In Jos, the capital of Plateau state ‘gwote’ is a much sought delicacy in the area, the meal when prepared in its traditional form, is made of yakuwa (sorrel leaves) acha (hungry rice) and garden egg as its main ingredients. It is then served like porridge in a calabash bowl and taken with a calabash spoon (a type of gourd).
According to an indigene of Jos who is based in Abuja, the common spot to catch a glimpse of the good old days in Jos is to take a visit to Kugiya, a popular slum in Bukuru at the out sketch of the capital. At every corner in Kugiya the three staple diets synonymous to the people of Jos; gwote, burukutu (a local alcoholic drink made from guinea corn) and dog meat are prepared and served in its traditional form.
Some of the residents of Kugiya were bolt from the blue when they realised that I was not eager to meet and feast with the numerous prostitutes and drug peddlers in the area or, have a taste of burukutu and a bite of the tasteful dog meat. Instead, I was keen to explore the rations of gwote and to find out why many people come all the way to Kugiya to have a taste of this porridge.
When I volunteered to buy a ration of gwote to a couple of people to initiate a discussion about the meal, I was shocked with the number of turn out I received. 18 people came out in a rush. A calabash of gwote is 30 naira at Kugiya that makes my bill 540 naira? I then screened the volunteers to three and the rest of the 15 turned away in displeasure.
One of them that was screened out said, “this days things are not easy and if anyone offers to buy you a meal you will jump at the opportunity” said the man in his mid 50’s clad in a worn out western suit, who gave his name only as Barnabas.
Inside the eating place, my three guests bear their minds on gwote, “with 30 naira you can buy almost a calabash full of gwote and you don’t have to eat again for hours” said Ishaku, adding that gwote unlike other meals in the area “no matter how little you take it, it makes you contented for several hours.”
“No, I can’t survive with just one ration of 30 naira, I have to take it thrice or more in a day,” said the Damkim “I have a big stomach,” he said.
The oldest amongst my guests, Emmanuel Yimtan cut in, “it is because you young ones have money, ‘once in a day’ is what many leave on. But let me share my own routine£ he said, “on a good day I take gwote in the morning especially during the weekends, and then I will go for a large dose of burukutu and later round it up with the great taste of dog meat. At this point I go to sleep”
“People that take ogogoro or burukutu don’t like gwote because it is tick” said Damkim as he sips his own ration.
My guests at the gwote session explained their preference for this staple diet from the other abundant dishes in the area. For them gwote is medicinal and several times doctors have recommended it to them and members of their families especially after surgeries or lose of blood.
“It is a great appetiser” said Debbie Mangut, a media consultant in Abuja and a proud indigene of Jos who has travelled widely across the globe and missed gwote when ever she is far away from home.
According to Yimtan, he takes gwote before drinking burukutu, anytime he does the reverse, the diet will neutralise the intoxicant, an argument widely believed to be true by the people in the area. “If you had come in the evening you may not get plenty volunteers because no body may want to lose the drunken effect of either the local or assorted beer he or she has taken” said Yimtan.
Elizabeth John who is in her early 40’s and a mother of 7 said everyday in the past 25 years she makes gwote either to eat with her family or to sell, and her customers come from all classes of people . According to Elizabeth the traditional recipe which is acha, gauta, yakuwa, and onions as key ingredients served in calabash, (originating from the Berom tribe in Plateau state) remains much sought by different tribes and classes of people all over the country.
“I come here once in a while to have a taste of this type of gwote, though the modern one is tastier but it is quite expensive yet it doesn’t seem to have the kind of neutralising effect the one I am taking does to my body especially when I am drunk” said Ishaku who added that he likes his gwote in calabash because of the cooling effect of the gourd.
Even the modern recipe that have palm oil, biscuits bones and meat, dry fish, alefo and modern spices, “have not deterred our youths from seeking the traditional Berom recipe that we make here at Kugiya” said Elizabeth who owns the joint.
According Dr. Elizabeth Chibuzo, the President, Nigerian Dietetic Association(NDA), gwote is a very rich food and a close look at all the ingredients will reveal that and support the judgement of the local people that it does wonders in their body, she implied.
