There were several points in 2020 where I would have run away if I had a place to go. But Lagos was shut down. Borders were closed, and when I looked around and saw my husband and children staring back at me, I understood that middle aged women are expected to take care of their families when they’re in crisis, not flee.
During non-pandemic times, I cook for my family without complaint. I dabble in Nigerian cuisine every so often to ghastly results. Mostly I cook Indian food with some continental dishes thrown into the mix. Are there things you do—even do often—yet have no memory of doing them? This is what cooking is to me. I know I do it, yet I block it out as soon as it’s done. When I think back to raising my children, I draw a blank on what they ate.
When lockdown began, it was my responsibility to prepare food for the team. This shouldn’t have been difficult, yet it was. There were three children doing their online studies from home who now requested a cooked breakfast instead of grabbing something to go as they raced off to school. Everyone had a different variation of what they liked. One daughter wanted avocado and bacon; my son liked toast with no crusts; my other daughter hated oranges. My first paid job was at a restaurant in Boston where I was a short order cook. I put those skills back to use, as I fried plantains, flipped eggs and arranged cutlery in a frenzy.
By the time I bathed, it was lunch time. Since the children were in online school, and my husband was working remotely from home, I served them lunch during their window to eat. Before preparing dinner, I helped with homework and tried to get work done, but I put my own professional projects on hold because of the constant interruptions. My life seemed to involve only food preparation, and it was a drag.
The pandemic has been a time of great anxiety and massive boredom, a terrible combination. I can’t explain how quickly I grew sick of cooking. To be home all the time, cooking for hours, while trying to keep everyone nourished and healthy, was a joyless endeavour. Meanwhile my family grew sick of the food I made, sick of the dishes they used to love.
Once regulations eased, my husband took us to a restaurant in Lekki where we were told to remain in our vehicle. We parked the car by the water and watched the sun set over the lagoon through the windshield. The server handed us our meal through the window, all of us clad in masks. The five of us ate, trying to balance our drinks and food on our knees. My son took a bite of a burger and moaned. It was the first food we ate in months not cooked in our kitchen.
My husband and I shared suya and chips and rolled the windows down a crack to feel the sea breeze. We tuned the radio to pop songs, and the kids sang along. We were stuck in our car, but it felt like freedom. The suya exploded with pepper. The French fries were crisp and golden. We ate, danced in our seats and didn’t speak, as one does when focused on the task at hand. We drove off happy, and it was one of the bright spots of an otherwise gloomy period.
During the pandemic, one of the industries hardest hit was hospitality. Restaurants have lost revenue, and many are barely hanging on. Lost in Lagos, anticipating the need for Lagosians to eat the delicious food they’ve craved since the lockdown, has brought back MasterCard Restaurant Week this November. Participating restaurants offer fixed menus at set prices, saving their customers money while boosting traffic, making it a profitable enterprise and a positive experience for all involved.
Take a look at the MasterCard Restaurant Week menus and see what strikes your fancy. With social distancing and an emphasis on hygiene, these businesses are determined to provide a safe environment for their customers.
Restaurants add sparkle to our dull lives, but I never gave them much thought until I couldn’t visit them this year. It’s time to support our Lagos restaurants so when the pandemic ends, we still have Lagos restaurants to go to.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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