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 a writer, editor, journalist, and curator. He is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture, art, photography, business, activism, and health. He has vast experience working in literature. He has sat on the judging panels of The Gerald Kraak Prize and of The Morland Writing Scholarship. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria's first queer art collective, and Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. For three years, Nov. 2016 to Apr. 2020, he led the transformation of the literary blog Brittle Paper into a continental powerhouse, ideating and administering The Brittle Paper Awards, the first by an African publication. His work in queer advocacy has been profiled in Literary Hub. In 2019, he won The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians." He completed a collection of short stories in 2016 and his novel in 2020. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.