As someone who loves baking, bread is extremely important. Without wheat, my whole career as a pastry chef would be impossible. If you look into Nigerian cuisine, you will struggle to find traditional recipes in the South West of Nigeria that contain wheat. As a Nigerian, the most common things that come to mind are puff puff, wheat meal, samosa, spring rolls, bread and cake. Even within bread and cake you do not find many varieties beyond white bread and vanilla cake. Some times it feels like all the bakeries in Lagos share the same recipe. The purpose of this post is to try and understand how we have bread in Nigeria. Bread is something that the Kitchen Butterfly and I have discussed countless times. Not just any bread but agege bread. Where did it come from? Why don’t we have more baked foods?
I set off to write one small post on bread. My plan was to dive into a few books, do a few google searches and compile what I found. As I am coming to realize, life is never that easy. I started off by looking for the Yoruba word for bread to try and find the origin of agege bread. This then led to more and more questions that I am not even close to finding the answer to. As I have dedicated to writing a food post once a week, I decided to just share what I have found and make Part 2 when I formalize my findings.
Does the Yoruba language have clues?
I started by looking into Yoruba cooking to find clues. From my analysis, there are about 6 words that can be used to describe all cooking process. When I tried to look for the translation of the word bake, I got yan which means to roast. The next best thing was beki which is just pronouncing the word bake with a Nigerian accent. This demonstrates to me that baking was not native to the South West though there was roasting.
If we are now able to establish that baking is not a native South West cooking method, how did it become common? It is also interesting that most of Nigeria’s wheat is imported. If we look at the average kitchen, the most common utensils are a specifically for cooking and not baking. As such most of the wheat based street foods you find in Lagos are fried. This would mean that most baked goods would have to come specifically from a bakery. The one plausible story I found answered some questions but left me with even more. As expected it makes mention of the slave trade but how did Nigerian’s learn how to make an oven?
If we look at the French speaking countries around Nigeria the influence is clearly French. Their local bread looks and tastes like a baguette. Agege bread looks more like the British pan loaf. If we are going off the idea that the bread came to Nigeria via Jamaica, who taught Amos Shackleford or his wife Catherine? Did they work for a British baker in Jamaica? Who was the person that actually created the bread that we eat now? Where is that recipe from?
A few years ago, I went to an agege bread factory with some friends. We were shocked to see that they did not use a mixer but what looked like a large pasta roller. Might there be a hidden Italian influence that is being left out of this story?
I will stop the investigation here, but it is just the beginning!
What are some things you are curious about when it comes to bread?