‘We want to take Amala to higher heights’
From WOLE BALOGUN & LAIDE RAHEEM, Ado-Ekiti
One of the foods held in high esteem in Yoruba land is Amala also known as “oka.” Amala is usually taken with its accomplices – Gbegiri and Ewedu. It is one of the foremost Yoruba culinaries, especially in Oyo State.
It is a peculiar delicacy believed to be medicinal because it gives energy and agility to its consumers. Amala is typically taken with abula, a combination of “ewedu” and “gbegiri” that will be complemented with assorted meat fondly called “orisirisi.”
The medicinal attribute of the food is attested to by a famous Yoruba saying: “Iyan ni onje, oka ni oogun, ki enu ma sile ni ti guguru’.” Translated to mean pounded yam is food, “Amala” is a medicine, popcorn is an appetiser).
“Amala” could be served with a variety of soup, such as “ẹfọ,” “ilá,” “ewédú,” “ogbono,” “gbegiri” (black-eyed beans soup), independently or by combination.
“Amala” is a staple food to the Yoruba. But it has gained a tremendous national relevance. It is prepared from yam or cassava flour, which both belong to tuber family in the classification of food. “Amala” derived from yam is called “Amala isu” and the one from cassava is called “Amala lafun.”
Yam flour is derived from yam that is peeled, sliced, cleaned, dried and blended into flour, also called “elubo.” Yam is white in colour but it turns into a brownish colour after it is dried; this gives “Amala” its thick brown colour.
Cassava flour is derived from cassava that has been either been peeled or not and is soaked in clean water for three or four days, till it becomes soft. It will be broken to small pieces and dried, and then blended into flour. It is usually white.
The third type is “Amala ogede” is derived from unripe plantain. The low carbohydrate level in the plantain flour makes a good food for diabetic patients and other illnesses that require less of carbohydrate food. It is also light, hence it quickly digests. As a result of being easy to digest, it helps weight lose.
Unripe plantain is pealed, dried and grated into flour and turned in boiled water to become “Amala ogede.” It is light brownish in colour when prepared.
Visits to some local restaurants by Daily Sun revealed that people eat “Amala” more than any other food. Some of the operators of the restaurants are even happy that the period of super sales for “Amala” is around the corner. According to them, people consume “Amala” more during harmattan.
To promote and preserve the techniques involved in “Amala” culinary heritage, the Oyo State Government is set to hold “Ajodun Oka” that is “Amala” Fiesta. The three-day fiesta begins on December 15, 2016, at Trans Amusement Park, Bodija, Ibadan.
The fiesta is coming more than eight years after the death of the strongman of Ibadan politics, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, known for his “Amala” and “gbegiri” politics.
Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Toye Arulogun, said: “Amala Fiesta also known as ‘Ajodun Oka’ is not just a food and cultural tourism event, but a celebration of the Yoruba food culture and Oyo State’s foremost delicacy, which has become a national pride with international presence and worldwide acceptance.
“All over the world, from Ibadan, Oyo, Ogbomoso, Ibarapa, Oke-Ogun, Aba, Kano, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Peckam, Brixton, Atlanta, Brussels, Brisbane, Stockholm, Maryland, New York, Brooklyn, Beijing, you will find ‘Amala.’
“Name the occasion or high profile event in Nigeria today, ‘Amala’ with its favourite accompaniment ‘Gbegiri’ and ‘Ewedu’ will be on the menu list. The ‘Amala’ brand therefore transcends local and international boundaries. Certainly, this is worthy of celebration.”
Arulogun, who stated that the major highlights of the fiesta include food competition, cultural displays, musical concerts, food, edibles and agricultural exhibitions, comedy as well as raffle draw, explained that his ministry in organising the fiesta would collaborate with Tourist Care Hospitality Association of Nigeria (TCHAN), Ministry of Local Government, Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) in Oyo State and Canteen Owners Association of Nigeria.
He described the partnership as one of the four strategic pillars for the development of the cultural tourism potentials of the state: “Others are identification, packaging and promotion. It is therefore heartwarming to see our food vendors, who have become iconic food brands …to be co-participants in the first of what will become an annual food pilgrimage in December to and in Oyo State. All the 33 local governments of the state will have adequate representation at the food festival with their own popular Amala vendors.”
“Amala” Fiesta Ambassador, Mr. Gboyega Latunji, who was presented to the public recently, represents what is called the “Encyclopaedia Amalika.” He is said to possess the in-depth knowledge of the Amala Bukas and their specialities. He is a typical native with a strong “Amala” palate. He said “Amala” vendors call him Oyinbo, and he would bring international flavour to the “Amala” experience.
The Amala Fiesta Logo, unveiled by Arulogun represents a summation of “Amala” food heritage and culture. It has symbols of “Amala” and the favourite accompaniment of “gbegiri” and “ewedu”, plus “orisirisi.” It is a typical plate of food at any local restaurant. Also conspicuous on the logo are heat and sweat in bold colours that is said to characterise “Amala” experience.
