Settling into a new country is no easy business. Depending on your plans for the new country, there are several challenges, especially with the culture, that you could encounter. However, after leaving your home country for a developed country, the last thing you want to be burdened by when there are other several bordering concerns is what food to eat. In simple words, as a Nigerian in Germany, you have the German language as a significant challenge to deal with, some societal structures that you were not familiar with to navigate and if you’re a student, a somewhat different kind of educational system to figure out. Coupled with these, the last burden you want on your mind is what to eat or how to use the several items in the average German grocery store to make the kind of Nigerian food you can eat.
Upon relocating, you would have several food questions: Which vegetable to make Nigerian soups with, which bread will likely taste like Agege bread, which noodles tastes like Indomie? How to make a beverage like Milo or Bournvita when the stores only have cappuccinos? And importantly, you might be asking which stock cube can taste like the Maggi or Knorr? Suppose your food palette is also only familiar with Nigerian indigenous foods. In that case, your questions might extend towards: to eat cheese or not to eat, pizza or no pizza, champignons or not, chicken sausage or pork sausage (“Schweinewurst” in German) and the funniest of all: in Germany, you will be shocked by how much fruit you can find in cakes.
For Africans-in-Diaspora, African stores around the cities of developed countries try to provide product options similar to what immigrants would get back at home but somehow, no store has it all. Some stores would have more or no products of a particular region in Africa compared to others. From my experience and listening to the narratives of Africans around me, there tend to be many African stores with West African products, giving people from countries like Nigeria and Ghana the opportunity to access some food, skin and hair care products as they would find in their home country. But it is yet not impossible for you not to find specific products that you want. Also, there is a high chance these items are beyond your purchasing power since products in these stores cost more due to additional import costs.
Putting together the unavailability of certain products and the high price of the available ones, you ask; how do you make the myriad food options in the numerous grocery stores around you fit into your local Nigerian food recipes? In this article, I present some items you can buy from a grocery store especially in Germany and use to get tastes similar to what you eat in Nigeria. In some cases, you might have to combine two different products to get your result, but it does not matter as long as we can have that taste of home.
4 Items from Grocery Stores to Substitute for Everyday Nigerian Food Products
Cocoa powder, milk and sweetener as an alternative to Milo or Bournvita:
When I was travelling last year, I bought a pack of powdered milk from one of the Nigerian food brands, I was not sure how I would love liquid milk and I got Milo because I was not sure what kind of beverages would be available in my destination. When I got to Germany, I got a small gift pack which included a jar of coffee. I tried coffee for some days and I realized my body does not respond positively to coffee. Firstly, it keeps me active as it’s supposed to, then it prevents me from sleeping, and, because of disruption to my body rhythm, I suffer from headaches. So, I searched for beverages similar to Milo which is what I drink back in Nigeria. But, I only found cappuccino and several other products made from coffee which I could not buy or use because of my body’s reaction.
On the other hand, with milk, for few months, I used the regular dairy milk, which I had to warm up before consuming. We never warm milk in Nigeria. We make the water warm, and we add the milk. Right? So, this was new and stressful for me. Then, I met a vegan friend who always took plant-based milk drinks and only occasionally warmed them up. Also, sometimes the drink is already sweetened, so there is no need for additional sweetener. I love the different plant-based milk, especially soya milk so, I stopped buying dairy milk and switched to plant-based milk drinks, which can serve as milk for any milk-inclusive recipe or simply as a refreshing drink.
Now that I found the kind of milk I like, how do I make my beverage drink like Milo or Bournvita? In fact, I still have some Milo powder because I stopped using it when I discovered this other option which is to:
- add a teaspoon of cocoa powder, half – one teaspoon of sugar or honey to one mug cup of milk and warm up in the microwave.
- Stir once before warming and stir again after warming.
- You can add more sugar, cocoa, or milk as fit but voila! You have a tasty milky and sweetened cocoa beverage.
