Bukas: A Look at Nigerian Street Food – By Ekemode Seun
Bukas: A Look at Nigerian Street Food
The buka, also known as bukka or mama put, is a time-tested Nigerian symbol. This is a place where you get served the tastiest Nigerian food. You can hardly walk through a Nigerian street without finding at least one buka nestled in a corner. Yes, these street food joints are that popular. In fact, bukas have more patronage than fast food spots and nicer restaurants. You will find all kinds of Nigerians digging into their food in bukas, from your high-flying executive to the somewhat broke student. You may be shocked to see the latest models of luxury cars parked outside a food shack built with nothing more tarpaulin and rusty corrugated iron sheets. The buka is a class leveler.
You might want to know why street food joints are very popular in Nigeria, but the answer is in the name. As mentioned above, the buka is also known as mama put, signifying that the food here is so good you will reveal your inner Oliver Twist by asking the Mama (buka owner) to put some more food on your plate. There are very few Nigerians who haven’t tasted buka food.
Features of a Buka
You will find Bukas in every state in Nigeria, and they are unmissable because they share the same universal features to include:
If you are looking for fine dining in a pretty building with food you haven’t heard of before, then the buka is not the place for you. A buka is pretty much always a shack. Yes, the allure is not in the architecture. Some are nothing but open canopy tents with plastic chairs arranged around small tables. Some are constructed with tarpaulin and roofing materials, with wooden tables and benches for the patrons inside. To be clear, the food is often so good you won’t even consider your surroundings.
Recently, restaurants have tapped into the buka model by serving food straight from the pot like in the bukas. These buka-restaurants offer you a nicer food place but seat you in positions that will give you direct views of the pot.
It is difficult to recreate buka food at home because buka food has a distinctive taste. Most buka owners cook with firewood, which adds a delicious smokiness to the food. Also, the buka menu is often large and diverse. This allows the patrons to combine different types of food, no matter how random the combination. You’ll find people digging into plates laden with beans, boiled eggs, fried fish, and vegetable salad. There is no judgement in the buka, so feel free to order foods that don’t go well together.
Buka patrons come from all walks of life. Students mingle with their future bosses here. Politicians can sit down with their constituents and share a meal. People meet their future spouses in bukas all the time. The amazing thing is that no one will think you are economically disadvantaged by patronizing a hole in the wall food joint. And why would they? Everyone loves Nigerian street food!
The buka owner is an important person in the community. This person basically unites everyone in one street food corner. They usually have nicknames, which could be used as the official name of the buka. If the owner is a great cook, then patrons will travel long distances just to eat there. People are willing to crawl into a hole to find good food. The disposition of the buka owner matters very little. People will patronize them whether they are polite or rude. In fact, no one is ever worried about a rude owner. The rude owners know their food is good, and as such, you won’t be going anywhere.
This is the most important feature of a buka. You can get delicious food for cheap. Most buka fans will tell you that they prefer eating out to cooking at home because it is a lot cheaper to eat buka food. That’s one of the reason bukas are a huge hit with university students, artisans, and bachelors.
Nigerian professionals also love bukas because most people rush off to work without eating at home, with the full assurance that they’ll grab tasty and cheap lunch at a buka close to the office.
Benefits of the Buka or Street Food Culture
These are some of the reasons bukas are very popular in Nigeria.
A Buka is a Social Hub
Regulars of a particular buka are bound to become buddies. This is a great place to get a recap of the Premier League, as you will always find supporters of various football clubs engaging in friendly banter. Want to get the freshest breaking news? Visit a buka in the morning. You will find people dissecting government policies and the latest headlines over steaming plates of food.
A Buka is a Cultural Melting Pot
No matter the location of the buka, you will find food from different ethnic groups on the menu. The most popular buka food is the Yoruba (tomato) stew from the South-West of Nigeria. You can find this stew in bukas all over the country. It is a nationwide hit even though it has so much pepper it will temporarily turn you into a fire-breathing dragon. You will also find Afang Soup from the South-South, and Ofe Akwu from the South-East. A buka is the best place to get a taste of other cultures.
Employer of Labor
Young students and graduates often find work waiting tables in bukas. A buka employs five people on average, and since there are so many of these food joints around, that’s a sizable number of people taken out of the unemployment pool.
The Nigerian street food culture is a thriving and profitable one. It is rare to find a street in Nigeria without a buka. Even though there are many bukas around, some will be more popular than others based on factors like quality of food, location, accessibility and menu strength.