Ofe onugbu, the most famous dish out of Anambra State, has long been an exemplar of cuisine mastery. Its chief ingredient, onugbu, is, as its English name “bitter leaf” suggests, naturally bitter. Between that natural state and the final serve of delicacy is a journey of timing, nurturing, and garnishing.
Botanically named Vernonia amygdalina Delile, the shrub grows in the tropics, in Africa. For centuries, it has served biological and medicinal purposes, including being squeezed and its water drunk for fever, and is extensively studied in the pharmaceutical sciences.
The cooking process is one of transformation. After its gathering, onugbu is washed, and then it is put through rounds of squeezing to remove the bitterness. Palm oil, cocoyam paste, and a traditional seasoning called ogiri come in during the cooking. The soup is topped off with dried fish or beef, chicken or turkey.
Ofe onugbu is omnipresent at Igbo events: weddings, life celebrations, burials. Some people consider it philosophically, seeing in its transfiguration from bitterness to tastiness a journey of life: that things get difficult before they get better, that even bitter phenomena have fruits of sweetness.
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.