Eko Street Eats is the newest venture on the Lagos culinary scene. But as the name suggests, Lagos and its often unexplored food delights is what fascinates them. Run by hands familiar with gastronomic experiments, the initiative is set to question and reinvent the Lagos Street Food scene.
Ramon, one of the two people who run the venture, agreed to share his ideas, influences and what led to the launch of Eko Street Eats.
I started with the very generic "What informed the idea?"
Ramon: For me it started with cooking. I have trained and worked in a few places and for some reason I felt the food was innovative and the work ethic was one of a kind, but not me.
Coming back to Lagos is about learning how to cook Nigerian food. I've tried and failed many times but Akara was the first thing I almost did well and I ate it as a burger with bread and a salad. That is what sparked looking into street food to see what can be done differently. Around the same time Tomi sent me a text about stuffing pounded yam with Efo and that is how "Pyam" happened.
Then idea of a restaurant that sells portable street food you find in Lagos came about.
Me: Do you think we should experiment more with Nigerian cuisine? The idea that there is one way to make Suya spices, boil Plantain or prepare Ogbono soup is one that I think a lot of Nigerians do not challenge at all. Are you trying to go against that specifically or are you just interested in the process itself?
Ramon: Yes of course we should experiment. For each recipe I learn, I cook it in my own way and that makes it different. Because I am familiar with certain techniques, flavors and styles of presentation, I bring that to the dish. I don't consciously set out to change it but end up doing it to suit my idea of it..
Me: Mhm, I agree with the idea of experimenting, It's the best way to discover new things anyway. So what would you say your favorite experiment on the menu is right now?
Ramon: Pyam for sure. Mainly because of how it came about between Imoteda and I.
Me: And did you learn to cook solely through experimentation, or you were taught the traditional way.
Ramon: I learned through both. I find that I have difficulty understanding verbal instructions. I much rather you do it and I copy you. But the most memorable cooking moments I have stem from the traditional way.
Me: Interesting... I know usually, most people learn to cook from their Mothers, was that the case for you?
Ramon: Not really. My mom is not an experimental cook but she can feed you well. It's only in the last 2 years as an adult I've started learning how to cook from my mom.
Me: Tell me about pyam.. It sounds a lot like pounded yam, but I'm guessing there's more to it.
Ramon: It is pound yam stuffed with a filling and deep fried. It's all the desirable textures of yam in one bite.
Me: Are you a fan of any chefs in particular?
Ramon: Not really.
Me: One thing I particularly love about communal lunches is the sense of conversations that take place around the lunch table. This sense of food uniting people is something I find really cool, are you an extroverted cook? I mean, do you enjoy meeting with the people who eat your meals, or are you more of an introvert just content with staying in the background?
Ramon: I am introverted when I cook. I marvel at the fact that something I created is able to cause conversation. But I rather not partake and just listen to what comes up. However as a guest at another cooks table, I try to lead conversation.
Me: Okay, just one last question.
Street food is something that people have come to think of as random, cheap and probably not made in the best conditions. Are you taking any steps to make your food healthier, or do you take a more hedonistic approach? Also street food has always been about making food that favors every man's pocket, but currently your pricing ranks a bit higher than the usual. Do you think people will buy into it? And why?
Ramon: I think people will buy into it. We are showcasing local food options to people in a new way. Why is it that everybody now knows Shawarma and Burger but not Akara Awon and Dodo Ikire? One has been given more value and publicity but that doesn't make it better. A Buka and an eatery for the most part sell the same food but the difference is the setting and quality and that is why they can sell at that price point.
Ramon: Our menu has a variety of items that use different techniques. We pay attention to the proper cooking method to ensure it is fresh, hygienic and delicious and I'm not just saying that. By virtue of our backgrounds that is the only way we have ever cooked.
Me: Well, I agree with you on the first part of your answer. We are all trying to promote Nigerian made these days, so I guess it's about time someone took up on the culinary aspect. I can't wait to see how this evolves.
Thank you so much for taking time to respond!
The Eko street Eats lunch will be holding here in Stranger this Sunday, 10 April 2016. It starts at 2pm.
Seriously, I mean that.