An adage causes me to laugh whenever it crosses my mind; it says, “it is only those who cannot afford rice that thinks rice causes appendicitis.” Funny right? During my childhood, rice was a staple meal served once a week, making swallow like eba, pounded yam, and the like, my favorite meals. You may refer to me as a village girl with a veneer of polish.
My family migrated from Lagos to Delta State a couple of years after I was born. I grew up in the south-south region of Nigeria. Yes, you can call me the village girl because I miss the sweet aroma of the food prepared with firewood, the smell and taste of the morning dew, the peaceful and serene environment, the sound of birds chirping away in the wild, and the conversations and jokes I shared with my friends on my way from the stream. I miss those days and moments, especially my mother’s great cooking and deliciousmeals.
Let’s talk about my best food, Owho, and Starch (Usi), popular in the south-south region, known as yellow and yellow. Owho and Starch is a delicacy peculiar to the Urhobo, Ijaw, Isokoh, and Itsekiri people of Delta State, Nigeria. This meal is relatively easy to prepare, although it requires some native skills and innate dexterity to prepare. This skill cannot be “self-taught” or learned by merely reading a cookery book. I remember how I watched my mother for years cooking, and at the age of twelve, for the first time, I was allowed the pleasure of preparing Owho and Starch. Please permit me to take you through the process of preparing this special meal. The ingredients for preparing Owho soup are meat, dry fish, crayfish, pepper, palm oil, salt, potash, seasoning, and local Starch.
- Soak the dry fish in a bowl of water to soften it.
- Mix the potash with a little amount of water and set aside.
- Clean, debone and separate the dry fish into medium pieces.
- Pour the palm oil into a small container, and gently decant the potash water into the palm oil while stirring till the palm oil turns yellow and becomes thick.
- Add the dry fish, crayfish, pepper, and cover to continue cooking.
- After about 7 minutes, add the palm oil mix, scoop small lumps of the garri dough or edible Starch into the pot, and continue cooking. Do not cover it from that point onwards because it will boil over due to the edible potash in the palm oil. Your Owho soup is ready when the lumps of garri or Starch have dissolved and the soup is no longer bubbly. Remove the excess lumps when you get the consistency you like for your soups before the garri lumps completely dissolve.
If you are not from the Niger-Delta region, preparing Starch might be challenging. It took a lot of convincing before my mother permitted me to prepare Starch because she knew that Starch, not properly prepared, cannot be consumed and thus did not want any form of food wastage. Please note that we are not referring to the processed Starch used for clothes but the native white edible Starch. Let me take you through preparing the swallow (Starch) for the Owho soup.
- Heat a frying pan and spread a small portion of palm oil in the pan. The oil will prevent the Starch from sticking to the pan.
- When the pan is well heated, pour in your Starch which has been diluted and well mixed with water.
- Stir continuously with a wooden spoon on low heat till the Starch forms a thick paste. When the Starch begins to solidify, here you need the muscle and strength of three men put together!
- Beat the mixture properly to prevent seeds from forming in the Starch, and allow to heat up for about five minutes.
- Before serving the Starch, rinse the plate to avoid the Starch from sticking to the plate.
Our Favourite meals are meant to be enjoyed on any special occasion or when you are tired of your regular food. With the recipe provided above, I hope you can all prepare and enjoy this delicacy called “Owho and starch.”
My current place of residence has made it difficult for me to have access to most of the ingredients needed to prepare my favorite meal whenever I want. In the absence of my precious delicacy (yellow and yellow), I enjoy rice and Banga stew and have made it a mission to consume all the rice portions I missed in my childhood. I hope I do not get appendicitis!
Written by Tutty Tero