A Taste of Her Portmanteau

By Annie Sears

A culture has many defining characteristics: language, social structure, traditions, values. These elements draw people together, helping us understand our own humanity by understanding the group we belong to. One element of a culture is especially human—food.

No matter who you are or where you come from, you need to eat. And when you share a meal with others, you slow down, sit together, and converse. Food quickly becomes more than food. “In Nigeria,” says Dr. Awam Amkpa, a theater professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, “food is a peacemaker at the core of inventing community—not just the communities we have, but as a way of producing community. When even total strangers come to your home, we use food as the foundation for that relationship.”

In Her Portmanteau, playing at The Strand through March 31, characters share two traditional Nigerian foods onstage: afang soup and fufu. On February 24 and March 3, Eko Kitchen—a Nigerian pop-up kitchen here in the Bay Area—will be in the Strand lobby offering a taste of Lagos before the performances. Here’s a sneak peek into what you can expect.

Afang Soup (feeds 4–6 people)
Afang soup originated in the Efik tribe of the Cross-River state and the Ibibio people of the Akwa Ibom state, the home of the Ufot family. Its defining ingredient is afang leaves: dark green, bitter-tasting leaves from the African afang plant. Many ethno-linguistic groups in Nigeria have their own versions of afang soup; this recipe is specific to the Ibibio people.

Afang soup. Photo by Nky Lily Lete (nigerianfoodtv.com). Courtesy Nky Lily Lete.
  • 500 g of afang leave
  • 1 kg of fresh waterleaf (sometimes called Malabar spinach), spinach, or lamb’s lettuce.
  • Adiaha blends okra with the waterleaf/spinach/lamb’s lettuce, giving the soup a slimier texture.
  • 2 tbsp of ground crayfish
  • 2 Maggi seasoning cubes (Allergy warning: May contain traces of wheat, milk, egg, soy, celery, and fish.)
  • ½ cup of red palm oil
  • Meats (In Her Portmanteau, Adiaha uses codfish, goat, beef, and tripe meat. Because Nigeria is located on the Gulf of Guinea, clams, shrimps, oysters, sea snails, and smoked fish are common in southern versions of Afang soup. It can also be a vegetarian dish, substituting peppers and mushrooms for meats and using the vegetable-based Maggi cubes. Vegetables can also be added to the traditional, meat-inclusive dish.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Soak the dried afang leaves in room temperature water for 10 minutes. Rinse, and drain the water.
  2. In a saucepan, boil the meats in a small amount of water until tender, approximately 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. While this is boiling, pulse the afang leaves in a blender with a little bit of water. Be sure to stop before the leaves are pureed. Repeat for the waterleaf.
  4. Stir the oil, Maggi cubes, and crayfish into the meat pot. Cover, and let it sit until boiling.
  5. Add the pulsed leaves. Turn down the heat, and let it simmer for 5–10 minutes.
  6. Serve warm with fufu. Pinch off a piece of fufu, make a small indentation, and scoop soup into that indentation. There’s no need to chew it; swallow the fufu whole.
Fufu can be made with cassava flour, corn flour, plantains, or yams. In Her Portmanteau, Abasiama who would have used yams per Ibibio tradition.

Fufu with Ghanaian peanut soup at a restaurant in Los Angeles, March 10, 2017. Photo by Zeal Harris. Courtesy Flickr.
  • 1 white yam per serving
  1. Cut the yam into inch-wide slices, using only the middle of the yam.
  2. Peel each slice, and cut the peeled slices into smaller cubes.
  3. Put the cubes into a pot and cover with water. Let boil until tender enough to easily pierce with a butter knife.
  4. Move the pieces into a mortar, but don’t dispose of your water.
  5. Pound pieces with mortar and pestle until no lumps remain.
  6. Add small quantities of water until the fufu is stretchy and dough-like, but not yet soft like mashed potatoes.
  7. Mold the fufu into round balls, and serve.
In Her Portmanteau, American-raised Adiaha uses Jiffy pancake mix instead of pounded yam.

  • 6 cups water
  • 2 ½ cups Jiffy baking mix
  • 2 ½ cups instant potato flakes
  1. Boil water, then add Bisquick and potato flakes.
  2. Stir constantly for 10–15 minutes, until the mixture stiffens.
  3. Mold into balls, and serve.
Get your tickets for Her Portmanteau here, and join us on February 24 or March 3 at 7 p.m. to get a taste of the theater. 

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