The three great barbecue traditions of the world can be traced to West Africa: Southern U.S. barbecue, Jamaican jerk, and suya. While the first two have emerged from the culinary traditions of enslaved peoples in the Americas, suya is a style of barbecue that remains predominant among the Hausa people spread across Nigeria and Ghana. It is the quickest and most immediate of the three and unlike Southern barbecue and jerk, which use large and medium cuts, respectively, it focuses on smaller thinner cuts of meat or offal, sliced or skewered, then doused right at the end in yaji, an aromatic mix that can contain, among many other things, peppercorns, ginger, clove, pepper, chilli, and peanuts. These mixes are a closely guarded secret: Ask a suya vendor if they make their own and they will smile and say “of course” but never reveal what is actually in it. Yaji is why suya needs to be eaten quickly, straight from the carton or paper, while the aromatics are volatile and provoke a strong reaction from every open duct in the head.
Suya spots do have a presence in London, although their existence is peripatetic and many of the great ones close down too soon; in the wider discourse about food in London, they exist, unjustifiably, under the radar. This is a shame, not just because suya is so often a source of Nigerian and Ghanaian homesickness (it is not unheard of for the diaspora to smuggle yaji from Lagos or Abuja to London while badmouthing the state of most London suya) but because these are now important parts of London culture and the city’s canon of great food. Here are some of the best, but be warned: Once hooked on god-tier suya there is no going back, for the trifecta of hot meat, yaji, and raw white onion is simply one of the great accords of world cuisine.Read More