There is something magical about jollof rice. Back home, I knew that it was on the stove because its aroma permeated every room in the house, making my stomach grumble. If it was not that, then I could often hear something sizzling on the stove, or bubbling softly as it boiled.
Food was often a way for me to connect with my Nigerian heritage and my family. We often celebrated special events by having big family dinners, and I grew up on dishes like egusi, puff puff, fufu, and akara. My mom had a way of making everything she cooked taste amazing even though we were on a budget. She’d whip up entire meals without a measuring cup or recipe book in sight. It was just part of the deal that each time she cooked something, it would taste slightly different. To this day, I often joke with her that if she bottled up one of her stews and sold it, I’d have it delivered to campus monthly.
If you couldn’t already tell, I miss my mom’s cooking.
And I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m sure you have a dish from your hometown or culture that you’ll miss. Maybe your mom cooked it, too, or your grandfather, or your guardian. Maybe it was a dish that brought your community together too.
When I first came to Princeton, you best believe that I came with multiple ziplock bags filled with my mom’s shrimp stew and puff puffs and other delicious food. I kept those bags in my freezer, trying desperately to make my supply last as long as possible, until I could go back home for break and get more.
Dining hall food is nothing like my mom’s food. Yes, they make sure to serve dishes from different cultural groups on a regular basis, and they have actually served jollof rice multiple times, and yet I still feel a deep sense of hiraeth for the foods I grew up eating.
The Princeton African Students Association (PASA) often hosts events that draw large crowds with their promises of good company and good food. These events help. They remind me that there are others like me who miss where they are from and the food they used to eat.
As we all sit in those PASA events and laugh and eat, we’re all in our own ways just waiting for the next time we can catch a car, train, or plane home, and ask: what’s for dinner?