I woke up in the middle of the night last night with an inexplicable but overwhelming craving for a food that I haven’t eaten in nearly 25 years. Suya: marinated, highly spiced slices of beef cooked over a wood or charcoal fire and served with sliced onions and, when I had it, anyway, plum tomatoes. (It turns out, comically enough, that the Wikipedia page for suya links to an article I published in 1992.) It’s a Nigerian treat, especially favored by the Hausa people in the north of the country, but I first tasted it in the city of Ilorin in the heart of Yorubaland.
It was early evening, and the suya vendor had set up his cart at the side of a road on which the chief government building of Kwara state stood facing the sharia court building, in a kind of standoff. I don’t know that I’ve ever smelled anything more mouth-watering than the aromas wafting from that cart, and though I haven’t thought about the experience in years, probably, when I woke up last night everything about that evening came back to me with an uncanny clarity — spreading the suya on its bed of newspaper out on the hood of a minivan, eating and talking quietly with my friends as others drifted to and from the cart … how wonderful that was. So many moments in life get lost in the jumble of everyday busyness, it’s a gift when something small and sweet makes a gentle return to memory, to presence.