Top Nigerian Food: The 21 Best Dishes

A country in West Africa, Nigeria has many different ethnic communities, and as such, it also has a highly varied and rich culinary tradition, with many different flavors and delicacies.

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Whether it's Nigerian Jollof rice, fried plantain, fufu, or ofada stew Nigerian food is some of the best African cuisine.

Different parts of Nigeria will have different traditional dishes, but there are also Nigerian foods that are widespread across the entire country. 

In fact, Nigeria is considered to have one of the best cuisines in the world, and it’s well worth trying out some of their best dishes and foods.

So whether you’re going to visit Nigeria and want to be prepared with what to look out for, or whether you’re simply wanting to find the right recipes to make Nigerian food at home, we’ve compiled the top 21 dishes that are the absolute best within Nigerian cuisine, and a complete must to taste and enjoy!

But first, let’s talk a bit more about Nigerian food and cuisine, and what makes it special! 

Food in Nigeria

There are many different ethnic groups within the country of Nigeria, and the differences between them all come together in the cuisine, to provide a rich variety of flavors and cooking styles, which results in delicious food that is known worldwide.

Just like many other countries within West Africa, Nigeria is known for its use of spices and herbs, as well as palm and groundnut oil. Deeply flavored sauces and soups are extremely common, and you can smell Nigerian food from quite a distance, as it always has a distinctive enticing aroma that makes your mouth water in anticipation.

Rice is a big food in Nigeria, commonly consumed on a daily basis, and made with plenty of different recipes and ingredients for variety. And one of the most traditional Nigerian dishes is Pate, which is rice processed and combined with minced meat, and vegetables such as dry corn, spinach, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and many more.

This dish is common all throughout the country, but is far more traditional up in the Northwestern regions, in states such as Kaduna, Kano, Nasarawa, and the Plateau.

Soup is also another big dish in Nigeria, with many varieties and types, that make use of different ingredients and flavors. Some will be quite unique to Nigeria, but other recipes have been heavily influenced by European countries such as Portugal and the United Kingdom, so they will be perfect for those that don’t want to wander too far off from the flavors they are used to.

Whether you like meat, seafood, or vegetarian options, Nigeria has them all, thanks to the differences from region to region, which add an incredible amount of variety to the overall cuisine. And Nigerian food is not only deliciously tasty, but also high in proteins and very healthy, so it’s a win-win!

But with so much variety, let’s focus on the top 21 most common and popular dishes within Nigerian cuisine, and you can start out with those.

Top 21 Dishes of Nigerian Food

Abacha and Ugba

Abacha and Ugba is a dish that can also be referred to as the African Salad. It is a popular dish in Nigeria, and it is especially traditional amongst the Igbo people, in the Eastern regions of Nigeria.

The Abacha is made from cassava that is grated and then left to dry in the sun. And as for the Ugba, it is a type of oil bean seed that is sliced and mixed with fresh vegetables of your choice.

Abacha and Ugba are most commonly served with fried fish and cowskin, known as ponmo. But the most surprising thing about this dish is that although it looks like the main meal, it is actually served as a dessert!

Afang Soup

If you like seafood, then you will almost certainly enjoy Afang Soup. It is a popular dish all around Nigeria but is especially traditional in the Southern regions, as it is associated with the Efik tribe.

It is essentially a vegetable soup that also includes meat, stockfish, and plenty of seafood. Most commonly, it will include prawns and periwinkles.

The name of the soup comes from the Afang leaves that are usually sliced into small bits and mixed into the dish. And this delicious food is most often served with some pounded yam or some eba.

Akara

Akara, better known as Kosai in the Northern regions of Nigeria, is a bean cake that has been deep-fried in palm or groundnut oil. It is a highly popular dish, considered a delicacy, and served in many of the popular restaurants and food establishments.

The beans used are first soaked in water so that the skin comes off of them. Then they are ground and mashed, and the mash is what is turned into a cake that is deep-fried until crispy and golden. It is commonly served as a side dish with meals and bigger dishes.

Amala and Ewedu

Amala and Ewedu is a highly popular dish, most commonly found in Western Nigeria, as it is traditional amongst the Yoruba people. This soup is made from the leaves of the Jute plant, which are then blended into a textured mush.

The soup is then garnished with meat (of your preference), and with some cowskin (known as ponmo).

Ewedu soup is almost always served with Amala, and that is where the name of the dish comes from. It is also quite common to add some tomato and pepper sauce, to help ease the strong bitterness of the Ewedu soup.

