When Abiodun Obembe was transferred from Lagos to Abuja, among his apprehensions was where he would find his delicious lunchtime meal.
“When I was leaving Lagos, I was worried about where I will get correct amala joint in Abuja,” he said. Few months after, he said, “A friend took me to a joint in Utako. I was surprised to see many amala joints not only in Utako but literally at every corner of Abuja.”
Amala joints are fast becoming one of Abuja’s lunch rendezvous and one of the places that unite several classes of people in the nation’s capital city.
Not all restaurants go by the popular name, amala joint; some are called Amala Capital, Amala Café, Baba Amala, Amala Extra, Amala Place, Amala Garden all in an attempt to carve an identity in the prevalent business.
Residents from the western part of Nigeria or those that once lived in the region have a deep love for amala. It is a popular Yoruba delicacy which is made with flour from ground yam chips and looks black when prepared. Another variant of amala is made from cassava flour and is white in colour.
Most restaurants in the capital city now have this delicacy on their menu. While some people love amala because it is light and easy to swallow, others are fascinated with the meal because of the soups with which it is served, gbegiri (beans soup) and ewedu (made from jute leaves) all with an assortment of meat, offal, ponmo and fish. Amala is usually served hot.
A resident, Damilola Adeoti, said she loves patronising amala joints in Lokogoma because of the soup.
On how the gbegiri is made, she said: “The beans is soaked, peeled, washed and cooked. Afterwards it is mashed and the shaft removed. Seasoning and condiments would now be added and your gbegiri is ready. The ewedu is easier to prepare, just cook the leaves and blend it with locust beans. You need to try it, that is what we call abula. And you add your oily stew to give it the Yoruba touch.”
Amala joints are turning out to be lucrative businesses in the city just as the craving for the tasty dish has broken cultural and ethnic barriers.
The manager of Oluwaloseyi Amala joint in Utako, Amina Yusuf, said amala is now one of the most popular local meals in Nigeria, adding that though it is a popular Yoruba meal, many people from other ethnic groups now go for the meal. Several of her customers are not Yoruba.
Amina, who has been in Abuja since 2007, said several people love the meal because it is easy to swallow and light.
“Unlike pounded yam that you eat and feel weak or tired because it is heavy, with amala you are ready to continue your work because it is very light,” she said, adding that how she prepares her amala was unique.
“If the amala is well prepared but without the right soup, it is not always tasty. As you can see our gbegiri and ewedu soups are hot and ready to go with hot amala. We also have cat fish, beef, chevon (goat meat), offal, ponmo stew to go with it,” she said.
She said the meal is relatively cheap. “With N300 you can eat and be satisfied in my joint. A wrap of amala is N100 and a piece of meat also N100. So it is cheap for everyone,” she added.
An artisan, Jubril Adamu, agreed, saying “unlike other meals that even after spending N500 you won’t feel much in your stomach, amala is different. I eat two wraps and one ponmo. And I am okay,” he said.
Adamu, from Kogi State, said at first, he did not like the meal but since a friend, a lady from Oyo State, introduced him to it, he has not stopped taking it.
“As more amala joints are springing up in the city, I do not have to wait till I get to Suleja before taking amala. You differentiate the customers with the amount of meat they eat. Yoruba people love eating meat with their amala that is why some amala joints will use a separate bowl to serve you meat,” he said.
At Iya Ibadan Amala Joint in Jabi, Mrs Christiana Oladejo said people love eating amala because it gives strength. Mrs Oladejo, who has been running amala joints for over eight years in Abuja, said experience gives her an edge over competitors considering the several amala joints in the city.
“We started as ‘mama put’ but with time we have added some conventional things to what we are doing to appeal to newer customers,” she said, through an interpreter.
Mrs Oladejo said though the main dish at the restaurant is amala they have added other meals including semovita and pounded yam.
“At inception, we started with amala. Later we added rice, semo, pounded yam and other meals but many of our customers prefer amala and that is where we channel our energy,” Amina also said, adding that they try to move with new trends.
On the acceptability of the meal in Abuja she said, “Some of our customers take three square meals of amala here. In the morning, afternoon and evening they eat amala.”
Among residents that frequent several amala joints within the city centre is Jamilu Garba, a taxi driver. Garba sees no harm in eating amala three times a day, though he has only tried it a couple of times as he takes dinner at home with his family.
Abiodun Obembe said he likes amala because it’s soft and light and very easy to swallow and digest especially with ewedu and gbegiri soup.
Another resident who preferred anonymity and claimed to have visited most of the joints within the city, said the meal was very delicious especially the abula.
“Amala is no more a regional food, it has turned into something that is consumed in every part of the country as far as there is someone who can prepare it,” he said.
Another resident, Ibrahim Danjuma said though he is a Hausa man, he loves eating at amala joints than any other restaurants.
However Mr Dan Ibo, a Delta State native who has spent several years in Lagos before moving to Abuja said most of the amala joints have used packaging to ‘spoil’ the attraction.
“There was an amala joint that opened in Lokogoma and I was hoping to see a typical ‘mama put’ setting but was surprised that the amala was wrapped,” he said though he said the demand for the meal led to the proliferation joints where it is sold within the city.