Spicing the City with Flavours of Lagos

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One Lagos and Tasteoff collaborated on a food festival that earned its place on the event calendar of a state increasingly embracing tourism, writes Demola Ojo

“It’s the kind of place you would want to come to with a cooler in the trunk of your car,” the Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Folorunsho Folarin-Coker, advised during a chance meeting a day before the Flavours of Lagos food festival that took place last week at the Eko Atlantic Waterfront, Bar Beach, Lagos.

There was good reason for the heads-up. The culinary festival which took place over two days during Nigeria’s Independence celebrations revealed another side of Lagos; a city with cuisine as diverse as its inhabitants, with influences not just from across the country but from around the world.

Before getting to the entrance of the 13,000 sqm space set aside for the food fair, the tantalizing aroma of grilled meat filled the air. Apparently, there were about 70 food vendors encircling the tables and chairs where hundreds were seated, and thousands passed through.

Their offerings cut across everything from the nutritional and healthy to the indulgent; barbeque to smoothies, seafood to ice cream.

Exhibitors included Casper & Gambinis, Hans and Rene, Ginger Tapas & Grill and Our Majesty Chinese. Interesting names like Afrolems, Ounje Express, Sugary Fingers, Wrap City and Uncle Femi’s Rustic Kitchen were present, among others. Beyond Nigeria, there was Indian, Chinese, Italian, American and Lebanese cuisine, all part of the gastronomical experience in Lagos.

The variety meant healthy teas from Askdamz, chapman and palm wine from Eventi Cocktails, Kilishi and Zobo from Arewa Pot. There was curry goat rice from Mango Room, asun from Pumping’s Grill, rice and peas with Rasta pasta from Jamski. The latter certainly has Jamaican influences.

Flavours of Lagos was not just a culinary experience. The Toddler Town/Children Section meant families could stop by and spend Sunday feeling the evening sea breeze. There were DJs at opposite ends of the beach stretch. One of them, Dj Caise, was on the stage where leading Nigerian artistes performed at concerts both nights. Shawarma and Suya stands kept up till late.

And there was the VIP section, where cabanas hosted parties complete with club lights, cigars and champagne.

“Part of the problem with tourism is people don’t know what is available, where it’s available and when it’s available,” the commissioner for tourism remarked on the second day of the festival. “We looked at the diverse culinary arts we have in Lagos. Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba as a base, Lebanese, Chinese and Indian on top of it, and everything is being glued together. And our people are redefining the culinary experience in different ways as you’ve seen.”

Flavours of Lagos is a broad theme but starting off with food, he explained. There could be a fashion show around the same theme, he suggested. “We’ve already had the One Lagos Fiesta, which is the flavours of music that we have. Can you imagine if we had a Flavours of Lagos in terms of film? So it’s exploring other ways that we can look inwards and redefine the experience in Lagos and to consume more of what we already have here, rather than looking outward.

Secondly, the governor said at the beginning of his tenure that he was going to run an inclusive government where nobody will be left behind. Again, Flavours of Lagos is about everybody’s food, everybody’s style, everybody coming together.”

How often will events like these be held? “I asked that same question of one of the vendors,” Mr Folarin-Coker replied, “And she said she wants it every day.”

Flavours of Lagos is a collaboration between the state government, the vendors and corporate sponsors. The corporate sponsors include Nigerian Breweries and Pepsi.

“We can come together and drive these sort of events. At the end of the day, they get something back in terms of exposure and the consumption of their products. The vendors make money from selling. This is a platform, an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.

“What I’m doing is creating a base, a foundation, so that whatever you want to build in Lagos can be done on it. If it exists in Lagos, there’s a need for the consumption of it in Lagos.”