Arulogun said the doors are openedwider for more collaborators and partners many brands, especially those in the food, edibles and beverages sector, adding: “Oyo State in general and Ibadan in particular, which is the venue of the Amala Fiesta presents a huge and homogeneous population for brands in different markets to tap into.
The food vendors that have become iconic food brands in Oyo State include Iyadunni, Ejiwumi, Ola Mummy, Inastraite, Omolayo, Safu, Iya’la, Alabede, Fanawole, Mrs Skye, and Iya ‘Dija. The vendors are expected to compete on different aspects and the government would present gifts to the winners
The fiesta, is expected to become an annual food pilgrimage every December. All the 33 local government areas and the newly created 35 local council development areas (LCDAs) are expected to have adequate representation at the food festival with their own popular “Amala” vendor.
“Ajodun Oka” is described as an attempt promote, preserve and afford continuous updating of the techniques and skills involved in the indigenous culinary for wider appeal and acceptability. Its objectives include showcasing the uniqueness of “Amala” as a peculiar delicacy of the people of Oyo State, promoting the nutrition value of “Amala” and attracting tourism activities to the state.
The festival is also expected to promote, present preserve, and develop the food cultural heritage of Oyo State and create employment opportunities for the teeming population of the state, promote the techniques involved in amala culinary heritage for wider appeal and participation, improve the Internally Generated Revenue of the state and create identity for the state through food culture.
Alhaja Iyadunni Lawal, the owner of Iyadunni Food Canteen, Ibadan, described “Amala” as a delicacy good for all and sundry irrespective of ethnic, religious and traditional background.
Lawal, a member of Canteen Owners Association of Nigeria (COAN), commended the state government for the idea, saying “Amala” sells in both the rainy and harmattan seasons.
In the same vein, Mr. Philip Areo, vice president, TCHAN, said: “I so much love “Amala” and we have always advocated such programme. Farmers produced the raw materials for ‘elubo’, ‘gbegiri’ and ‘ewedu’, while the transformation to edible substance involved many.
“If you look at these processes, they allow more opportunities, more revenue and economic development. A lot of my friend come from Lagos every weekend to eat ‘Amala’ in Ibadan.”
According to nutritionists, human beings require food to grow, reproduce, and maintain good health. Without food, bodies could not stay warm, build or repair tissue, or maintain a heartbeat. Eating the right foods can help avoid certain diseases or recover faster when illness occurs.
Nutrients, which are chemical substance in food that make bodies of human beings perform the highlighted important functions and others, are classified as carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water.
According to Live Healthy Blog, “Amala” can be consumed with “ewedu” (jute) and stew made from pepper, tomato, palm oil, water, salt and season). The full health benefits of the meal is said to be good for the well being of humans. These health benefits include management of diabetes, which is a metabolic disease inflicting the society and has led to deaths of many people and scientists are still finding lasting solution to this problem.
The meal, “Amala” with “ewedu” and stew, is described as a very good meal for diabetic patients because “Amala” from yam flour is known for its low glycemic index such that it won’t cause rapid rise in blood glucose level of diabetes patients and so won’t cause aggravation of the condition. In combination with the positive effects of antioxidants found in stew and “ewedu” it makes it very good for diabetes management.
The meal is also said to improve cardiovascular diseases. All foods consumed in the meal are said to be good for cardiovascular framework. The dietary fibre in “Amala” helps reduce low density lipoproteins and pepper used in making stew impedes build up of cholesterol in the body and finally “ewedu” is known to have good impact on cardiovascular diseases.
The meal is also said to help in lowering cancer risk. “Ewedu” and stew have several antioxidants in it and these antioxidants aid in mopping up of pro-oxidants that could instigate cancer. Beta-cryptoxanthin in red pepper has been investigated and shows it aids in preventing lung cancer that is either caused by direct smoking or second hand smoke that is injurious to health.
Caroteniods in tomato and red pepper assist in lowering risks of breast cancer. Several antioxidants found in ewedu also aid in lowering cancer risk.
The experts stated further that the dietary fibre in “Amala” reduces risk of having colon cancer by hindering hazardous compounds in food from affecting the colon mucosa.
At the same time, taking a healthy amount of “Amala” with “ewedu” and stew is said to be good for weight loss. Pepper is said to have a chemical compound called capsaicin that could jazz up metabolism, keep immature fat cells from developing and so promotes weight loss. This ability coupled with ewedu that has low calorie and healthy amount of amala that has low GI supports weight loss. The meal is also said to build immune system. There are several type of vitamins found in amala meal and many antioxidants that help to make possible clearing up of prooxidants and simultaneously making the immune system better. The immune system is necessary for fighting infections so it is very important it is not weak.
Vitamin A can be found in “ewedu” and pepper, coupled with beta-carotene and these nutrients help in improving eye sight . This indicates that the meal is good for eyes health. Other benefits that could be profited from consuming such meal are derived from other nutrients such as calcium that helps in stronger bone, zinc that helps in sperm motility, iron, copper, magnesium, potassium and several other minerals and vitamins.