I can tell stories for days about Yoyo, oh my!!!!! My mother was very selective about what street food we were allowed to eat, but she had no reservations with Yoyo. Not just for the taste, but for hygienic reasons. We bought Yoyo when it was served straight from the hot oil, so any concerns about food poisoning were eliminated. Oh, Yoyo, oh Yoyo. This minute fish that is dipped in seasoned flour and fried in hot oil. So more-ish. You can eat an entire basket and not realise how much you’ve eaten. Your fingers will just keep going back to the bowl, and going back till it empties. Paired with cold soaked garri, it was one of the things that made me look forward to going shopping with Mummy in Isale Eko (Lagos Island).
I hated those trips, gosh the walking around, going through corners with a human sea of traffic, that would made you stick to Mummy like glue because you were afraid of getting lost. There were no mobile phones then you see, so that fear was real. My mother walked very fast, and with a strong sense of direction, i definitely didn’t inherit that. Don’t pay attention for a second, and you would lose her in the head of the teeming market crowd in Isale Eko. Trying to juggle some bags she made you carry, before we bought things large enough to demand the services of an “alabaru”. Alabaru’s are people who, bless their hearts, for not that much money, they would follow you around the market, relieving you of the burden of carrying heavy bags and bags of goods. Alabaru in Yoruba literally means, someone that helps you with your load. So they would be right behind Mummy, picking up everything that we bought, and carrying it on their heads. Gosh, it used to freak me out, seeing them pile and pile on cartons and cartons of stuff. At the end of your shopping trip, they followed you to the car, to offload, after which they got paid. Mummy always paid them more than they asked for. If we stopped to eat, she would buy them food too. We had our regular “alabaru’s”, who many times I have seen abandon other customers, just to serve “Iya Ola”, because they knew it would be worth their while. My mother shopped for the family in bulk you see, and her mother was one of the largest wholesalers in Nigeria, who had a number of shops in Oke Arin, so Lagos Island was my mother’s play ground. She knew eeeeeeeeverywhere.
One minute she was in front of you, the next minute she has taken a corner, which you didn’t even know existed. She knew her way round like a pro, as I said before, I didn’t inherit that. I still get lost in large shopping centres, and even while driving. If my sat nav was human, it would have abandoned me aaaaages ago, because my penchant for getting lost is legendary. Lol. In the hot sun, buying provisions for the house, what you would normally buy in a supermarket, by mother bought in bulk in markets across Lagos. She knew them all, from Isale Eko, to Balogun, to Gutter – for lace, gold, shoes and bags, to Agege, to Mushin, to Mile 12, my goodness, that woman knew where to get everything in bulk and for cheap, and she dragged me along too, no questions asked. My children don’t know how lucky they will be, we have Costco. Loooool. Anyways, Yoyo was something to look forward to, after walking the length and breadth of Isale Eko. Mummy would stop at the shop of one of her favourite sellers, and we would buy a new plastic container, cold water, and of course Yoyo. She made us wash my hands of course, then we would dig in. Yoyo was sold wrapped in newspaper and packed in a plastic bag. Gosh, the aroma that would hit you when you open the parcel, is something I can never forget till this day. So, when I came across this fish, and best of all I was given free, you can’t imagine how pleased I was to recreate a past food memory. You can read the story of how I got free fish on Instagram
I was my mothers handbag in many ways. You see, I was her only child for 5 years, so she took me everywhere. Even after my sister arrived, she had gotten used to me being her shadow. One of her many jaunts, which we did together, was big market shopping. Yeah, I would grumble to the heavens but the little treats she bought for me, made up for it. My mother knew all the markets in Lagos. Lord have mercy. All the "koros" (hidden corners) of each market that she knew, would make Google Maps proud. From Mile 12, to Oshodi, Balogun, Agege, Isale Eko, she knew her way round like a pro. One of the things I picked up from her was, be very friendly with market stall keepers. Whenever we arrived, she was greeted like a family member. She was Iya Ola to them. She always let them feel like they were her friends and she could gist ehn, I would stand there muttering under my breath, "let us go oooo". You know what, she always got things cheaper and with freebies too. She was the only one I knew who would get to the stall of one her regulars, say she was tired and the stall owner would ask her to bring the list of what she still needed to buy and a sales girl would go do the shopping, while they talked shop ?. They would even buy her food. The sales girl will come back with her arms full, and fellow shoppers would be wondering where she got things so cheap. She only needed to tell them "Iya Ola sent her" and boom, The price reduced. My mother has a way with people. It is something to watch and admirable to emulate. I try to carry on the flag and my regulars at Upton Park always give me things for free. Today my fishmonger who hadn't seen me in a while because he closes early, said hey, long time, you want some fish? Heck yeah. I got this stash for free. Best part, I didn't even buy anything from him today, yet he still gave me free ??????. Now, I'm thinking of recreating the battered street food version of this fish, my mother let me buy in Isale Eko. We would buy a plastic container and drink garri with it, seated in the madams office of one of her regulars with the fan turned on. They would put on the gen for her, to make us comfy. That fish was THE TRUTH!!
Something to try this weekend. Let’s Cook
- Fresh fish - smelt, anchovies
- White flour Flour - or garri for the gluten free version
- Dry pepper - cayenne pepper
- Seasoning cube - optional
- Vegetable oil - or your choice of frying oil
- Rinse the fish after which you pat dry with kitchen paper towel.
- Prepare the seasonings. I started with Salt and dry pepper .
- Add white flour to the bowl
- Or use garri
- Lay out a wide strip of kitchen paper towel or a dry kitchen tray. Dip the fish into the flour seasoning mix and place on the paper towel. Repeat the process until you have exhausted your fish. . Don't fry immediately. otherwise the flour will slide straight off into the oil. Allow the moisture from the fish to absorb some of the flour, ensuring that the coating will stay intact, to a large extent.
- While you wait, heat up oil in a pan, enough to deep fry. Once the oil is hot enough, test a batch first with 2 or 3 pieces, to gauge the temperature of the oil. By the time this batch is fried to golden brown, the oil should be hot enough. Fry your Yoyo and serve with Garri and Cold water. Well, I did, you can serve it in a salad, or as a mini burger.
If you are worried about going overboard with the salt, after frying, you can also dust on some extra salt and dry pepper after frying.
If you can’t find Smelt or Anchovies, still enjoy the Yoyo experience by using small cut pieces of fish. Have a lovely weekend and Ramadan Kareem to my Muslim readers. I will be cooking this weekend, so remember, if you want a bowl or two of food lovingly prepared for your fridge or freezer, and you live in the UK, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org