When I was an ESL teacher at an international school in Japan, I always tried to work food into the curriculum. Procedural writing was an obvious outlet for combining my culinary interests with curricular demands. Each year, my students would pester their parents to show them how to make their favorite dish so that we could put together a class cookbook. One year, I had an Indian student who was having trouble deciding exactly what he wanted to write about. So, kneeling next to his desk, I asked him to close his eyes and think about what he would like to eat right then, at that very moment. It could be anything- birthday cake, curry rice, daal…My little third grade student opened his eyes and said very seriously, “Ma’am, I like Maggi Noodles.”
Whatever the case may be, Maggi is a key ingredient in many West African sauces. If you’d like to sample some of the “umami” boosting power of Maggi, give Paulina’s Peanut Sauce or Tomato Sauce recipes a try. Both of these can be served on top of plain white rice or socoro. If you are not comfortable with the idea of adding MSG to your food, you can always omit the Maggi cube and play around with the recipe by adding a little homemade chicken stock and increasing the amount of salt and pepper. Just remember to "cook with joy!"
At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about. But since he said it with such intensity and desire, I was not going to bog him down with too many questions. I gave him the OK and sent him on his way to ask his mother about her Maggi Noodle recipe. When our procedural writing unit was complete and the cookbook assembled, we had a class party. Everyone brought the dish they wrote about and we enjoyed sampling the different cuisines represented by our class. There was kimbap from Korea, yakisoba from Japan, and of course, Maggi Noodles from India. My Indian student proudly walked around the room with his plastic Tupperware box full of yellow, crimped noodles and served each of his classmates a healthy portion of the chicken-bouillon flavored Indian cousin to Kraft mac-n-cheese.
I never really thought about Maggi Noodles again until my arrival in Niger. When I drove up to the petit marché for the first time, I was greeted by a very large red and yellow billboard proclaiming, “With MAGGI, every Woman is a Star. Welcome to the Petit Marché!”
I couldn’t help but hear my Indian student saying to me, “Ma’am, I like Maggi Noodles.” His serious little voice pops into my head a lot these days, as Niamey is covered with Maggi advertising.
There are little street-side restaurants endorsing Maggi,
men with Maggi aprons,
festive Maggi banners,
and, of course, Maggi umbrellas to protect patrons, vendors, and products from the hot sahelian sun.
The Nestlé brand has successfully worked its way into the Nigerien kitchen, including mine. Maybe it is their team of industrious representatives like Bintou, “restaurant owner, mother, star,” who fuel our desire to be the successful, modern woman of the 21st century. Or, maybe, it’s just that we all crave that extra special “umami” taste that the iodine and MSG laden cubes add to our cooking.