Street food in Nigeria is unmissable. Our local writer tells us where to find the top 10 street foods in Lagos.
Ewa agoyin, courtesy of Kake/Flickr
Life in Lagos would be incomplete without street food. Most Lagosians have a penchant for it: while commuting to work, at lunchtime or as a means of relaxation after a day’s work. Street food in Lagos is serious business, and it is everywhere, providing livelihood for thousands of people from every part of the nation and even for those from outside Nigeria. While there are a lot of manufactured snacks sold to commuters, fresh-cooked street foods hold a special place in the heart of Lagosians: Some, such as akara, are loved for being served hot and fresh (and delicious), while others, such as okpa, are cherished for their traditional taste and flavors, taking consumers back to their roots.
Most street foods are sold at motor parks and bus stops along routes in every part of the city, while some are brought to your “doorstep”: straight up to buses and cars by vendors during rush-hour traffic. There are many great typical foods to choose from in Nigeria’s largest city, but here are 10 of the best, and most common, street snacks in Lagos, and where to find them.
Photo by dotun55/Flickr
Suya is Nigeria’s grilled steak threaded onto sticks, our own version of the kebab. The scent of the aroma of roasted meat on hot charcoal is unmistakable whenever you approach the “Mala” sellers, the name for the northern Nigerians who typically sell this food (from “Mallam,” a term much like “Mr.”). Suya is usually seasoned with hot peppers, groundnut powder mixed with spices, and diced onions.
However, newbie eaters beware: Spicy suya is not for the fainthearted. The pepper seasoning on it is sometimes hot enough to bring tears to your eyes and flames to your tongue. You can ask the sellers to exclude (or go light on) the chile and settle for just the onions and groundnut seasoning.
Migration within West African states changed the attitude of Lagosians to plain old cooked brown or white beans. Introduced and usually sold by migrants from Togo and Benin Republic, ewa agoyin is simply cooked beans mashed up and served with a gritty sauce of palm oil and dried peppers, usually very spicy.
This street food derives its name from ewa, the Yoruba word for beans, and agoyin, the name Lagosians adopted to describe people from Ghana, Togo, and Benin Republic. Ewa agoyin is usually served with agege bread, a sweet soft white bread, and hawkers usually sell the two together.
Where to find it: Ewa agoyin can be purchased from hawkers all over Lagos, usually in the mornings—it’s popular for breakfast, but you can eat it any time of day from a buka, or local eating house. Many African restaurants also sell ewa agonyin, such as Agoyin Special at Plot 11B, Block 123, Olatunji Moore St. in Oniru (map), from which you can also order online.
Photo by Akinkuotu Funmi/Wikimedia Commons
Well known all over the country as part of the Nigerian breakfast, akara is great both eaten alone or as an accompaniment to other foods. These deep-fried bean fritters (popular in other parts of West Africa too, including Senegal) are easily distinguished by the distinct sweet, mouthwatering aroma. They’re usually sold on the street stuffed into soft agege bread, to form the popular Nigerian “burger.”
Where to find it: Akara is sold at most bus stops in Lagos, mostly in the mornings and but sometimes at night too. You can find it at CMS bus stop in Lagos Island (map).
Photo by Repoge/Wikimedia Commons
Known as “African salad,” this delicacy originates from eastern Nigeria. It’s made from shredded and boiled cassava combined with ugba (oil bean) and some vegetables in a mix of potash (a type of potassium salt used in cooking as a softening agent) and palm oil, which gives its characteristic yellowish color. Abacha is usually served with fried fish or chewy pomo (cow hide).
Where to find it: Abacha is usually hawked by young women who display them in transparent plastic buckets. The hawkers can be found around the popular Mile 2 bus stop (map).
