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Oct 17, 2005 04:56 AM

El Cerrito - Nigerian Yam Festival

  • r

Sorry about not posting an advance about this, but I was unclear about if this was a charity event … it wasn’t … and the food was free. The only charge was for the Nigerian drinks – Palm Wine ($5) and a non alcoholic malt beverage, Malta Hatuey ($3).

This celebration is the Nigerian version of Thanksgiving or harvest festival.

The menu was: Asaro, moi-moi, dodo, stewed goat meat, jollof rice, coconut rice, black-eyed peas, fried yam chips, fried chicken, and fruit salad. The ladies of the parish did the cooking and the food was served buffet style.

Everyone agreed the moi-moi, a mildly spiced bean sponge cake from Southern Nigeria. was excellent. Ingredients can include beans, smoked fish, red pepper, tomatoes, vegetable oil, spices and salt.

The Asaro (yam porridge), was yam pieces cooked in a red sauce. This was a close second to the moi moi. The density and firmness of the yam was very pleasant and the sauce was complex and smoky. One web recipe listed as its ingredients: spinach, plantain, palm oil, smoked and fresh fish, ground shrimp, onions, fresh hot peppers, black pepper, ginger, uzuza leaves, salt and curry powder. The lady who made this recipe knew what she was doing and I am guessing many of those ingredients were used.

The dodo, sliced fried plantains, were pleasantly sweet and a little oily.

Jollof rice was like a mild Spanish rice cooked with ground tomatoes, peppers and spices.

St. John’s Church on San Pablo Road holds this every year. It started with a Mass with Nigerian dancers. More than half the people were dressed in colorful dashikis including the priests. As one priest said “On St. Patrick’s day, everyone wears green and is Irish. Today you are all African. Do the best you can.”

There were lovely songs in six Nigerian languages, Igbo, Esan, Hausa, Edo, Uehobo, and Yoruba. There was more dancing and music afterward in the school auditorium where the food was served.

The Ezinwanne Dance Group and drummers performed. More later about the cultural diversity of this parish, but one of the udu drum players was a Korean woman who sang in a Nigerian language. She was good. Think the type of chanting at the very beginning of Disney’s Lion King. This woman could wail.

While the children’s dance troupe performed, people would walk up to them and touch them with money and let it drop to the floor. I asked the table about this and they said it was just financial support for the troupe. However, reading the link below there is a mention that many villages have a special Rainmaker, usually a very powerful "magical" person (who needs to be placated with lots of money!). I’m wondering if there was a connection, Catholic or not. If you ever go to Mexico for the Lady of Guadalupe day celebration, a lot of what goes on there has very little to do with the church but rather with ancient beliefs that precede Christianity in Mexico. Old traditions don’t fade easily.

I did ask around my table if there were any Nigerian restaurants in the area and the answer was no, but one of the markets in Emeryville sold some African products. I really don’t know much about African food, but looking at some of the restaurants in the area, it doesn’t seem that Nigerian food is on the menu.

New York, Chicago, and Houston seem to have the largest Nigerian populations with the most restaurants. I was reading on Chowhound that Chicago even has a Nigerian food truck.

It seems this is a very international and food oriented parish. Next Sunday the Italians are throwing a polenta dinner. After that there will be a Zydeco Dance where gumbo, red beans & rice, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, hot links and more are on the menu. I missed the September International festival which had Filipino, Brazilian, Chinese, American, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Nigerian and plain old American food.

Today the priest mentioned that there were over sixty nationalities represented in the people of the parish. At another mass I went to there was Gospel, Spanish and traditional hymns all in the same Mass. It was really cute to see the little old Italian and Asian ladies clapping enthusiastically and singing Gospel. All groups seem not only tolerate each other, but get along seamlessly. This is what America should look like. Happy Nigerian Yam Festival Day.

Here’s a link about the beverages served today.

This has a link with more about Nigerian Food.



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  1. Interesting post, Krys, but watch it with the obscene photos!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Gary Soup

      That photo just left me, er, yammering... :)

      Thanks again for an entertaining post, rw!

    2. Ouch.

      You know, there was an African wood carving on the stage that where a yam was being held in a similar position and I kept thinking:

      1. Please don't let that be one of the raffle prizes and, if it is, please don't let me win it.

      2. It seemed a little suggestive for a church group.

      Also, looking up info on the palm wine that was being served, I kept finding references to palm wine and fertility.

      The reason for the picture is that most people think of yams as the orange root veggies sold at Safeway where one type is what was in that picture. The Afro-American market where the Friday Oakland farmers market takes place, sells the type of yam in the picture. Cooked correctly, I relaly liked the texture of this type of yam.

      During the offetory at mass, the dance troup danced up the aisle carrying one of those yams and placed it on the alter ... hmmm ... maybe I should double check the 'Catholic' part of that church.


      1. Thanks so much for this wonderful post! This will definitely be on my calendar for next year.
        Just to make sure that I am correct--this is St. John the Baptist Church in El Cerrito? The one with regularly scheduled mass in Portuguese?

        1 Reply
        1. re: kckitty

          Yep that's it. They also have a Brazlian mass.

        2. Sounds like a great find!

          How does one find out about the food-related events they are having? I tried looking on their site, but their calendar only lists masses and the like...

          Link: http://www.saintjohnthebaptistchurch....

          2 Replies
          1. re: Marc Wallace

            Oh boy, God brownie points ... have you considered becoming a Catholic ... actually I say that with so much irony ... the only thing I enjoy converting people to is eating at my favorite restaurants.

            I'm kind of new to this area and I've tried out almost as many churches as restaurants since moving here, so as far as I know the only place they announce these events is at the Sunday bulletin which is at the front door.

            I'll post if there is something interesting in the future. I kind of like the place and the multi cultural thing interests me even outside the mileau of food.

            If I'm not in the area next year, give them a call around the end of Sept for the yam festival date. The event itself is one hour after the 12:30 mass. They welcome anyone and don't check for your rosary beads at the door.

            If there was any event I mentioned in the OP and seemed interesting, ask and I'll post the time and place.

            Well, I can check Nigerian yam festival off my life to do list.


            1. re: rworange

              I just gave them a call.
              This year, the Yam Festival will be on Sunday Oct. 22, at the 12:30 mass.

          2. Thanks for the wonderful report.

            Did you by chance get the name of the Emeryville market where you can buy African yams?

            1 Reply
            1. re: KittyCat

              No, but they said it was in the building with the food court at the Emeryville Public Market.

              I do know that Jacks Meats, Poultry and African foods on the same street as the Friday Farmers Market in Oakland has some African food supplies like the yams and some canned goods and spices. The African foods are to the front. It is in what remains of the Housewives/Swans marketplace.

              Here's a seriously date post of mine that has some info about Jacks toward the center of the post.