A journey through culinary traditions with Nigerian food tourist, Mitya

Food represents a huge part of our background, which shows our culture and history. Food has always been a way to express culture because it reflects diverse cultural identities, traditions, and values.

Apart from indigenous meals that are peculiar to cultures, mainstream foods like bread, rice, and pasta also have very diverse methods of preparation and consumption that vary based on culture and location. This makes the role that food plays in tourism a very crucial part of the tourist experience. Food is not just about eating; it is also about sharing stories and bringing people together in a special way.

While some may opt for traditional sightseeing or souvenir shopping, an increasing number of individuals are captivated by the allure of food tourism. The appeal lies in its ability to offer a sensory immersion into a destination’s culture. Through food, travellers can forge connections, bridge gaps, and experience the heartbeat of a destination.

Mitya’s food travel diary

A pioneer food tourist, Ugonna Ogechi Ejiogu, popularly known as “Mityasfooddiary”, is an exceptional food tourist. From making mukbangs to being a food tourist, Mitya is known to be very expressive about food and is relentless in her journey to tell the stories of food and its origin.

She is currently a fellow in the Leading African Women in Food Fellowship (LAWFF) Program and Nigeria’s Ambassador to the World Food Travel Association. Her food exploits have been in respectable publications such as the Piggyvest blog and African Food Changemakers.

In a sit down with Mitya, she expressed her passion for food tourism and let us in on the vast world of food culture in Nigeria and parts of Africa.

How did you get into food tourism?

I have always been passionate about food, and I want people to see the beauty of Nigeria through food.

What’s most important to you when trying out new foods?

The stories behind the food. I care about their origin because it adds to the food experience and helps me appreciate the food more.

Would you say there are a lot of cuisines we don’t know about?

A good 70% of cuisines aren’t mainstream, so I know there’s a lot that we need to put out there. I’ll list a few:

First are Fiofio and Achicha. I had this when I travelled to Enugu. It is pigeon peas and mashed cocoyam cooked together with palm oil and vegetables. It was different from anything I had had before, but it tasted really good.

There is also the Akara Apapa dish from Kogi State. It has the same preparation process as the beans akara, but this is made with blended corn in place of beans, and it tastes really good.

I have also had Black soup in Edo state. It is made with several vegetables (scent leaf, uziza and bitter leaf) blended into a thick paste and cooked like normal soup. It tastes really good, and it comes with many health benefits.

There is also the “Piom Piom” dish from Rivers State, which is also known as “Matching Ground.” It is made of shelled periwinkle and goat leg mixed with a really nice sauce that is made locally. I also had Kekefia in Bayelsa, a pottage dish made with unripe plantains. It has the sweetness of plantains, but it’s also very balanced.

Nigerians are totally sleeping on this dish, Amoriri and Ori sugars! Amoriri is black plum syrup, and Ori sugar is made from corn. It feels like Eko (maize pudding) but is thicker. They go well together, and I loved it. There is also an interesting fusion of ripe plantains and soft yam called Onunu in Rivers State, which you can have with any soup of your choice. It is very healthy, and it tastes really nice.

Last but not least is the Eka garri snack in Uromi, Edo State.  It is a crunchy fried snack made from garri mixed in palm oil, made into ball shapes and then fried.

In your travels, what dishes have stood out to you?

Two dishes have really stood out to me, and I’d say it was because of the experience, not just the taste. They are Osi Igenabe and Kirigina.

Osi Igenabe were snails cooked in their shells. Having to de-shell them myself was an enjoyable experience, and it tasted really good. Kirigina from Bayelsa State is a quick soup made without fire by mashing all the soup’s ingredients in a small mortar, and the entire process was done in front of me, which is something I really liked.

Have you enjoyed any meals outside of Nigeria?

Yes. I enjoyed Zege, a dish I had in Tanzania. It is a delicious dish made by frying chips in eggs. It is simple yet very delicious. I also loved Makange ya Mbuzi, which is a traditional goat meat dish. Lastly, I enjoyed Mishkaki in East Africa. It is grilled meat, and it has a lot of flavour.

What would you say is the most mind-blowing dish you’ve had?

The most mind-blowing things I’ve had are frogs and grasshoppers. Frogs are called Onyor in Kogi State, and they are sold as regular street food, which, surprisingly, wasn’t bad. The Fara Maiduguri, which are locusts in Borno, are not bad, either. I enjoyed the crunchy feeling of eating them, and it reminded me of ancestral books I read about our forefathers eating locusts.

From your travels, which regions would you say make the best food?

This might be controversial, but no region makes food better than another. The reason why we feel this way is because we judge a lot of things based on our own taste, and it takes an acquired taste to appreciate other people’s cultural dishes. There are still so many regions I haven’t covered and so I can’t even attempt to conclude yet.

Are there any challenges you have faced in your food tourism career?

Insecurity is one of the issues that affects food tourism. It makes it almost impossible to get to certain locations. There’s also the issue of people showing up randomly to places I’m at because they see me post on my stories. Some people also record me and send the videos to me just to prove they’re close, and it can be creepy sometimes.

Perhaps the most troubling challenge of being a food tourist is being a woman. It is one thing to be a food content creator travelling in Nigeria, and it is a whole different thing to be a female food content creator travelling in Nigeria. I get a lot of side comments about staying in a lot of hotels when I travel and questions about who funds my trips, so I find myself having to explain myself a lot. Sometimes, people aren’t receptive to me because of my gender, either.

So, how do you deal with them?

I use a time-lapse now when posting. I don’t post in real-time, and I talk less online, so it helps a bit. But the hurdles will not stop me anyway because I have decided to do this till I die, no matter how long or short my life is.

Food travel has never been ‘just work’ for Mitya; it is a passion that she intends to do until she dies, irrespective of the many hurdles she faces, and she is always open to trying out every dish—that isn’t human meat.


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