On New Beginnings & Old Favourites: Pepper soup spice

I wrote this a year ago in January 2020 days after we moved. I wanted to be intentional about documenting the journey, and observing myself – the things that I did for comfort and what helped. Pepper soup helped. A lot!

Even before we arrive, I know I’ll have pepper soup in the first few days. I plan for the winter we will surely meet. The children don’t want pepper soup, don’t long for it, don’t see it as the touchstone of home, of healing and comfort but I do.

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I look out the window from the 35th floor of our Airbnb and I see snow. White blankets contouring landscapes as far as my eyes, with or without my glasses, can see. It looks cold. 

We walk outside because I’m determined these children won’t be betrothed to Ubers and Taxis and it’s surprisingly warm. The walk generates heat, heat generates warmth and we’re at the mall in no time. Hungry, but at the mall.

We go to Jamie’s Italian place. The food is fresh but lacks life. The pasta is hard, unyielding, steps away from al dente and the sauce doesn’t adhere. The food is hot but there’s  no warmth, no unity, no bonding. $180 dollar later plus tax and tip, we shake our heads and I’m determined to taste home, comfort, the familiar. I’m determined to make pepper soup. 

Chicken, half tick. It is not the soup chicken of flavour I’d like but I will manage it anyway

Lemongrass, cross. I can’t find any, no matter the aisles I walk. I remember that I have some dried one at home

Pepper soup spice, full tick because sis had the sense to buy and bring with her. Some things you don’t forget.

Crayfish, as above.

Dry pepper, cross. Sis didn’t have the sense to pack this in her checked in luggage. It’s all in the sea freight. It’s crushed chilli flakes from here on up 🙁

I look for white sweet potatoes but find the sweet orange ones. I buy them still because who wants to drink pepper soup like that?

There’s no dipping sauce of palm oil. I’ll ask N to bring some for me. It’ll be sweet potatoes and pepper soup and it won’t be like in Adebisi Popoola, but it’ll bang, it’ll hit different. My children will cringe to see me try to get ‘lit’ with the language of bang and hitting different, ‘guy cap’ R will say. And I’ll respond with, ‘that’s peak’. They will look away in agony and just say, no, we can’t do this. I’ll smile and drink my pepper soup.

The chicken is soft. I cut it into small bites with the kitchen scissors, add the spice, crayfish, lemon grass and salt, fresh grated ginger. I turn on the heat and let it simmer a bit. Then I add water and let it cook. The sweet potatoes, I peel, cut and boil in another pot with the fibrous bits from the ginger, chili flakes, salt.

The result is delicious. It won’t win any awards but it’s a solid start to settling in.

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Chicken peppersoup for when you’ve moved to a new country and it doesn’t yet feel like the home it will in a few months. Chicken peppersoup for that soul.

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What ‘comfort’ foods have helped you settle in to a new place – city, country, home?

8 Comments

  1. Loved reading this. Reminds me of one time I had to use yellow corn flour and whole wheat to recreate our variation of swallow. Didn’t taste the same but was better than nothing.

  2. Oz,
    I didn’t know you guys are in Canada until I read this. If you don’t find the lemongrass, please let me know, it will be my pleasure to gladly ship some to you. I am in California. Please let me know

  3. It is Jollof rice for me. Cooked in different forms reminds me of home and serves as the permanent connection to life as it was.

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