For example fonio or hungry rice which is called acha in local parlance in the north is a crop which improves nutrition, boosts food security, fosters rural development and supports sustainable land care, said one account. It is also used to make porridge and couscous.
Amongst the elites or ruling class in the Plateau and in various parts of West Africa where acha is grown, acha is a key ingredient in local beer after it is popped and brewed. The nutritional value of acha is numerous said one account, it is rich in amino acids and iron, and its tiny grains are very nutritious for pregnant women and children. The husked grain of acha contains 8-10 % proteins, 85% carbohydrates, 4% fats and 1% ash.
acha grains are immensely rich in methionine, cystine and other amino acids which play a vital role in nourishing human health. These nutrients are missing in today’s major cereals. The protein analysis of white acha in comparison with a whole egg is: 7.3 percent of methionine, 46 percent of lysine, 72% isoleucine, 90-100% of valine, tryptophan, threonine, and phenylalanine, 127% of leucine; 175% of total sulfur; and 189 percent for methionine, stated the account.
The expert account also stated that acha does not contain any glutenin or gliadin proteins which are the constituents of gluten, making this cereal suitable for people with gluten intolerance like diabetics?
A look at another key ingredient of gwote is yakuwa, which is part of the family of the universal sorrel leaves, a green leaf vegetable; it is also called common sorrel or spinach dock, and is actually considered less a vegetable and more an herb in several cultures particularly the Beroms. It is known by the people for its sore or acidic tasting nature.
From a nutritional standpoint, sorrel can be an excellent food for many; it has high levels of vitamins A and C. It also has moderate levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Although because of the oxalic acid in sorrel, it is not good for everyone, oxalic acid may aggravate the conditions of people with rheumatism, kidney or bladder stones.
The account said if you love sorrel when you first try it; learn to love it in small doses in the beginning. It has naturallaxative properties that make consuming too much sorrel a trial for the tummy.
According to the cook at Kugiya, Elizabeth, “I think it is the acidic effect of yakuwa that neutralises the alcohol in people that drink them after taking gwote” she said, adding that yakuwa is added in small quantity “just to give it taste.”
Garden egg and onions, other ingredients of gwote are equally very important to the body. Several studies have shown that eggplant is effective in the treatment ofhigh blood cholesterol. It helps to block the formation of free radicals and is also a source of folic acid and potassium.
Onions, like garlic, are members of the Allium family, and both are rich in powerful sulfur-containing compounds that are responsible for their pungent odors and for many of their health-promoting effects. Onions contain allyl propyl disulphide, while garlic is rich inallicin, diallyl disulphide, diallyl trisulfideand others. In addition, onions are very rich in chromium, a trace mineral that helps cells respond to insulin, plus vitamin C, and numerous flavonoids, most notably,quercitin.
Experts like Dr. chibuzo may recommend food like gwote to persons suffering from diabetics mainly because of the acha and to pregnant women and young malnourished children, “indeed it is rich in vitamins” said Dr. Chibuzo. Going by the aforementioned it is understandable why many people in Jos see gwote as an important medicine in their daily lives, “our children hardly fall sick if we don’t seize to take it” said Elizabeth in Jos.
After about 3 hours at the famous Kugiya slum in Bukuru, on my way out I met Barnabas whom I earlier screened out of my gwote session. I offered to buy him a separate round of gwote but he refused “I am hungry but if I take gwote now, it will spoil my show, I want to remain tipsy today, please come back early tomorrow” he pleaded.
Although Jos in Plateau is a place best known for its weather, a mixed of temperate and tropical climates, the state is also known for its mining production and the biggest host of Europeans and other foreign nationals and ethnic groups in Nigeria which made them more literate and exposed compared to other parts of the north.
But subsistence agriculture is the major occupations of the people, grains like millet, acha (a kind of mustard seed crop) are the chief cash crops; yams, sorghum, corn (maize), potatoes, cowpeas, rice, fruits, and vegetables are the staple crops. Fulani herdsmen graze their cattle on the tsetse-free plateau and supply milk to the dairy at Vom in the state.