I like to visit independent bookstores when I’m traveling. Pre-pandemic, I used to be in the Washington, DC area a lot for conferences and review committee meetings. My favorite bookstores there are Kramerbooks and Afterwords (now just called Kramers) in Dupont Circle and Busboys and Poets on 14th and V.
A few years ago, I was in DC for a relative’s wedding and my husband and I hung out with my brother in the Dupont Circle area. We went in to Kramerbooks and Afterwords and my brother bought me a book that I have come to cherish.
That book is Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribisala. It’s an award-winning book about Nigerian fare by a talented and imaginative food writer, but that characterization doesn’t properly do it justice.
I think the best way to describe Longthroat Memoirs is as a series of essays on Nigerian culture through its wide variety of cuisines. Aribisala spends quite a bit of time in the Calabar area, famed for dishes like edikang ikong and afang soup.
I loved “Okro Soup, Gorgeous Mucilage,” in which she defends draw soups from their detractors worldwide, and her essay “A Beautiful Girl Named Ogbono” had me laughing out loud as she describes taking advantage of her mother’s absence on a visit to a friend’s house to ask her host for a third helping of delicious ogbono soup (when I was growing up, Nigerian moms often instructed kids not to accept food outside their home, no matter how tempting). “Dead Man’s Helmet” is a particularly haunting essay on eating and survival while in motion, during the Biafran War.
The rich collection of essays made me laugh, cry, and also very hungry. I savored each page, even putting off reading the last essay for a while, because I didn’t want the book to end.