Banga Soup

Banga Soup is a highly popular type of soup in Nigerian cuisine, and it is especially common in the Southern regions of the country. It is made with ripe palm fruit, which is then garnished with meat, fish, or other ingredients, depending on your preference. The variety makes it a dish loved by everyone, as it can be adapted to suit your tastes.

It is most commonly served with white rice or starch, and the unique aroma that comes from the rich flavors and ingredients makes it a very appetizing dish that you will definitely be wanting to try.

Beans and Plantain

If you ever visit Nigeria, trying a dish of beans and plantain is an absolute must, as it is one of the most popular and common dishes served in the country. And the beauty of it is that it is super simple and easy to make!

Plantain is a type of yellow ripe banana that is usually fried, and the beans are served in a big pile of mush.

Most commonly, this simple dish is served with some dried fish or other ingredients to add to the overall flavor. It can be found all over Nigeria, regardless of the region, and it is definitely a staple of their cuisine.

Boiled White Rice

Boiled white rice is a very simple dish, incredibly easy to make, and accessible to every household. It is incredibly popular in Nigerian cuisine, as it is traditional to eat boiled white rice every single Sunday. In fact, if you’re visiting the country, you might notice that most of the Sunday specials are white rice!

The boiled white rice is eaten with stew or soup, which is most commonly garnished with fish or meat, as Sunday is a day of weekly celebration. Herbs and spices can also be used to add to the flavor, and make it more of a unique dish!

Efo Riro

Efo Riro is yet another amazing soup from Nigerian cuisine, most commonly found in the Western regions of Nigeria, as it is traditional amongst the Yoruba people.

It is made out of a combination of pumpkin leaves, chicken or fish (depending on your preference), and some beef.

Sometimes, the Efo Riro soup is made with a variety of vegetables, instead of with pumpkin leaves, as it depends on what you have on hand. It is an everyday dish that is also found in restaurants and food establishments and is very simple yet filling.

Egusi Soup

Soups are a big thing in Nigerian cuisine, and Egusi Soup is one of the most popular and well-known out of them all. What sets this soup apart from the rest, is the unique and distinctive texture and fluffiness.

The soup is made from the processed melon seed, which is then mixed with various ingredients such as vegetables, seafood, meat, and plenty of seasoning and condiments.

Egusi soup is most commonly eaten during special occasions or celebrations, and during important festivities, as it is considered a delicacy. It is then also commonly served with pounded yam, garri, amala, or others.

Ewa Agoyin

Ewa Agoyin is considered a delicacy in Nigeria, and it is especially traditional and popular in the Western regions of the country, amongst the Yoruba people. This dish actually originated in the Benin Republic but is now a staple food in Nigerian cuisine.

It is made with mashed beans that are then mixed with a unique pepper sauce. The pepper sauce is strongly flavored, as it not only has pepper, but also many different ingredients and spices. The end result is a delicious dish with an addictive taste, that is often served with some slices of bread and some side dishes.

Garri

Garri is not only an incredibly popular dish in Nigerian cuisine, but it is also one of the most consumed in everyday life, and almost every household in Nigeria, regardless of the region and ethnicity, will be well acquainted with it.

This dish is prepared from cassava, which is harvested, peeled, washed, and then ground. After it has been drained of water, it is then sieved and fried in a hot pan, and Garri is the end result.

Garri is then commonly used to prepare Eba, by simply adding hot water to it. And Eba is then used for most types of Nigerian soups, making it a key ingredient in most everyday dishes.

Jollof Rice

Jollof Rice is by far one of the most popular dishes in Nigeria, as it is eaten all across the country. It is also an incredibly simple dish, making it perfect for everyday meals. It is essentially just rice, made with tomato, onion, pepper, and a few spices.

It is commonly served alongside a serving of vegetables, meat such as chicken or beef, or fried fish. It is very fast and easy to make, and the different possible variations and combinations of ingredients also make it perfect to satisfy different types of preferences, so that there is a version of Jollof Rice for everybody.

It is also highly popular in other parts of West Africa, like for example in Ghana, where it is also considered a traditional dish of their cuisine.

Moi Moi

Moi Moi is one of the most popular of all Nigerian dishes when it comes to tourists, as this dish has a truly unique flavor that will rarely be found outside of Nigeria. It is made from processed beans, in a similar way to how Akara is made. But instead of being fried, the beans are boiled to create a thick textured soup.

