Efik Eburutu of Nigeria    
Edidiana Edi Uforo

Efik dishes are mainly those sourced from the rivers that characterize their very existence. All Efik clans and sub-clans are located by river banks or creeks and so their nutritional culture derives from the seas. Source of protein is mainly of the fish kind but occasionally from meat captured both from waters and forests. The fish sources range from shelled fishes of all kinds including periwinkles, mussels, oysters and clams; crustaceans like shrimps, lobsters and prawns, to a variety of species of fish like catfish, flatfish, scaled fish and the like. Carbohydrates were in former days basically sourced from yam, cocoyam and plantain but in recent times mostly from cassava. Major sources of vitamins and minerals are fruits and vegetables including banana, pear (a species different from the avocadro), oranges, coconut, palm nuts, pumpkin and okra. Others exist which have no English names and are therefore captured under language discussions. Their waters for drinking and sundry uses are obtained from their rivers, creeks, streams and springs.
A wide variety of dishes ranging from foods to soups could be prepared with careful artistic combinations of sources of these food classes. Efik foods include porridge which could be made from yam, cocoyam, rice or plantain; a very special kind of Efik porridge dish made from cocoyam, water yam or a mixture of both is called Ekpañ-ñkukwọ. Efik women could also make yam and cocoyam into gelatinized or semi-solid pastes to be eaten by ball-swallowing with different kinds of soup including their famous ‘edikañ-ikọñ’ soup, ‘afañ’ soup, ‘editan’ soup, ‘abak’ soup, fish slurry, white soup specifically for pounded yam. Rice porridge prepared with coconut juice or slurry and designated coconut-rice is another special dish of Efik origin. The late Mary Slessor particularly preferred this kind of rice and the fish slurry to other kinds of food and soup among the Efik people.
Efik artistry in cuisines is as old as the kingdom itself. Documentary evidence of Efik eating habits first occurred in Scottish Missionary records of the middle to late 19th century when the various Kings of the Efik city-states took turns to entertain their European trade and gospel friends. Efik dinners of the time generally consisted of a-three-course meal (Waddell, 1863), very rich in biochemically-nourishing ingredients. A brief on major Efik dishes that attracted the attention of their European friends of the 19th century follows shortly.
Descriptions of major Efik cuisines

  1. Traditional Efik Soups
  2. Edikañ-ikọñ soup: The Iboku people refer to the frying of foods in oil as “ukañ”, therefore edikañ-ikọñ, as a soup form, simply refers to the frying of edible leaves in oil. There is a lot of artistry involved in the making of this soup beginning with the kind of leaf that best suits the soup, the ingredients and condiments as well. Being a kind of soup, it therefore requires a carbohydrate source to go with, for the purposes of filling and energy generation. The special blend of all six major classes of food in Efik cuisines has been a by-word for centuries in Nigeria and West Africa. The fame of Edikañ-ikọñ soup in particular, has gone way beyond the shores of Africa to Europe and the Americas. The soup, by Efik tradition, is usually accompanied with boiled yam, pounded yam, garri and fufu (in recent times).

The making of Edikañ-ikọñ soup
Irrespective of soup volume as determined by pot size, the requirements are fixed and include;

  1. Fresh fluted pumpkin leaves carefully plucked off their rails
  2. Fresh deflowered water leaves carefully processed off their stems
  3. Good sizes of basin for washing
  4. Good volume of water for washing
  5. Good quantity of dried ground cray-fish
  6. Adequate quantity of maggi cubes (variable brands)
  7. Adequate quantities of fresh/or dry pepper and salt
  8. A good volume of free-flowing palm oil


  1. Adequate quantity of de-shelled periwinkles appropriate for the volume of soup to be prepared.
  2. Good quantity of fresh or dry meat carefully chopped to respectable pieces
  3. Good quantity of dried scaled or unscaled fish carefully washed in warm saline
  4. Good quantity of snails, shrimps and oysters
  5. Good quantity of stock-fish (head or trunk)