‘3-times concentrate tomatoes’ is your tomato paste for jollof rice
The first time I made jollof rice, I almost screwed it up because I bought and used what is called “tomato sauce”, which can be used as a sauce for pasta while I was actually trying to purchase and use tomato paste. Using just tomato sauce for your jollof is not what will screw up your jollof rice because if you do not have a kitchen blender to make fresh tomato and chilli puree, you can use one of these tomato sauces packed in jars in grocery stores for jollof rice. My jollof rice was screwed up by being too saucy because I used this tomato sauce and still used tomato puree, which I blended myself. I fried the sauce for long but the moisture just did not dry up as expected. I felt disappointed in the outcome of my cooking because I made this for a guest who wanted to try Nigerian jollof for the first time.
Over the weeks, I saw this ‘3-fach Konzentriert tomaten-mark’ product at a friend’s kitchen and realized that it was the ingredient I was looking for in the store the other day.
The paste is similar to what you find in Nigerian canned or sachet tomato paste concentrates, and it gives you such fabulously coloured sauce for jollof rice. There are several brands of this, and you can go for any. Try them and see which brand you most prefer.
Before I left home, there was a day I saw the photo of a bottle of groundnut on the Whatsapp status of a friend who was already in Germany. I am not sure she got the bottle of peanuts in Germany. The peanuts looked so crispy; you would know they were from Nigeria. Anyways, one random day, I was in the fruits and nuts section of the nearest grocery store when I found this product labelled “erdnüsse geröstet”, and it contained groundnuts in their pods. You should have seen the way my heart leapt for joy. I was so happy even though I never saw groundnuts roasted with pods in Nigeria, so I was not sure what to expect. All I felt was, “this is groundnut, and it says roasted. So, it’s ready for consumption”. So, I bought it, tried it, and it was so good. It is still not like the crispy groundnuts that are roasted without the pods, but I have tried it with garri, smoothie, bread, groundnut soup, and sauces, and it is yummy. If you want it crispier, you can remove the pods and pan-fry for some minutes, and you will get your crispy peanuts like back in Nigeria. This product from whatever brand in your nearby grocery store is a good option if you love peanuts and can not get them from an Afro store.
The other pack in the image above is a second product that I recently found in the snacks section. I had given up on searching for peanuts in the snacks section since I bought one, and it had too much seasoning than I like for peanuts. But a few weeks ago, my friend and I found this brand of uncoated peanuts, seasoned only with salt. It is really tasty and has traces of cashew nuts. If you like really salty peanuts not coated with any other stuff such as pesto, you can look out for this.
Vegetable stock cubes
Nestle products are constantly being criticized for being unhealthy. These criticisms are valid and are admitted by the food company, as seen in this article by Financial Times. Because of this, I’m not particularly eager to promote Nestle products, especially since I have no affiliation with them or any other brands listed above. However, just like Milo, there is one other product that is often used in cooking Nigerian food; Maggi stock cube. When I was leaving home, I took one pack of Knorr chicken stock cubes with me because I prefer them to Maggi, but since this one pack finished, it isn’t easy to get another one because of the price at the Afro store. Thus, I have tried a few stock seasonings that are available in the grocery stores near me. So far, the product which I find most tasty and simultaneously healthy is the Maggi Vegetable stock (Gemüse brühe) which is on the left part of the image below.
I especially like this one because it is made with vegetable stock; hence, it can be used for vegan meals. I made a vegan jollof rice last week without any meat stock or the usual Nigerian stock cubes, and it tasted superb. I was going to reserve some for a friend, but I could not resist the urge to finish this meal. The ingredients I used include the ‘3-times concentrate tomatoes’ mentioned earlier, onions, pureed tomatoes, chilli, onions and garlic, Japanese rice, sunflower oil, salt, nutmeg powder and this vegetable stock cube (See authentic Nigerian jollof recipe here). The other product on the right side of the image above is some ‘fatty stock cube’, which is non-vegan and good but has a powerful taste that can overwhelm your food if you are not careful. So, you can try both products and see which one you like best. I think the fat stock cube might be nice for something like a chicken stew.
What was your experience with finding the right ingredients when you moved to a new country? Kindly use the comment section to share your story with other readers and me. Also, make sure you are subscribed to get a notification for the second part of this article which will be published in a few days.