Food is ready. Come inside. Point to the enormous cowtail dripping with a load of extra seasoned thick red stew. Demand a replacement for the ponmo that’s not as weighty as the one the Mama just served to that other man. Fufu? Pounded yam? Amala? Great. Take your seat. Wash your hands in the enormous plastic bowl being held out for you by a sublime beauty who had just been transported from a southwestern village. Have a blast of a lunch as a pair of giant OX fans try and fail to cool you down. Watch a potbellied man snap a piece of gizzard with his teeth and accidentally sting his eye with the spicy soup. Have a Coke. Grab a couple of toothpicks. Pay your bill. See you tomorrow.
That’s what an afternoon meal at a lagos buka used to be, an intimate, one-of-a-kind gritty experience. The food would remind you of home cooking but with a tongue biting fuss. Come to think of it, the smack on your tongue, was always a little different from home cooking in a mysterious kind of way. It’s something you can’t exactly put your finger on. But it’s still unlike the menu at a quick service restaurant.
Accepted, the updated decor of mamaputs make them more hygienic, but the cooking at a mamaput would never have tasted like it came off an assembly line of predetermined, scientifically calculated recipes. This way, there would be no guarantee that the stews would feel the same way two times in a row. Bukas used to be intriguing. But not anymore.
Last week I took a tour of some famous Lagos bukas. The ones I thought everyone must visit before they die. I went from Lagos Island, to Surulere, to Yaba, to Ikeja. I was with my friend, the wedding and lifestyle photographer Lexy Adeoye. What we found? Bukas that have become so successful they are so similar to fast-food joints such as Mr Bigg’s. You could argue that the changes they’ve made in their appearance would provide more comfort for a certain kind of customer, the one who can spend important money.
But what about the flavour and attitude? The raw, rustic, and unpretentious appearance is gone. It’s now been replaced with plastic chairs, glass walled countertops, and DSTV. With all due respect, there wasn’t a distinguishable tang. This doesn’t mean the grub was bad, it’s just that this buka was not different from the next one. Perhaps things would have been different if we covered all of Lagos, you know, drive through Apapa, Mile 2, Ikorodu, Lekki, but I doubt it.
Hopefully, someone reading this would prove me wrong, show me to the ones that will rekindle my faith in the organic mamaput.
We ordered some takeout from all of them, except the two that weren’t open on Saturday – the ones that are best described as Corporate Bukas.
We took pictures. First, here is Olaiya at Shitta in Surulere:
Next is the Police College buka in Ikeja. The whole place has been given a facelift probably to go with the new appearance of the college itself, but it looks different and tastes different. Or maybe it’s just us.
As I said, Ghana High was closed:
Finally, we are at the busiest of them all, White House, Yaba, a few metres away from E-Centre. One of the customers said it was the best for a classy person. That actually means a lot.
**All photos by me. Look out for a special collection by Lexy.