Preparation of Edikañ-ikọñ soup

  1. Thoroughly washed fluted pumpkin leaves and water leaves are separately artistically chopped to fine pieces
  2. Ingredients, particularly dried fish, meat and stockfish, are thoroughly washed, seasoned and allowed to stand for about 2 hours before cooking. Care should be taken to remove all grains of sand from the ingredients. These are cooked in high- heat fire for as long as it takes the ingredients to become moderately tender.
  3. The periwinkle, snails, shrimps and oysters (known variously in Efik as mfi, ekwọñ, ndek-obu ye ñkọ-ñkọ) also receive good washing, processing, seasoning and holding. They are subsequently cooked on low-heat fire but the duration of their prior-cooking is shorter than that for the meat, dried-fish and stockfish. The special treatment for these ingredients arises from their very fragile nature, not forgetting the beautiful crunchy feeling one has while eating them in soups. These kinds of feeling are often lost when Edikañ-ikọñ soup is prepared by non-Efik or an untutored Efik person.
  4. Occasionally, pumpkin and water leaves tend to contain too much fluid and so a dewatering step by way of gentle squeeze is necessary to forestall the development of a final poor-quality soup
  5. The water leaf is adopted for edikañ-ikọñ soup as a tenderizing companion of the tougher pumpkin leaf. It produces a slippery juice that gives the soup a final sour taste. As such, the chopped water-leaf goes into the pot first to dry up its undesirable fluid.
  6. The pumpkin follows to establish a good blend of the two leaves as well as water content of the mixture. The heat is kept moderate with constant mixing by means of a special kitchen turning stick called “efa”.
  7. As pumpkin is a difficult leaf to be brought to taste, Edikañ-ikọñ soup usually consumes a good measure of cray-fish which in recent times is being complemented with maggi; the variety of which is a matter of choice.
  8. The pre-cooked ingredients then follow to help guide the levels of salt, pepper and maggi in the final soup. However necessary, the levels of these condiments are brought to taste with an endorsed water content which at this point is supposed to be zero
  9. A large quantity of free-flowing palm oil is finally added to bring the cooking to completion and the oil blend facilitated by the “efa”.
  10. The soup is taken off the fire only when a special frying smell emanates from the pot and the soup is allowed to age for hours before serving, the duration of aging often determined by the nature of the accompanying carbohydrate source; boiled yam, pounded yam, garri or fufu.
  11. Efik people have a special knack for overnight foods. The idea is that such foods have better blends or homogeneity, consistency and stability than when eaten immediately after preparation. This could be likened to the ageing process in brewing and distilling, the process of which confers a more desirable taste to the preparations than consumed without it.

Points to note

  1. Onions are forbidden in preparation of Edikañ-ikọñ soup as it imparts an undesirable distinct flavor on the soup and encourages spoilage.
  2. The Iboku people do not also use shelled periwinkle in Edikañ-ikọñ soup or any other leafy soup for that matter. Tradition says that in 1851 in Duke Town, a non-Efik slave girl, in an attempt to help her sick mistress prepare Edikañ-ikọñ soup during one of the numerous Efik dinners for European traders, introduced shelled periwinkle in the soup which caused the loss of a white man’s tooth. King Archibong I (Efio-Okoho Asibong Ekpo Efiom) promptly nibbed this unwarranted traditional deviation in the bud by killing the maid in front of his visitors and town gentlemen.
  3. In recent times, people have come up with ideas on the making of food and claim destruction of major food nutrients by the excessive heat treatment given to foods by the Efik people. Against this backdrop therefore, attempts at modification in the preparation of edikañ-ikọñ soup and other leafy soups of the Efik people have been made. Edikañ-ikọñ is now prepared with the pumpkin and water leaves appearing greenish, semi-cooked, with the fine taste of smooth, softened soup replaced by a coarse, rough, crusty one at the end of the cooking. The modifiers argue, through biochemical reasoning, that food ingredients are readily destroyed in the course of heating. They fail to remember their elementary chemistry or biochemistry that trace minerals like iron, manganese, chromium, nickel, cobalt and zinc must be made available to the body for incorporation into all sorts of metabolic activities. They also fail to understand, from a microbiological standpoint, that improperly heat-processed foods could be a major predisposing factor for a large number of human infections. An example is given in the bird flu epidemic that arose from inadequately cooked poultry products. The concepts of tyndallization and heat-sterilization remain major breakthroughs in medical history as means of combating infectious diseases.
  4. Efik people do not therefore take kindly to people who try to destroy their culture which they hold dear and adhere very tenaciously to. The many people who have attempted descriptions for the preparation of Edikañ-ikọñ soup are therefore advised to desist from it or better still give their invention a different name as this soup has been documented since the 19th century to have originated from the Efik people. The people do not welcome amendments in their dishes for now, and when they do, they will be kind and humble enough to ask.
  5. Afañ Soup

The preparation of this soup is, in many ways, similar to that of edikañ-ikọñ. The slight differences occur in the nature of the leaf itself which grows as a creepy plant like the pumpkin, but in the wild (forest) and the requirement for pounding of the leaf after chopping to pieces, to facilitate softening and ease of cooking. The leaf is called “Afañ” by the Efik people. There are a number of varieties but the people prefer the non-bitter, not-too-dark variety.
The making of Afañ soup

