The first time I felt this hungry – persistent, insatiable hunger – was during my stint as a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in the early months of 2020. The compulsory paramilitary training for all Nigerian university graduates, undertaken in an unfamiliar town, had brought so much physical and psychological stress to me. The relentless drills by the soldiers, the homesickness, the endless lectures, and the ungodly hours from 4 am to midnight all conspired to suppress my appetite.
Now fast forward to Salzburg, and hunger took on a different guise. Instead of a loss of appetite, I had lost my luggage in the complicated airline system somewhere on my connecting flights from Nigeria to Austria. A bag that happened to have all my food supplies in it. I contacted the airline, and they found my bag, but it would take a couple of days to get to me. So, for the first two weeks of my stay in Salzburg, I was hungry!
I believed I could survive on fast food. I was ready to eat burgers, fries, and restaurant meals. But what I didn’t realize was that my taste buds were too different from that of Europeans. I noticed that while I was used to meals prepared with a generous dose of spices, salt, and pepper, Europeans were much more lenient in their use of spices in their food. I found myself adding salt and pepper to everything, even French fries, to make it tastier. Despite trying sandwiches, noodles, and burgers, and even attempting to cook pasta, the lack of my usual spices made everything taste bland. I began to dread mealtimes because it became a never-ending cycle of bland carbs that left me feeling unsatisfied. On countless occasions, I wished I had lost my clothes bag instead of my food bag. Even in the freezing weather, I’d prefer being the weird, naked woman over dealing with this constant hunger.
Yet, rather than wallow in my misery, I decided to make the best of my time – to embrace the city. I stepped into the beautiful cobblestone streets of Salzburg. I bought and learned to ride a bike. I made friends. I visited the historical House of Mozart – yellow and unassuming, but ultimately commanding respect and adoration. Together with friends, I visited the enchanting lakes of the city, and I drank more beers in 2 weeks than I had drank in my entire adult life. “When in Austria…” you know!
However, the most rewarding thing I did during those days was to curl up in my bed after a busy day and delve into the world of food shows and documentaries.
I binged documentaries like High on the Hog, and Street Food: Asia. Then I’d go to bed wishing I were the people on those sets. I’d have eaten so much food. On other evenings, I watched the epic 100-hour Cookathon by Nigeria’s Hilda Baci. Although it was a Guinness World Record achievement for her, it became my culinary escape. To me, it was a tantalizing journey through thick soups, crispy fried chicken, and meticulous Jollof rice dishes that I missed dearly. Dramas like Little Forest comforted me and shows like Bukie’s Kitchen and Adorable Kitchen fueled my yearning for home-cooked goodness.
I found solace in the fact that I was able to eat these foods in my dreams. Although eating in one’s dreams is typically frowned upon back home, in Salzburg, it became a nightly ritual that I both anticipated and lamented, because I would always wake up hungrier and angrier than I had been the previous night.
But just when I contemplated abandoning my studies and returning home, a call from the airline interrupted my existential crisis—my bag had arrived.
I was overcome with such great joy that I cried tears of relief. The next morning, I raced to the airport and completed the necessary checks; and there it was—my blue, bold, and beautiful luggage, the treasure trove that would transform me into a satisfied and content woman. My preciousssssss!