Photo by Afrolems/Wikimedia Commons
This is a popular snack in several West African countries (including Senegal) and always proves a favorite of travelers. A variant of French’s beignets, puff-puff balls are made from flour, sugar, yeast, butter, salt and sometimes eggs, rolled into a dough and deep-fried in vegetable oil until golden brown. They are sometimes offered in different combinations;you can have puff-puff with milk or with pepper and onions. Smaller-size puff puff also form part of Nigerian “small chops,”a combo of finger foods popular at birthday parties and other such events.
Where to find it: Puff puff is usually sold on the road or in bus stops; look for hawkers with wood-and-glass boxes. It is also fried and sold on the roadside, along with other Nigerian snacks such as buns, fish or egg rolls, and sausages. You can buy puff puff at Obalende bus stop (map).
Photo by Jostbrain/Wikimedia Commons
Boli, or Roasted Plantain
Boli (spelled bole in some places) is a well-respected tummy filler and a terrific on-the-go food. It’s simply plantain, ripe or unripe, roasted over hot charcoal, and it’s usually eaten with roasted groundnuts or, in some parts of Nigeria, with vegetables and palm oil sauce.
Where to find it: Boli is 100 percent a street food, sold only on the roadside by women. The yellowish plantains with their characteristic brown and black burns are easily identified from afar, as they are laid out on wire gauze atop hot coals. You can find Boli sold under the bridge at Apongbon, Lagos Island (map).
Photo by Marco Verch/Wikimedia Commons
This crunchy street food is an oldie but goodie. Originally only unripe plantains were deep-fried and sold as chips, but this has evolved so that ripe plantains, sweeter and richer in flavor, are now being used too. The fruit is cut or diced into small pieces, salted, and deep-fried, and then packaged in nylon wraps. Plantain chips may also come in different flavors, such as onion or pepper.
Where to find it: Plantain chips are usually sold along with manufactured snacks and drinks at bus stops or food plazas. You are sure to find them at the Tafawa Balewa Square Bus Terminus on Lagos Island (map).
Photo by Lollyday/Wikimedia Commons
Roasted or Boiled Corn
This sweet vegetable becomes ubiquitous whenever it is in season—that is, after the harvest of fresh corn commences. The corn can be boiled or roasted over hot coals, although the roasted variety is most popular. Roasted corn is eaten with fresh coconut or ube, a type of local pear.
Where to find it: Just like boli, roasted corn can be found on roadsides on display by the women who prepare them, at bus stops and motor parks such as Ojota (map).
Okpa, indigenous to Enugu state in eastern Nigeria, is a nutritious breakfast favorite for many people, though it can be eaten at any time of day. It’s made from a special type of iron-rich nut known as Bambara that’s good for the blood and helps prevent weight gain by making people feel full for longer. Much like Latin American tamales, okpa is steamed in banana leaves or small nylon wraps, making for a delicious portable meal. It is usually spicy, as habanero peppers are an important component.
Where to find it: Okpa is sold by street hawkers and can usually be found around large markets and bus parks. You can usually find okpa sellers around Ketu bus stop (map).
Photo by Flixtey/Wikimedia Commons
Fried or Roasted Yam
Yam is a key food item in many Nigerian homes and, not surprisingly, appears in other forms as a street food, where it might be roasted or fried. Fried yam, known as dundu in the Yoruba language, is usually sold alongside akara, potatoes and other deep-fried street foods. A more modern version of fried yam is the yamarita, where the yam is battered (with egg and flour) before frying. The healthier roasted yam, on the other hand, is done over hot coals and sold with delicious vegetable sauce.
Where to find it: Fried yam can be found alongside other deep-fried foods, like akara, while roasted yams are sold by the roadside, displayed like boli or roasted corn. You can find both in and around big markets such as Balogun Market in Lagos (map).
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About the author: Adejoke Oguntade-Adeboyejo is a human resources professional and freelance writer based in Lagos, Nigeria. She writes about travel, food, self-development and HR. As a writer, she loves to show the positive side of her nation and interesting aspects of the people’s culture. You can find her on Twitter: @jokeadeboyejo