  1. Carefully chopped afañ leaves are pounded in a mortar with a pestle until fine.
  2. The requirements and ingredients for edikañ-ikọñ soup are applicable in this case
  3. The procedure for cooking is also very similar to that for edikañ-ikọñ earlier described but afañ soup does not consume as much cray-fish as edikañ-ikọñ does.
  4. The preparation steps are the same
  5. Efik people simply refer to afañ soup as “ukwọhọ” since the soup finally appears as a thick, smooth, consistent paste also devoid of water as in the case of edikañ-ikọñ.
  6. Afañ soup, unlike edikañ-ikọñ, does not go with boiled rice, yam or plantain. The soup is a more restricted one than edikan-ikọñ which the Efik people view as a multi-purpose soup.
  7. Afañ soup is best served with pounded yam, fufu and garri
  1. Ọtọñ soup

The accepted Efik parlance for this soup is “ediyarade ọtọñ”. The Efik, as an ethnic entity, do not use “mbukpap uyo” in their soup because of its smell. What confers the slippery nature to ọtọñ soup is purely okra. It is only in recent times that some members of the Efik community have started mixing mbukpap uyo with okra while making ọtọñ soup. This soup naturally goes with “Anyan ekpañ”; a delicacy made from cassava, cocoyam, water yam or a combination of at least two of these. In ancient times, it was a requirement by women to bring “Ekombi” display at the funeral obsequies of a person of note, to an end.

Requirements for the making of Ọtọñ soup

  1. Dry plantain husks or cases
  2. Small pan to burn the husks
  3. Okra
  4. Grater or mortar/pestle
  5. Small quantity of fresh fluted pumpkin leaf depending on soup volume
  6. Small quantity of curry leaf (Ikọ) for flavouring
  7. Good quantity of ground cray-fish
  8. The spices including pepper, salt and maggi

See link to Edikañ-ikọñ soup
Mode of preparation

  1. Burn the plantain husks in the pan for as long as it takes to convert them to ash
  2. Transfer the ash to a basin and wash by dissolution in water
  3. Separate particles or debris by filtration and keep the filtrate for the soup
  4. Grate the okra until fine. If grater is not available, pound in a mortar until a continuous homogeneous slippery mixture is obtained
  5. Pre-cook the ingredients as earlier described under edikañ-ikọñ
  6. Transfer pre-cooked ingredients including dry fish, stock fish and meat to plantain ash filtrate in a pot designated for the soup
  7. Boil on moderate fire and thicken with the grated okra with constant stirring with a round-mouth spoon.
  8. Add adequate quantity of ground cray-fish to taste
  9. Add a small quantity of free-flowing palm oil. A yellow-coloured slippery soup ensues.
  10. Cook for a while with the pot open
  11. Bring the soup to taste with adequate amount of spices including salt, pepper and maggi.
  12. Add a small quantity of artistically chooped fluted pumpkin leaves and continue to stir to prevent burning
  13. Add a small quantity of carefully chopped curry (ikọ) or hot (etiñkeni) leaves to improve flavor
  14. Allow to cook for 2 min and put out the fire.

Preparation of the accompanying “Anyan Ekpañ”

  1. Peel adequate quantities of good but variable sizes of cocoyam or water yam or even cassava to reveal white edible parts
  2. Wash white edible parts thoroughly in clean water
  3. Grate the washed cocoyam, water-yam or cassava in a clean grater to obtain a pasty material. Oftentimes, any two of the three carbohydrate sources are combined for use as one.
  4. Get fresh plantain leaves and carefully and artistically reduce them to appropriate sizes
  5. Soften both ends of leave pieces on fire and wash to remove all trace of sand
  6. Carefully layer the bottom of the pot with pieces of stem derived from the centre of the plantain leaves. The stem pieces span the length of the pot earmarked for cooking and serve to prevent burning of the preparation while on fire
  7. Carefully transfer adequate quantity of any of the carbohydrate pastes or their combinations into a piece of leaf and wrap by rolling with both hands. The paste inside the leaf achieves a roll-out but long appearance inside the leaf, hence “Anyan”
  8. Bend leaf terminals that were softened by fire to trim down the length of the preparation, to close up the folded material and define the overall length of the “Ekpañ” (derived from the Efik verb ‘kpan’ meaning to fold or roll up). It also prevents spilling of the food material into the pot during cooking
  9. Place folded preparation on the stem inside the pot and repeat this step until all grated cocoyam etc, are similarly prepared.
  10. Place a measurable quantity of water into the pot depending on pot size and quantity of preparation
  11. Allow to cook for sometime under moderate fire. Duration of cooking is a function of food quantity and intensity of heating
  12. Turn out the heat when a gelatinized appearance of the rolled carbohydrate is achieved.
  13. Allow to cool to facilitate unwrapping of the food from the plantain leaves.
  14. Serve adequate quantities depending on need with the Ọtọñ soup in separate plates; the “Anyan-ekpañ” in a large flat plate and the “Ọtọñ” soup in a bowl.
  15. Abak soup

