Along the road running through Ninth Mile, Enugu State, a company of hawkers reside. Mostly women and children, they have a reputation for selling a food known as okpa. Their okpa is so popular that it has gained its own identity: “Okpa Ninth Mile.”
Okpa originated in Enugu State but has made its way to other parts of Igboland. It is a semi-solid, yellow cake. It is made with bambara flour, palm oil, seasoning cubes, salt, pepper, and water. It is wrapped and served in fresh banana leaves or small transparent waterproof bags. If banana leaves are the preferred choice, then they should be washed thoroughly in saltwater.
The bambara flour is gotten from bambara nuts. Bambara nuts are bean-like pods with hard seeds. These seeds are to be ground, with an industrial machine, into a smooth, powdery form.
The first thing to do before preparing okpa is to set a pot of water to boil. This is so because when the okpa mixture is done, it can be easily put in the pot to cook. The choice wrap, banana leaves or waterproofs, should be placed at the bottom of the pot.
After the bambara nuts have been ground into flour, it is poured into a bowl. Palm oil is poured in and it is mixed with a spatula until it becomes a bold yellow. Water is then added to the bowl. It is advisable to pour enough water and stir, to crush all lumps. After that, ground or sliced pepper, crushed seasoning cubes, and salt are added and stirred; then comes pouring the mixture into the banana leaves.
The two banana leaves are placed on a flat surface, one resting on the other. One end of the leaf is rolled to meet the other, and then folded and bound (with a string) at the other end to prevent leakage. This gives the leaves a cup-like shape. After the okpa mixture is scooped into it, the other exposed end is folded and tied shut with another string.
The airtight banana leaves or transparent plastic bags are then dropped into the pot of already-boiling water. More banana leaves or transparent plastic bags are used to cover them. Then the pot is closed.
After at least one hour of boiling at medium heat, the pot is brought down. By then the mixture has taken on its semi-solid form and okpa is ready.
Okpa can be eaten as a snack, with ogi or akamu.
Uzoma Ihejirika is a Nigerian creative writer and journalist. He is an editor for the AfroAnthology Series and a copy editor for Minority Africa and has written for Open Country Mag. He has a short story on Lolwe.