Roasted plantain is a favourite roadside snack in Nigeria, especially in the south west.
Here and there throughout the year, women can be seen on road shoulders roasting ‘boli’, the Yoruba word for roasted plantain, on local coal-fired stoves.
It would be deceitful to assume that because roasted plantain is done in the open on the roadside, it’s an attraction for only the low-income earners. But no. On the Lagos Island, which has a preponderance of bank headquarters and branches, many bankers are a great patron of roadside boli sellers, as are other top private and public sector players in the south-west generally.
However, while many low-income workers in Lagos, especially, have made the boli, dipped in a spicy stew of ponmo (cow skin) and fish strips, a whole meal right at the dealer’s shed, roasted plantain remains mere snacks to white-collar connoisseurs, who are content to accompany it down their throats in their offices with just roasted groundnuts.
A young female entrepreneur has, however, been packaging the boli with stew, plus lots more, to massage the palate of workers in corporate offices, residents of upscale homes and guests at social events.
For Kayode Omolola, what started like a hobby has been developing into a big-time business. Omolola has departed from the conventional roadside boli sale culture to preparing the delicacy on a grill in her decent environment, and garnishing it with pepper sauce, fish and/or snail, all well-packaged in a plate wrapped up in foil.
To gulp it all down is an accompaniment of her own-made zobo drink, which comes with every order. There are also clients’ choices of cocktails, mocktails, fura da nono and/or palm wine.
The creative entrepreneur does not only sell to individuals and families, she also serves at weddings, birthdays and other big events, exploring technology to advertise and sell her products.
According to her, she gets lots of orders and commendations on her facebook and other social media accounts ([email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]). ‘Boli la n ta’, simply means ‘we sell boli’.
She said delivery has been made easier for her by partnering with some riders to take orders to various destinations. Narrating how it all began, Omotola, who still works as a health detailer in a private school, HISEED Schools, 24, Olayemi Odutayo Street, CMD Road, Lagos, said, “Boli is my favorite snack, I can’t trade it for any pastry. There was a day I was coming from Oshodi with some of my friends and we were hungry and needed to eat something, so I suggested we go for boli. We approached a woman selling it and she selected the ones we wanted, which she gave us with groundnut.
“As she was selling, an idea dropped in me and I asked her, ‘Why can’t you sell ponmo and fish together with the boli?’ She responded she wouldn’t be able to do that as it would not attract buyers. At home, I woke up at about 2am and the only thing that kept coming into my mind was how to prepare and package boli differently.
“In April this year, I did some survey online, posted ‘Boli for Sale’ on my timeline and before I knew what was happening, people had started commenting. After three hours, I got a notification on my phone from Facebook; someone had tagged me. That was how I got my first contract, and that was how the sale of boli, applying modernity and technology, started.”
She said she started by borrowing a grilling machine from a sister, but now has a big one of hers. Omolola said her first pack of boli, incorporating beef and ponmo, earned her N700; the second with croaker fish fetched her N2,500. She added that after the first and second orders, she got eight orders from a woman who needed them for her husband’s birthday.
The 24-year-old entrepreneur disclosed that her own signature to the boli trade is the spices she adds to the dish she serves. The spices include crayfish, moringa, cinnamon and Piper guineense (Ashanti pepper).
“I marinate the spice into the plantain before grilling,” she said.
On how she has fared so far in the business, she said, “It’s been fun because this is what I like doing and I derive joy from it. In fact, I see every challenge before me as an opportunity to improve on the business. I don’t have any challenge getting the plantain and the natural spices I use to give my boli a unique taste. My plantain is not carbonized, I visit the main plantain market to buy it. However, when I have a big order, I buy plantain from Oshogbo or Ekiti.
“Some of the plantain bunches we see on the roadside are carbonized because the sellers don’t have the patience for them to get ripe. Because of high demand, sellers carbonize the plantains to enable them ripe quickly. Besides, the environment in which plantain is prepared by the roadside is very dirty.
“Because plantain is perishable, I work on orders. For instance, if I have an order of 100 packs of grilled plantain, I won’t prepare more than 130. The additional 30 is for the sake of my staff or exigencies. Depending on my client’s choice, I use both ripe and unripe plantain. The unripe plantain is mostly preferred by the elderly, but the ripe ones taste sweeter.”
Omolola said she has no need for a shop yet. She grills moderate orders at home. However, when there are huge orders for social occasions, she moves her kitchen to the event venue, where she prepares and serves her delicacy hot to the attendees.
“I am proud and happy with what I am doing,” she said.
Omolola is quite a peculiar lady. Besides the boli initiative, she is into humanitarian service, not only for human beings, but for animals, too. She said she rescues animals like dogs and cats from the streets and finds homes for them.
The trained nurse explained, “I love nature, I love animals. If I see animals straying or are neglected, I pick them up and take care of them until I find for them homes where they can be taken proper care of. I have an animal rights activist team, so when I inform them that I have rescued an animal, they provide shelter and later give them up for adoption.”
Omolola said she also volunteers for non-governmental organisations, especially those that promote personal hygiene among young girls and advocate women’s rights.
The young entrepreneur urged Nigerian youths to think of what productive ventures they can engage in and invest their energy into making them happen. “There are so many positive and productive things we young ones can do without bruising our integrity,” she said.