This soup is made from slurry prepared from cooked fresh oil palm fruits. It, like edikan-ikon soup, comes finally after cooking, as a multi-purpose soup because it could be served with boiled rice, plantain, yam, as well as with pounded yam.

  1. Adequate quantity of fresh, ripened oil palm fruits. Quantity depends on the volume of soup to be made
  2. Good quantity of well-pounded fresh “Atama” (scientific name) leaves
  3. Good quantity of ground or pounded cray-fish
  4. Spices of pepper (dried or freshly plucked), salt and maggi
  5. A special species of spice called “Uyayak” (Moringa oleivera)

The making of abak soup

  1. Thoroughly wash a good quantity of ripe disease-free oil palm fruits and cook until tender
  2. Transfer cooked oil palm fruits by means of a filter or decanter into a mortar and pound with a pestle until nuts separate from the soft fleshy part
  3. Add adjustable volume of water to the pounded material in the mortar and macerate with pestle and/or washed hands to generate a very light slurry
  4. Separate nuts and chaff from the slurry by means of a decanter or filter
  5. Transfer filtrate (slurry without chaff and nuts) to a pot that had been prior seeded with pre-cooked shelled-periwinkle for the soup
  6. Place pot on fire and allow to boil
  7. Add pieces of “uyayak” (dry mature pods) to the boiling slurry (some women could add this after cray-fish) to adequate quantity. This is a good source of B-vitamins as well as vitamin C, but because vitamin C breaks down upon cooking, final content of this vitamin in abak soup depends strongly on the duration of cooking. Uyayak is also a good source of dietary fibre, magnesium, potassium and manganese; biochemically relevant elements needed in trace amounts. Apart from these nutrient elements, “uyayak” also imparts a characteristic appealing flavor on the soup.
  8. Add a good quantity of ground cray-fish
  9. Add pre-cooked ingredients (see link to edikañ-ikọñ). During seasons for clams, these shell-fish are also added alongside others. It is noteworthy that clams are only used in Abak soup among the Efik people. They are more frequently used for sauce preparations for appetizers.
  10. Check to ascertain taste and adjust accordingly with salt, pepper and maggi
  11. Add an adequate quantity of pounded “Atama” leaf. Sometimes variations in the nature of leaves added at this stage could be made. Fluted pumpkin leaf (in abak ubọñ), water leaf (in abak mmọñ mmọñ ikọñ), editan leaf (in abak editan), bitter leaf (in abak etidot) and afañ leaf (in abak afañ) are commonly used among the Efik people to create variety. Frequently too, melon (see link to ekpañ-ñkukwọ ikon) could be molded into the soup, and this often becomes another delicacy for children.
  12. Serve moderately thickened soup with boiled yam, plantain (often cooked in the soup) and rice as well as with pounded yam, garri and fufu.
  13. Fisherman soup

This soup is known in Efik as “Iwuk efere”. As the traditional occupation of the Efik people of Nigeria is fishing, this soup is about the oldest soup form among the people, as far as settlement in Nigeria is concerned. Most Efik fishermen spent a good deal of time at their fishing ports, well away from their homes for upwards of 3 months and their wives would package, before their departure, good quantities of free-flowing palm oil, pepper and salt, to enable them make soup at their fishing ports. Wives who would not allow their husbands to be away for so long usually accompanied them to their fishing ports. It was in the second instance that Efik fishing ports in the Bakassi Peninsula became towns that are now scrambled for by all and sundry. It was also in this context that the famous Asibong-Ekondo in Efik history settled in Usakedet, far away from his native home of Usukakpa-Idua who were then at the site of present day Tete Street.
The making of fisherman soup

  1. Good quantity of any fish species is thoroughly processed, washed and cut to respectable sizes
  2. Processed fish is placed into a pot and seasoned with salt and pepper with a little quantity of water and allowed to stand for about 2 hours
  3. The preparation is cooked on moderate fire until the fish is adjudged cooked and water content reduced to barest minimum
  4. A good quantity of free-flowing palm oil is added with a small portion of fish broken for use as thickener
  5. Occasionally, a small quantity of chopped scent leaf, known in Efik as “Ntọñ” is added to improve flavor and douse the smell of the fish which often causes emesis (vomiting)
  6. Allow to cook for 5 min and bring pot down
  7. Serve soup with garri, pounded yam or boiled plantain
  8. White soup

