If you’re Nigerian, you’re no doubt aware of the love we have for bole. In Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, it’s another level of obsession. I haven’t met a meat I didn’t like or couldn’t eat. Don’t get me wrong though I’m not absolutely a lover of fish (I love my meat) and roasted plantain but today! My God! I was wowed.
I had plans to eat the almighty Bolè from the Bolè villa in a well known spot at Transamadi layout and even if I was overwhelmed and couldn’t take enough pictures to describe further, here’s my experience.
See, a few minutes before I settled to “chaw” (eat in Nigerian Parlance) with washed hands (trust me I wanted to form in the beginning but you can take a local girl to the city but you can’t force the city into her) lol, I had all the necessities lined up on my table – tissue paper, satchet water (popularly known as pure water).
In extreme details, it was raining and I didn’t mind because of my anticipation for BOLÈ. I gently arranged myself in my black t-shirt which kept me snug and ward off cold just a little bit. I was certain I was going to stain my t-shirt and on second thoughts, I was confident that if at all my t-shirt soiled itself with no help from me whatsoever, there would be nothing for me to cover up my crime. So, I sat up straight and readjusted my chair.
As a sole predictor of success and failure that I am, none of what I thought about came to pass. I had no stain on my t-shirt.
Lunch finally lands on my table!
I smile and dig into my full plate of Bolè (pronounced as ‘ball’ with an ‘i’ at the end) and fish. I tilted my craving a little bit by asking her to add two chunks of potato which she did abruptly.
My lunch cost me four hundred and fifty naira and to be honest, it was more than I could eat in one go.
Bolè and fish is quintessential Nigerian street food. Like Suya (if you know what I’m talking about).
The Bolè refers to the ‘roasted’ plantains and the fish almost always ‘affordable and plentiful’
Roasted plantain is a meal rarely made at home, best purchased on a street corner where wizened old and young women, stand beside blackened bowls with fingers of lead, facing red hot coals. Where sweet hot sauce, orange with palm oil and reddened with spice makes happiness its home and where every and anyone is free to cart off a ‘Black’ plastic bag full of lunch.
It is simple, the fish is glazed with spiced palm oil before roasting and the plantains and yams go on grill sans any dressings. Roasting commences while a huge pot of fried ‘special’ sauce, made with lots of onions and peppers stays warm. To the side. If balance is important to you, you may observe the shredded Uziza leaves, worshipped by some for its bitterness. But not me.
This is a point and choose game. You request for a ripe plantain, and watch with hawk’s eyes, as the lady selects one….and then you say. ‘No, not that one’. You point to the fattened, yellow-ripe plantain, burnt and burnished bits smiling at you. Welcoming you. You say, ‘abeg, gimme this one’. Please, give me this one. Please can I have this one.
She picks it up, or her helper does. Whoever it is, cleans up the plantain or the pieces of yam– they remove the really burnt bits, scraping with a knife and getting it ready for you.
A small black plastic bag is set aside for – the Nigerian equivalent of a brown paper bag. Or a plate if you’re eating ‘in’. And the layering begins.
On and on go the plantains, torn into small pieces. If yams or potatoes are to follow, they are crushed lightly by the tightening of the fist, and then sauce is ladled over the top. Did I forget the fish? Head, middle or tail? The choice is yours. No fish? That’s also acceptable, if questionable????? Fish goes in, more sauce. Some people say ‘no put plenty oil o’….imploring the lady to serve up the sauce and not so much of the tasty oil. This could be the final touch, Except if you like some greenery and garnish in the aforementioned bitter, Uziza leaves which I personally can do without.
You pay and that’s it. Deed done. You either stroll off, bag in hand or you sit down on a wooden bench, shaded by a red umbrella, eating out of a glass plate and enjoying the whizz of taxis and the buzz of street conversations.
So what does it taste like?
I’ll begin. The plantains are the way I like them – soft and sweet. Not mushy, or sugary just a pleasant, chewy sweetness that is matched by the savoury, hot sauce. Filled with substance.
The fish is nice. One of the nicer ways of having Mackerel I must say. The sauce has enough heat and spice to cut through the oily fish. The white flesh is gorgeous in contrast with its blackened skin. But by eastern standards, this fish is overcooked in parts. It changes character across its fishscape, from areas of tough (for fish), chewy flesh….almost reminiscent of chicken, too moist and juicy and just how fish should be.
The sauce is the tie that binds. That hold all things together. Without which, nothing is gained and everything is lost. I like lots of sauce. Or ‘Plenty stew’. Pidgin English. A bit like stew but chunkier.
And in the way of popular and well loved foods, real experts can be found and brought home, to cook up.
I enjoyed delish Bole,and Tilapia. And lots of great conversation with my Bolè tour guide.