What to eat in Nigeria? 10 Most Popular Nigerian Foods

Last update: Fri Sep 15 2023

Nigeria is situated on the western coast of Africa in the central region. The climate is dry or humid and tropical, and the country is in close proximity to the Sahara desert to the north and mountains to the eastern side of the county. The differences in landscape result in variations in the production of food and eating habits.

Influences on Nigerian Cuisine

The influence of different nations and cultures cultures on Nigerian food is not as great as in most other countries, but it shouldn't be downplayed – the slave trade was established by the Portugese around 1400, while the British established Nigeria as a territorial entity in 1914. The cuisine of southern United States has been influenced by traditional Nigerian foods via the slave trade, while different traders introduced Asian spices to Nigeria, such as nutmeg and cinnamon.

Ethnic and Religious Groups

The largest ethnic groups in Nigeria include the Igbo in the southeast, the Yoruba in the southwest, and the Hausa-Fulani in the North. In the northern region, the population is mostly Sunni Muslim, and in the south, the population is largely Christian, whether Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal, Lutheran, or Methodist. The majority of farming involves animals and crop production.

Typical Meals, Ingredients, and Preparation Methods

A traditional Nigerian meal consists of a thick stew and a starch. Meat and fish are usually enjoyed by those who do farming or fishing, otherwise these foods are available only to the wealthy, so many Nigerians are vegetarians out of necessity. Those who can access the meat usually enjoy cow, chicken, goat, goose, pigeon, turkey, and guinea fowl.

Freshwater fish such as carp and seafood such as crabs and shrimp is available in the rivers Sokoto and Niger. Palms are abundant throughout the country and they're used to produce palm oil, made from palm kernels. Fresh fruit is also in good supply, such as pineapple, coconuts, mangoes, papayas, and plantains. Milk and milk products are not common, except in some northern parts of the country.

Most traditional Nigerian meals consist of one course – a thick stew or soup and a starch. The food is usually fried in palm oil when preparing stews. If there is no oven, the food is prepared by wrapping it in banana leaves and cooking it over hot coals. Most Nigerian kitchens have a mortar and pestle, which is used to mash yams or crush spices.

A typical Nigerian meal is always prepared by women. Breakfast is eaten early in the morning and may include leftovers, fried plantains, gari porridge, rice and mangoes, or stewed soybeans. Lunch is eaten before noon, and in the evening a light meal is enjoyed by those who can afford it. Snacks are commonly eaten throughout the day.

There are also gendered eating practices - men always eat first and they are separated from the women and children, who eat after the men have finished their meal. Due to poverty, restaurants are reserved for the well-off tourists and the wealthy. While eating anything, from a simple homemade meal to food bought from street vendors, it is customarily to sit down, relax, and enjoy the food without doing anything else, such as walking and eating.

Regional Eating Habits

People from the north, mostly Muslims, eat dishes based on sorghum and beans. Those in the east eat yams, dumplings, and pumpkin. The people from the south, mostly Christians, enjoy rice, pork, and groundnut-based stews, while those in the southwestern and central regions enjoy cassava and okra stews, mushrooms, yams, and rice dishes such as the famous jollof rice. Those living on the coasts usually eat seafood stews, while those living near rivers are well acquainted with freshwater fish stews. The meals are typically seasoned with salt, pepper, and hot chili peppers. If dips are served with meals, they're usually made from chili peppers.

Time for Celebration

As with most countries, food plays an important role in Nigerian feasts and celebrations, whether Muslim or Christian. A Christmas feast often includes jollof rice, liver, yams, and roasted goat, called obe didin, while the New Yam Festivals in August, celebrated by the Igbo communities, include dishes made from newly harvested yam. For wedding ceremonies, kola nuts are typically used to bless the marriage, while meat dishes are reserved for baby-naming ceremonies and funerals.

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Nigerian Food