Known in Efik as “Afia efere”, the white soup is a special Efik soup made without palm oil, hence the name. The soup actually appears black in colour which explains why missionary and supercargo records of former days refer to it as black soup. The blackness derives from the black Moringa pods used in its preparation as will be seen shortly. It is usually served with pounded yam and used quite significantly, in recent times, at receptions of important visitors or any other important in-house occasion. Two variations of the soup are easily discernible based on the nature of the major ingredient used. Where the major ingredient is goat meat (often he-goat), the Efik refer to it as “Afia efere ebot” but where the major ingredient is chicken, it is referred to as “Afia efere unen”. The former is by far more commonly prepared and more popular.

  1. Pre-cooked goat meat
  2. Good pieces of dry-fish
  3. One to two pods of uyayak (Moringa oleifera)
  4. Adequate quantity of ground cray-fish
  5. Spices like pepper, salt and maggi
  6. A piece of cooked yam for thickening


  1. Pre-cooked goat meat (or chicken) and dry fish in good quality sauce is mixed with a predetermined volume of water depending on the desired volume of soup to be made, in a pot and allowed to boil on moderate fire
  2. Washed pieces of uyayak pods are added to the mixture and the preparation allowed to boil until the peculiar uyayak flavor ensues and its dark colouring develops in the broth.
  3. Good quantity of ground cray-fish is added and the preparation brought to taste with pepper, salt and maggi
  4. Mashed cooked yam is often added as a thickening agent, the quantity of which depends on the state of the original slurry
  5. The soup is allowed to cook until ingredients and condiments are well blended
  6. Fire is turned off and soup allowed to age for some time
  7. Serve soup with pounded yam.

Efik Foods

  1. Ekpañ Ñkukwọ

This food is merely the porridge preparation made with cocoyam, cassava or water yam or a combination of any two of them. It involves the cooking of artistically-wrapped (ekpañ) of the mashed preparation of any of the starchy foods in young tender cocoyam leaves (ñkukwọ) oil-generated steam. Since oil is lighter than water it becomes displaced upwards by the little water added to the preparation and the steam generated by the heated water at the bottom of the pot facilitates the cooking of the starch in oil. The choice of species of cocoyam leaves is a matter of discretion among the natives. Ekpañ-ñkukwọ is the only Efik food that has shelled-periwinkles as an ingredient.

  1. Mashed cocoyam, water yam or cassava (their various combinations could also be used)
  2. Good quantity of tender cocoyam leaves (species withheld) artistically prepared to facilitate wrapping of the mashed starchy material.
  3. Good quantity of properly washed, well-trimmed shelled-periwinkles
  4. Good sizes of dry fish and dry meat, as well as shrimps. In recent times stock fish trunks are sometimes included.
  5. Good quantity of free-flowing palm oil
  6. Good quantity of well-blended fresh or dried pepper, salt, cray-fish, maggi and salt.
  7. Good sizes of pots depending on food volume

 The preparation

    • Pre-cook washed periwinkles after being soaked in saline for about an hour. The pre-cooking condiments should include pepper and maggi only. Salt level should be carefully monitored considering the earlier holding of the ingredient in saline
    • Transfer pre-cooked periwinkle from the smaller pre-cooking pot to the final pot for food preparation.
    • Pour in a good volume of oil over the periwinkle and a little volume of water trickling down the side of the pot to facilitate cooking of the mashed starch
    • Add some quantity of salt to the mashed starchy material to taste.
    • Wrap up all mashed cocoyam, or cassava as the case may be, in the pieces of tender cocoyam leaves and carefully place all wraps on the periwinkles
    • Care should be taken to not allow wrapped cocoyam to touch pot bottom to avoid burning
    • Set up an initial low fire to begin the cooking process. The scientific reasoning behind this cooking in oil and water is that the little water tricked down the side of the pot will displace the oil upwards to avoid burning of the food, builds up pressure which generates steam (gaseous water) from the heated water that facilitates the cooking of the food. Simply put, ekpañ-ñkukwo is cooked under steam and high pressure.
    • Add other ingredients already prepared and follow up with condiments to taste
    • Allow to cook properly with careful turning with the ‘efa’ already mentioned; carefully gauging of palm oil level.
    • Put the pot down when cooking is certified complete
    • Allow food to simmer and stabilize before dishing into flat plates
    • Ekpañ-ñkukwọ is traditionally best eaten with fingers.