Food | CULTURE
bukas and joints | on-screen satisfaction
FEBRUARY 7, 2017
We may never eat pizza or pasta again, now that Nigerian TV series Bukas & Joints is here to remind us that African cuisine is to die for. Hosted by Olisa Adibua, the show travels the breadth of the continent in search of authentic African cuisine.
words by: ifeanyi awachie
GT's Ifeanyi Awachie dishes with creator Biola Alabi on the politics of Nigerian food, the best joints from Lagos and London, and her read on the infamous jollof wars.
GT: Why did you find it important to devote a show to Nigerian food? What are some of the logistics involved?
BA: I always bring food to my friends when I visit the States. Once, some guests thought chin chin [a Nigerian fried snack] was dog food. I supposed if I had seen sushi for the first time, I might be confused about what it was, too. I started asking myself, “How do we present our food?” And I realized if we’re not sharing our food, we’re not sharing our culture. So we share recipes through the show. To do this with a global audience, I had to think about the names [of the ingredients], so for example, we used “habanero pepper” as opposed to rodo, because people outside of Nigeria know rodo by that name. Green pepper is tatashe. We haven’t turned down the peppery and savory taste of the foods, though we do tell people the pepper is optional. We have an upcoming ebook of recipes for the holiday season - that’s part of how you share your culture.
What’s unique about Bukas and Joints?
I love channels like the Food Network, but there wasn’t a channel that was showing African food authentically and having people enjoy it, talk about it, talk about the process. But Bukas & Joints is not a cooking show - it’s an eating and traveling show. We recently went to London to shoot, which will give our viewers a sense of how Africans in the diaspora eat. We met these two millennials cooking Nigerian food - Chuku’s London. Their chin chin cheesecake is amazing.
What are some of your other favorite food joints in London and Nigeria?
Terra Kulture [an arts and lifestyle center in Lagos] has Wifi, you can drink palm wine there, it’s a nice place on Victoria Island serving good, authentic food. L’Afric Restaurant and Bar - their seafood okra is out of this world. Olaiya in Surulere is known for its amala [a dish made from yams and/or cassava flour], and Ghana High on Lagos Island is the place to go for jollof rice.
How about your favorite dishes?
One of my favorite places that we discovered was the snake pepper soup joint - it’s a delicacy, we get requests for that recipe from everywhere. Since featuring the local restaurant that makes it, the number of requests has been insane. People line up there starting at 11am. [Bukas & Joints] is having an impact on businesses. It provides information for people coming to Lagos wondering where to eat.
I wanted to do a snack episode and the team was “eh” about it, but when I think about my childhood, I think of the snacks: puff puff, chin chin, akara, those smells that define your childhood, pounded yam on Sundays…
What has the show’s reception been like so far?
Something that really caught us off guard was that when we went to shoot at one restaurant, people were skeptical. They asked, “What do you want, why would you be doing this?” We explained that it’s a cultural thing. They said, “So you’ll just do that for free?” And we said yes, we have sponsors and so on. That’s been an educational process for us. We’ve had to build trust. People invite us now, though some are camera shy.
Do you think that has to do with reality TV culture in Nigeria versus in the United States, for example?
Yes, reality TV culture in the US is almost centuries ahead of where we are. When you look at TV adoption in Nigeria, consumer’s habits are changing so rapidly, people are consuming more TV on smartphones. You’re gonna start seeing how people react differently to being in the limelight. In the beginning, we did see people being very shy, and that is already changing. We mimic what we see depending on how much TV people consume.
Do Nigerians watch more Nollywood than reality TV?
Yes, but people watch a lot of news as well. Since we broadcast on AIT [African Independent Television] and they have the widest reach in Nigeria according to GeoPoll, we find that a lot of Nigerians have seen the program and watch loyally every week.
A number of posts on Bukas & Joints’ Instagram are about the wellness benefits of tomatoes, a Nigerian staple, and about staying healthy in general - what other things can Africans and others learn from African cooking?
We’ve really tried not to be preachy, we’ve tried to really enjoy our food, talk about its benefits. Sometimes what comes across is that African food is not healthy. A lot of our food is medicine - for example, bitter leaf soup is very healthy and high in fiber - but we’ve also tried to ask whether we are using too much oil, etc. People on social media are constantly looking for information on health. We wanted to use the opportunity to bring in those elements - for example, with regards to people cutting veggies before washing, we’ve tried to say wash before cutting.
You also host live events, like the one at Fiesta of Flavours Harbour Point. What’s the role of live events and eating out in Nigerian food culture?
Food fests are growing in Nigeria - there’s Enugu Food Festival, food entrepreneurs are popping up in different ways. A lot of people go to bukas and joints - our local eateries. There’s definitely a breakfast and lunch crowd, though people still tend to eat dinner at home. With the emerging middle class, people are going out to eat a lot more. You saw those trends in America in the 50s; now it’s happening across the continent. For dinner, you want more courses. We’re seeing amazing developments in dining to meet those demands.
Now, we have to ask: what’s your statement on Jollof Wars?
In future seasons, we’ll actually be going to the three biggest jollof hubs: Senegal - the root of jollof - Ghana, and Nigeria. People have been petitioning to add Cameroon to the list. What we want is jollof peace. We’re hoping to do that next season via Facebook Live.
How can we watch Bukas?
Season 3 debuted on Feburary 5th. Through AIT, the show also broadcasts in the UK. In the USA, we broadcast on the Africa Channel - we’re licensing Season 2 to them. We’re also working with a couple of VOD [video on demand] platforms.
Top things to look out for this season?
More of Olisa getting his hands dirty. It’s positive to see a man cooking from an African perspective, to see amateur cooking - people think it has to be a chef if a man is cooking. Also look out for episodes in Johannesburg, Abuja, see us getting out of Lagos to Enugu and other places.
Tell us about your production company, Biola Alabi Media.
One of the things I’ve always been passionate about is creative counter-narratives regarding how Africans see themselves and how the world sees Africa. In the future, you’ll see us coming out with films, you’ll see us continuing to change. One of the films will be starring a diasporan moving back home - we’re all about “brain gain.”
See more from the Bukas & Joints crew here.