, smoking and talking away the young evening. The kind of reports one got at home back in Nigeria was that “our boys” were suffering, missing home and missing all those things that make home, home. The reports were not friendly and they indicated Nigerians actively engaged in prostitutions, drug sales, illegal entrepreneurships and all sorts of sad news meant to portray “away” as indeed unfriendly and cruel. However, here were these young lads sitting down, relaxed and chatting away. Instantly I knew i was in a place organised and arranged by Nigerians. I felt at home immediately and no one needed to tell me that the local language that these folks were using was Ibo language. They stopped and looked at us as we approached further into the restaurant and took our seats. There were four of us and i was the only African in the group. On the back ground, music flowed from the maestro, Osita Osadebe. His guitar tunes reminded me that i could never have been more than fortunate to be born Nigerian. When I heard the drums, the familiar tunes of his rendition, i became a fool of my own nostalgia. I constantly shook my head in awe wondering how fortunate I could have been to be inside such familiar background. So, i listened, i smiled and continued to enjoy the moment that connected me straight and back to my roots. The room was warm, the folks were relaxed and completely occupied with each others company. I soon became part of them as my body became totally accustomed to the climate and forgot that i was in Vienna, the city with cold weather. (when we finished, my host told me he wanted to show me the easiest and fastest way to Nigeria, I was curious, then he opened the door of the restaurant, the cold air of the Austria atmosphere hit me, the silence of the street, the air of individuality and the structures of their composed city all confronted me and reminded me that i was still far away from Nigeria. Stepping out of the restaurant meant returning to reality: what the Americans will say “reality check”)

The waiter came to ask us what we would want to eat; there was egusi soup, bitter leaf, and one other soup i could not remember. I ordered for bitter leaf and silently wandered if i would get that or get some lettuce used as bitter leaf. Minutes later, my food came; it was white and fluffy pounded yam with bitter leaf and egusi for my other friends. There was water to wash the hands (as though they were never expecting any of us to use forks and knives to cut through pounded yam and egusi soup) complementing the usual friendly face of the waiter who served the meal. She was not wearing some idiotic service dress that would take her African looks away; she looked exactly like one of those ladies one would see at “mama Chinedu” or “Mama Oluchi’s restaurant with gratitude on her face because the customer accepted her food to eat.

My curiosity knew no bounds. I descended on the meal as though i had never ever eaten pounded yam before. I pounded the yam in my mouth with the ease of one who had been starved of such delicacies since weeks. Suddenly i was unable to follow or lead any coherent conversation, my concentration and attention were focused on the collapsing structure of the mountainous pounded yam in front of me. Meanwhile, i was having problems touching the soup with each morsel of the pounded yam I took; the various “orisirisi” meat that characterised the soup disturbed me fairly well and i had to start eating them one by one before i could make head-way with the soup. I nodded as conversations were going on to indicate that i heard, but my mind was on the beauty of the food i was demolishing.

In no time at all, my own ration was finished. I looked up and began to clean my nose which was already leaking liquid from the much I suffered as consequence of the chilly pepper inside the bitter leaf soup. I shook my head in appreciation of an excellent meal and thanked God that nothing could ever take my “Nigerian-ness” away from me. In far away Austria, pounded yam, took its day, it continued to add substances to the tread that tells a story about Nigeria. In societies where the horrific tales of the Niger/Delta is the only stories making headlines about Nigeria, in places where people laughed at our shallow politics and selfish interests over and above public good, pounded yam told a better story of a people, of a race, of a pride in a nation that stands on in spite of all. There are other things that add up to the thread. Each thread, woven together, form a tapestry of an intricate texture. The tapestry tells a story, and story is our past and present. If only Nigerians abroad can continue to be shining examples of the Nigerians at home…

Second Visit

Matters would have happily end up very well here. I would have mailed this article online and ended my free advertisements for this food joint except few days later, I took my wife, her friends and five other European friends to come and have a taste of our home. We went there, aside from everyone staring at us like we were in zoo, Nigerians came up with their usual pride; they started to sing out loud, they started to shout at one another, they were fighting and throwing utensils at one another. We quietly eased ourselves out and none of us ever went to that shop again nor did we speak about the shameful behavior.

