I spent a lot of time in the kitchen as a kid, not out of curiosity but impatience. I would hover over my mom as she prepared Nigerian dishes like jollof rice and moi moi. The worst were the nights she prepared banga soup, which was and still is my favorite. I remember longingly watching the pot of soup boiling loudly on the stove for hours, filling the house with an aroma that left me salivating.
The main ingredient for banga soup is banga seeds, or palm kernels, which are boiled to soften them, pounded with a mortar and pestle to break them open, and soaked in hot water to release their nutrients. The liquid, red with golden-brown and yellow hues, is nutritious, but very thin, so you need to thicken it. After adding the rest of the ingredients — habanero peppers, meat or fish stock, spices (benetete, otaiko, and rogoje), crayfish, bouillon cubes, pepper, and salt — you leave it to boil. In a regular soup pot the process takes about two hours to reach the perfectly thick consistency, or about an eternity for a kid starving for dinner.
But when I was 8, we finally got a set of evwere pots. The small, smooth clay pots are about 7 to 8 inches in diameter and 3 inches deep, not too different in appearance from an average soup bowl — but they revolutionized our soup-making process. Though most of the preparation for banga soup remained the same, piling ingredients into a standard metal pot, my mother could then transfer individual portions of soup to the smaller evwere pots to quickly thicken it, before delivering it directly to the table. You can thicken a soup by adding mashed yams or cornstarch, but that can compromise the taste. The evwere thickens the flavors that are already there, intensifying the soup itself.
In just 10 minutes on the stove, evweres transform soup from watery to rich and thick, cutting the total cooking time almost in half. While the pot remains key to my beloved banga soup, the evwere is also a go-to shortcut to rich, sturdy soups, stews, and chowders of all kinds, making it an everyday essential. Chicken soup, lentil soup, and clam chowder all benefit from an evwere — and so does anyone who uses one.
How it’s used
Nigerian cuisine is characterized by its many rich soups and stews, often thickened with leafy vegetables, ground melon seeds, tomatoes, onions, and lots of meat and seafood. Nigerians eat their soups with swallows like pounded yams or processed cassava in the form of garri, fufu, or starch. Because banga soup is relatively thin, it requires an evwere to achieve the rich consistency that pairs well with starchy swallows.
The pot is native to the Isoko tribe in the Niger Delta region of southern Nigeria, an area packed with palm tree plantations that produce plenty of kernels for banga soup. You can find it in almost every kitchen in Isokoland and homes of Isoko people worldwide. It is even used at parties to serve important dignitaries, where it acts as a status symbol to communicate a dedication to authenticity.
While you could squeeze two smaller portions into an evwere, the pot is intended for a single serving, scaled down like a personal pizza or mug cake. The evwere sizzles when it hits the cool water in its base, combining with the tuk tuk tuk sound of the bubbling soup, floating for a moment like a buoy before coming to a rest. Guests can then watch their soup continue to thicken right in front of them.
Why everyone needs one
Many cultures have their version of the evwere. The Japanese have the donabe and Moroccans the tagine. These pots may be more flexible, accommodating rice or piles of lamb with veggies, but they can require more time to heat up and cook a meal. The evwere is designed entirely and exclusively for soup, and it excels at its one job, completing the task in minutes.
Somewhere between tableware and cookware, the evwere is a bridge between the stove and the table. The material traps and stores heat, so soup continues to boil and thicken even after it’s removed from the flame and brought to guests. Many versions have flared, flat edges to allow you to easily grip them through potholders or towels. The pot usually comes with a flat saucer-like base, also made of clay, which holds about an inch of cold water that helps to cool the bottom of the evwere, protecting your countertop or dining table.
As you use the pot, the clay absorbs flavor like a well-seasoned skillet, which builds over time and adds richness to every bowl of soup. The appearance also gets better with age. While the color of a new pot varies from dark brown to black, with continued use the clay develops a weathered aura, like a unique stamp of the cook who uses it.
It’s dishwasher-safe, or can be washed with soap and a sponge. Because of its size, it can fit in just about any cupboard, but it’s pretty enough to sit out on a kitchen shelf.
How to get one
You can get an evwere at open-air markets across Nigeria, but you’re most likely to find it in the Isoko region and Delta State. In the United States, some African grocery stores carry them, though you might need to visit a few shops before you find one. You can also purchase one online here.