Suya: Street Food Like No Other

Suya is arguably the most popular street food in Lagos. Preparing it requires skill and expertise.

By The Centenary Project

Spiced beef and gizzard on skewer on barbecue grill (2019)The Centenary Project

Suya, Nigeria's prominent street staple

Suya is probably the most popular street food in Nigeria sold on street corners almost everywhere in Lagos and beyond. It is skewered meat that is roasted and served with spices which give it a unique aroma and taste. Suya is believed to have originated with the Hausa people in Northern Nigeria, but it is now popular all over Nigeria and, most of all, in Lagos.

Suya And Serving Spices (2019)The Centenary Project

More than mere meat

Suya is made by putting marinated meat (which may be gizzard, cow hump, beef or chicken) on skewers and cooking on a barbecue grill fuelled by coal.

Men preparing suya (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

Certified!

Suya preparation is not for the rank and file. It is a skill but also an art that must be learned. Suya chefs are those who know how to skew the meat and prepare the spices before placing them on the grill. Experience and expertise are needed in order to bring out the unique taste of suya.

Suya, spices and oil on a grill (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

Getting it right

Roasting on the grill can take time depending on the type and state of the meat and other ingredients such as oil. The chef needs to monitor them closely so that they come out right.

Spiced barbecued beef and cow hump on skewer displayed on a local metal tray (2019)The Centenary Project

5 steps in preparing Suya

At various suya spots which span the cityscape of Lagos, the technique is generally the same. The difference is in putting the right amount of ingredients and grilling for the right amount of time. That's what separates a suya chef from a rookie. Here are the five steps.

Cow meat displayed at a market (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

Step 1: Getting the meat right

Preparing suya always begins with the meat. Traditionally, suya was made with only beef, but various variants have become popular, such as ram suya, chicken suya, gizzard suya, kidney suya, liver and tripe.

Meat can be bought in most open markets in Lagos – from Sandgrouse to Mile 12 – depending on where you live.

Raw beef on skewer (2019)The Centenary Project

Step 2: Skewering the meat

The meat is thinly sliced in its raw state and run through wooden kebab sticks. Several sticks can be prepared at the same time and stacked together. Then, they are stored or preserved by being placed in a refrigerator with blocks of ice.

Suya Spices (2019)The Centenary Project

Step 3: Marinating the meat

The meat is then marinated using locally-made spice. Suya spice is a dry peanut spice used to marinate the beef before grilling. There are different types. Some comprise grounded peanuts, garlic, black pepper, salt, seasoning and ginger.

Others contain some pepper which give them a reddish brown colour, ground turmeric, ground curry and extra spice.

Spiced barbecued beef skewer (2019)The Centenary Project

Recoloured meat

The spices are used to cover the skewered meat and to recolour them. This is how suya gets its unique colour, taste and flavour.

Spiced raw beef on skewer on charcoal grill (2019)The Centenary Project

Step 4: Let the grilling begin!

Roasting on the grill can take a while depending on the type and state of the meat. Throughout the process, the chef needs to monitor the meat closely so that it doesn't get burnt.

Barbeue pit, bowls containing grinded pepper and suya spice (2019)The Centenary Project

White hot coals

As with most grills, the coal fire needs to be prepared in such a way that it emits the right amount of fire and heat.

Setting marinaded beef on a skewer on charcoal grill (2019)The Centenary Project

Step 5: Adding oil

To improve the grilling process, some oil can be added. Oil can actually be rubbed over the marinated meat before grilling or sprinkled directly on the meat during grilling.

Spiced barbecued beef on skewer (2019)The Centenary Project

After grilling

After grilling, the suya is left to cool for a while along with other skewers.

Suya spice and onions (2019)The Centenary Project

Final packaging

After grilling, suya can be packaged for eating in a variety of ways.

Suya with sliced onions ready to serve (2019)The Centenary Project

Cutting into smaller bits

A sharpened curved knife is significant to a suya spot as it is used to slice the meat thinly and cut them into small bits sold to the buyer.

Ground Suya Spice (2019)The Centenary Project

More spice

The uniqueness of suya is found in the spices ground to serve the roasted meat. The ground spice could have almost anything that gives it a punch and taste. It could contain ground tumeric, curry, ground ginger, ground garlic, ground groundnut and other spices.

Spiced barbecued beef and gizzard on skewer with onions and suya spice (2019)The Centenary Project

More spice? As you like it

Before packaging, spice may be added to suya to give it more flavour. However, this is optional – some people prefer it without the spice.

Packaged spiced barbecued beef skewer (2019)The Centenary Project

What's in the wrap?

When sold on the streets, suya is often packed and wrapped using old newspapers. This has become so common that people now associate such papers with suya and vice versa.

Woman cutting pieces of suya (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

A new way to serve suya

Sometimes, buyers want their suya served in plastic takeaway plates rather than in papers. These are usually available in shops and restaurants rather than the traditional suya spots and joints.

Suya served with onions in newspaper (2019)The Centenary Project

Unwrapped and ready to be enjoyed

Since newspaper wrappings have been used for a long time, they have become part of the experience of eating suya.

Suya picked to be consumed (2019)The Centenary Project

Hand-picked, one by one

Opening up a wrap containing delicious-looking spiced suya with onions and then taking one piece at a time with the hand is an unbeatable feeling for many. This way, a wrap of suya is enjoyed alone or shared among family and friends.

Credits: Story

Curator: Patrick Enaholo
Research: Omotunde Omojola
Photographs: Chris Udoh / Emmanuel Paul
Text: Patrick Enaholo / Omotunde Omojola
Text editor: Munachim Amah

Special thanks to:
University of Suya, Allen Avenue, Ikeja
Sooyahbistro, Lekki, Lagos

© The Centenary Project

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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