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dele4you2@yahoo.com August 13, 2008 - 5:20 am

Dear Mamman Sanusi, I am glad that you like this piece. I actually never knew that it would attract so much attention. It has been the most read and the responded piece i ever did. Let us keep the dialogue on. Thanks


mamman sanusi August 10, 2008 - 5:30 pm

i so much like this article tha’s why iseect rating as excelent

Dele A. Sonubi July 8, 2008 - 10:46 pm

Dear Chi

I try to capture some expressions in countries I visit where english is not a main language. However I speak fairly good German, I am competent in salutations with Spanish and I speak excellent and near perfect Yoruba.

Chi June 5, 2008 - 1:49 pm


I enjoyed your story. From the construction of your language, I notice several European influences beyond English. You seem well traveled. – Spain, Denmark, Austria… How many languages do you speak and which are they? Just curious…


dele4you2@yahoo.com March 31, 2008 - 12:33 pm

Dear Mrs Daboh,

Thanks for your comments and congrats on your marriage to a Nigerian. You know sometimes when you really sit back to review things you will find out that something you are used to are strange. For instance, it hardly matter to me how naturally violent it is for others to see you screaming and shouting on top of your voice. Now that you speak of fights at gas stations and cyber cafés… it shows that indeed we often quarrel and fight. These are influenced by too many pressures within our country Nigeria. Example:

1. There are grave economic pressure (where a man hardly knows where the other meals will come from);

2. social pressure (there are no electricity; everywhere you hear the noises of generators and broken down vehicles… you live with this noise at home, you get to work it is the same, you go to relax in the hotel and the noise follows you….gradually one begins to pile up the moments of insanity until one day when one would explode!); and

3. pressure from political system-Structural violence (where you see your elected officers ridding the bests of cars while public transport systems have broken down and working class people cannot afford a new car; politicians stealing millions of USD even though basic salary is less than 5USD… you watch news and you see legislators (“legislooters”) fighting combats in the halls of the national assemblies… noises of sirens- of government officials fill the entire place pushing commuters away from the streets).

These are amongst many other reasons

My dear Mrs Daboh, there are so very many things that push the aggressions in us. It is a pity but often times these things are not realized or accounted for but they are good reasons why we often fight and easily quarrel

Dele Sonubi

Patricia March 31, 2008 - 9:14 am

I really enjoyed your article. My husband is Nigerian, and when I went to Lagos to get married, I longed for my American food so very much. So I know what it is like to be away from home and not have the types of food that you are use to and love to eat.

I loved reading about how much you enjoyed your first visit, but do not understand what the fighting was all about. I witnessed a few fights at the gas station when I was in Lagos, and when my husand use to IM me from the cafe, some fights broke out there as well. It seems as though Nigerians fight easily . . . .like Americans I am afraid at times.

dele4you2@yahoo.com March 31, 2008 - 7:07 am

Dear Sir,

You are right, I will the second visit had not been necessary otherwise I will always have a romantic and fantastic imagination of the place. Yet, if an orange is sweet one will suck hundreds of it at one time. We had to go there again but ideed it was a pity what we experienced.


dele4you2@yahoo.com March 31, 2008 - 6:09 am

Dear Rosie,

We were there to eat and enjoy the pounded yam. Aside from the stare from everyone as though we were strange coming there, they started to play loud music and the volume was indeed excessively loud. The Nigerian boys were busy screaming on top of thier voices and then the noise from the music rendered the place uncomfortable for solemn conversation. We approached the barman and asked him to kindly turn down the volume of the stereo. He obliged and our Igbo friends screamed at him for doing that. He was explaining to them when they picked up the fight and we eased ourselves out.

smokeysmokey48238@yahoo.com March 28, 2008 - 5:25 pm

Interesting experience. What started the fight?

a reader March 28, 2008 - 10:41 am

nice story.

Quite enjoyed it up until the second visit.


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