Nigerian Suya Inspired by the Memoir 'Looking for Transwonderland'

Nigerian Suya Inspired by the Memoir 'Looking for Transwonderland'

Wednesday, 18 November, 2020

Food and drinks are some of the easiest ways — and the most fun— to vicariously experience another culture. When you add a great book to the mix, you've got the makings of a perfect evening. In Food+Fiction, we recommend a delicious read and a related recipe so you can try the taste of different destinations in your own kitchen.

This post is part of our Food+Fiction series.


Lagos, Nigeria, is known for its hustle and bustle. And nowhere is that energy more vibrant than in the open-air markets that dot the city. Sure, you can bargain for handbags, shoes, and textiles, but the best reason to go is the food.

Vibrant produce, fresh-from-the-sea fish, groundnuts, and grains — the markets are the place to buy ingredients for home cooking. A market is also the most delicious place to indulge in spicy, colorful, starch-tastic Nigerian food. The fried doughballs called puf pufs. Roasted plantains with salted peanuts. Hearty greens floating in spicy soups. And suya, the meat-on-a-stick that’s wildly popular in West Africa.

In the memoir Looking for Transwonderland (recommended in our Nigeria podcast), author Noo Saro-Wiwa begins her adventures across Nigeria in Lagos, a city that ‘never failed to deliver buttock-clenching excitement.’ She then takes us with her on a trek throughout her homeland: to the broken-down amusement park of the title, the beautiful mountains, a surreal dog show, and the film sets of Nollywood. We can only assume that she fortified herself with suya in a market before heading out on her journey of discovery.

According to lore, the recipe originated with the Hausa people of northern Nigeria. Every cook puts on their own spin on the recipe, but the basic requirements are strips of tender meat — usually beef, but chicken and goat are also common — marinated in earthy spices and peanuts, then grilled to a satisfying char. It’s traditionally served with grilled tomatoes and onions and is sometimes nestled up against a pile of Jollof rice or fried plantains.

This recipe is from our cookbook Well Fed Weeknights, and we’ve added oven-baked french fries as a bed for the spicy meat. We’ve also adapted our recipe for easy cooking on the stovetop. If you prefer, you can thread the meat onto skewers after coating them in spices, then cook on high heat on a grill until cooked to your liking. (You could also omit the fries and simmer a batch of this Jollof rice instead.)

Nigerian Suya Street Fries

Serves 4-6. Total time 40 minutes.



  • 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 3 large)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


  • 2 pounds beef sirloin or flank steak
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Spice Blend:

  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse (granulated) onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse (granulated) garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cube chicken bouillon
  • 1⁄3 cup dry-roasted peanuts


  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 small jalapeño
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • a handful fresh cilantro, fresh lime

Preheat the pan. Move your oven rack to the lowest level. Place a large rimmed baking sheet on the rack and heat the oven to 500F/260C.

Prep the potatoes. Cut the potatoes into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick sticks and place in a large bowl. Add the oil, salt, and pepper, toss to coat. Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven and spread the fries out on the preheated baking sheet.

Bake the fries. Return the pan to the oven’s lower rack. Bake for 15 minutes, toss, and continue to bake until the fries are slightly golden and crispy. Then reduce the oven temperature to 425F/218C and bake an additional 10-15 minutes.

Prep the meat and spice blend. Cut the steak into 1⁄4-inch strips and place them in a medium mixing bowl. Combine the spice blend ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it resembles a coarse powder; you want chopped nuts, not paste. Sprinkle the spice blend over the meat and toss to coat, pressing the nuts into the meat. Set aside.

Cook the veggies. Heat the oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high, 2 minutes. While it heats, cut the tomatoes into wedges; slice the onion and the jalapeño. (Remove the seeds if you want it less hot.) Add the veggies to the hot oil and stir-fry for 1–2 minutes until crisp-tender. Transfer the veggies to a plate.

Cook the suya. Return the skillet to medium-high heat, add the oil, and let it heat for 1 minute. Add the steak in a single layer and cook undisturbed for 2 minutes, then flip it and cook it for an additional 2–3 minutes. Now’s a good time to cut the lime into wedges. Add the veggies to the pan, toss to combine, and turn off the heat.

To serve, place the fries on a plate, top with meat and veggies, then sprinkle with cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.

As a teenager, I virtually had to be escorted by the ankles onto a Nigeria Airways flight at the start of the holidays, not only because I wanted to avoid all that airport angst, but also because i didn’t want to reach the ultimate destination. Having to spend those two months in my unglamourous, godforsaken motherland with its penchant for noise and disorder felt like a punishment… I would arrive at an airport that hadn’t been refurbished in twenty years. The humid viscous air, pointlessly stirred by sleeping ceiling fans, would smother me like a pillow and gave a foretaste of the decrepitude and discomfort that lay ahead. — Noo Saro-Wiwa

Looking for Transwonderland

by Noo Saro-Wiwa

Born in Nigeria and raised in the UK, journalist Noo Saro-Wiwa returned to her homeland to make peace with its riotous chaos and her brutal personal history. The result is this sharp mashup of travelogue, memoir, and history — a guided tour (with a sardonic host) to the best and worst Nigeria has to offer. The word ‘intrepid’ is apt here, as Saro-Wiwa travels throughout the country, experiencing and documenting it all. {more}

This travelogue and memoir (272 pages) was published in August of 2012 by Soft Skull Press. The book takes you to Nigeria. David read Looking for Transwonderland and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it. is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.

Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria


Top image courtesy of Jordi C/Shutterstock.

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Nigeria embodies contrasts: colorful tribal culture and the tragedy of slavery, stunning natural beauty and the megacity of Lagos, Christianity and Islam, sweet puff puffs and habanero peppers. One constant: hustle.
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