Web Link: Egusi soup and my three worlds
PDF Version: Egusi soup and my three worlds _ NYTable
Story originally posted on May 3rd, 2017.
To make egusi soup you pour palm oil into a dry pot. You add in egusi (melon seeds), meat or fish and stir. I’ve watched my mother cook this meal a million times and by now, this complex meal is made simple through her. My mother has made egusi in two different places – Nigeria and Canada. Currently living in New York City, I am surrounded with pieces of my home but no one thing brings me back to family like the sweet smell of egusi soup on a Sunday afternoon.
I am currently in Ottawa, Canada, visiting my family for Easter break. I heard pots and pans being rifled through at 7 a.m. I heard my mother mumbling to herself, questioning where her ingredients had gone. A usual for her. My mother is Nigerian and Canadian. She is about five foot seven, or maybe five foot eight. Her relaxed hair was shining as the kitchen’s yellow lights beamed above her. All the lights were on and she was ready to cook.
Typically my mother enjoyed completing her prep work before 11 a.m. mass – we are Catholics. This allowed for easy cooking after mass, and enough food to last the upcoming week and more. My father was seated watching soccer. “Bịanụ!” meaning “come on,” my father shouted as his team missed an opportunity to shoot into the net.
My mother continued in the kitchen, almost oblivious to the world around her. She began cooking and talking about the food she was preparing, then talking about life, then politics, and then as usual, of her love for Rachel Maddow. She is a huge fan.
“I’ll give you a letter from me to give her should you ever run into her,” she told me. That was her way of saying that she believed in my ability to make it to the heights of Maddow. Parents do not always speak directly to you but of you. This was one of those times.
I remember in Nigeria – where I lived until I was nine years old – my mother was making pounded yam (what you eat with egusi soup) outside in the village in Nkwerre, Imo State, where my father’s father was from. She was out with a big wooden pestle (what you pound with) and a wooden mortar (what you pound into), big enough to feed my family in our living grounds in Nkwerre.
I remember how all the women would gather together, each taking turns to pound and cook egusi soup. I remember the children attempting to grab the pestle from their mothers’ hands to have a go at it for themselves. I remember the stark “no” in response to this attempt. Most of all, I remember the togetherness.
At times my mother makes moi moi, jollof rice, yam, or plantain but none of these meals have as much cultural significance, drawing out the family memories accumulated through the years, as egusi soup. I am Nigerian, Canadian, and American. My parents are from Lagos, Nigeria, with us being Igbo. Togetherness is not a requirement but a necessity.
My mother making egusi soup somehow draws the family together, with me studying in the kitchen, my brother playing video games in the living room on his tablet, and my father watching soccer. With us pausing every few minutes to talk and laugh.
I am back in New York City and before me sits a photo of my family and I in Toronto at the CN Tower. It’s Sunday morning and I have just woken up. In one of the busiest city’s in the world I hear … nothing.