Moi Moi is also mixed with oil, tomatoes, peppers, salt, and other spices. It is also most commonly served with a garnish of fish, crayfish, or egg. (This can vary according to preference, which gives the dish a nice variety). It might not look like much, but it is filling and highly satisfying, and the flavor is bound to blow you away!

Nkwobi

Nkwobi is another popular soup in Nigeria, especially common in the East of Nigeria, as it is traditional to the Igbos people. It is made from the legs and head of a cow and is then garnished with Utazi leaves and palm oil.

It is also most commonly served with a glass of palm wine, as the Igbos people claim that this is the best drink to help flush the dish down to the belly with ease.

But here is the most surprising thing about Nkwobi soup. It looks as though it should be the main meal, but it is actually served as a dessert! So if you’re going to have a traditional Nkwobi Soup dessert, make sure your meal is slightly lighter than usual, so you have space for it at the end!

Ogbono Soup

Ogbono Soup is another incredibly popular type of soup in Nigeria, and it is also one of the easiest to make, which is probably why it is so regularly eaten on a day-to-day basis. It is also popularly referred to as the draw soup, due to its slippery texture.

This soup is made from bush mango seed, which is then mixed with oil, meat, stockfish, fish, and plenty of condiments and spices for flavoring.

It is most often served with some pounded yam or some eba, and it can be found all over the country, regardless of region or time of the year.

Okpa

Okpa is one of the most popular dishes in Nigeria, considered a delicacy by both native residents and by tourists alike. It is traditional from the Enugu State, in the Eastern region of the country, but is served and eaten all over Nigeria.

It is made from Bambara nuts, which are ground into flour and mixed with hot water and a few different ingredients, such as crayfish, palm oil, pepper, pumpkin, and a few other vegetables and spices.

It is a very nutritious dish, known for being both delicious and healthy. It is often served as a side dish or as a snack, it is definitely a must if you ever visit the country!

Pepper Soup

Pepper Soup, just as the name suggests, is distinct thanks to the amount of pepper used in it, which is mixed with other spices and ingredients to create a spicy delicacy with a strong aroma. It most commonly contains beef, chicken, mutton, or fresh fish, depending on the type of pepper soup and your preference.

The spices it features make it a very healthy soup, which is also delicious. It is popularly served in bars, alongside some beer, and it is eaten all around the country, regardless of the region or state.

Pounded Yam

Pounded Yam is common in everyday meals, but it is also popularly served at restaurants and in tourist establishments, as it’s a very Nigerian dish.

It is made with a certain amount of yam (which varies according to the amount needed and the people being served), which is peeled, washed, and then boiled until tender. Once tender, the yam is pounded in a mortar (hence the name) until it becomes a mash.

Pounded Yam is most commonly served in different types of soups. It is majorly enjoyed by the Yoruba people in Western Nigeria but is also eaten in the rest of the country regardless of the region or state.

Suya

If you like meat, then Suya is a Nigerian dish that you will absolutely love. And one of the best things about it is that it is incredibly simple and easy to make, and can be found all over the country, in most restaurants and households.

It is basically just beef that is nicely cut and then grilled over an open flame with plenty of spices for flavor. Usually, it is wrapped in foil or old newspapers after being cooked and is then served during the evening along with a serving of fresh cabbage, tomatoes, and onions. Although you can combine it with any sort of vegetables you want.

This dish is especially popular in the North of Nigeria and is considered to be a specialty dish of the Hausa people. The spice mix that they use the most for this dish is called Yaji, and it is added before the grilling.

Tuwo Shinkafa

Tuwo Shinkafa directly translates into mashed rice, and that’s pretty much what this dish is. It is made out of rice that has been boiled until tender, and then mashed until it is a semi-solid lump.

It is very popular all over Nigeria but it is especially traditional amongst the Hausa people, in the Northern regions of the country.

It is usually served in soups, and it makes for a simple and delicious lunch or dinner, eaten in everyday life and in most households.

In Conclusion

Nigeria is a beautiful country with a rich variety of ethnic communities, which all add to the overall cuisine in their own distinct way.

Most of the traditional and popular dishes of the country are different types of soups, rice, and bean-based foods. And of course, along with other countries in West Africa, Nigeria is known for its rich myriad of spices and herbs, which add to the rich flavors and delicious aromas of the food they serve.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community.
She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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