How to Enjoy Lagos Like a Local

It’s end of the year and visitors are trooping into Lagos, just as the locals are trooping out on holiday.

The remaining locals are gearing up for the festivities, and as many as possible are planning to make the most of the season. If you are visiting Lagos for the first time, you will have an option of how to enjoy the city. Like a local, or like a visitor. If your preference is the former, then I have information for you. Otherwise, you may check back next week.

Suya spots

No Lagos local is genuinely local if they haven’t had suya from one of a few places: Glover court in Ikoyi, Ikoyi club, Suya spot in Maryland, or Suya University on Allen Avenue.

These places appear like ordinary kiosks in the afternoon so for a full experience, approach them only at night. There will be cars parked on the road, with occupants half in or half out, waiting for their Suya order. The smell of the roasted meat and oils will be all over the street, and the suya sellers – mallams, always mallams, I never saw a non-Hausa man selling suya… with their sharp knives and hand movements reminiscent of magicians.

Amala Shita and the one who never sleeps

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Next, you should have lunch at Olaiya Food Canteen, popularly known as Amala Shitta, because of its location in Shitta, Akerele Surulere. Idris Ameen Adewale, a member of the board of directors of the favourite amala joint, said the restaurant first started a long time ago in Oju Elegba, but in 1996, 21 years ago now, it was moved to its present location where it has now become known all over the world.

“There was this time one person came from U.K., and I think the thing went viral online, and the first thing she did when she came to Nigeria was to start looking for this place,” Idris said obviously relishing the memory himself.

“The internet has made it easy, if you type anywhere to get food in Surulere, It will bring Olaiya,” he added.

Even though the canteen serves other local dishes, it is most famous for its amala.

Further down the street of Akerele into the extension, there is also Iya Gani Kinsun food canteen. The fascinating thing about this canteen is that it opens in the evening and stays open until the morning. That is where it got the last part of its name.

“Iya Gani Kinsun, is the Yoruba for ‘Gani’s mother does not sleep’,” says Adeyemi Kehinde who tells me that his mother is the proprietress of the food canteen and that the place has been in existence for more than 30 years.

“People that go to nightclubs come here to eat, and in many cases, we have been able to rescue people who run short of food during their overnight parties.”

I would prescribe a menu of amala and ewedu (yam flour paste and corchorus olitorus soup) or pounded yam and egusi (another form of yam paste, and melon seed soup). These meals are best eaten using your bare (hopefully washed) fingers, for the maximum effect. Do not be put off by the look of your surroundings – the number of people cooking, the appearance of some clients, or the fact that you have to sit on plastic chairs and the tables with no place settings. Focus on the food, and enjoy it like a local.

For a more refined experience, you may like to stop by the family restaurants in the city: Gidi restaurant in Mende, Maryland, Yellow Chilli in Ikeja GRA. These places offer a restaurant and bar in the same location, so they are ideal for a day or night outing. Ensure you visit in the company of friends, for a complete experience.

Beach and stage play

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A visit to Lagos will not be complete without visiting the beach. Oniru, Eleko, Elegushi are some of the more popular beaches in Lagos. An entry fee of about USD $5 gives you access to the beach, horse rides, and different spectacles available at the seaside. A few more beaches are accessible only by boat, thus making them more pricey.

Don’t forget to stop by Terrakulture or Muson centre for a stage show. These usually take place on the weekends and can cost anywhere between USD $5 and USD $15. The crowd at these performances is typically middle class, well dressed and organised. Performances last from 1 -2 hrs.

Lagos this season is also incomplete without attending a concert or two. Live performances by renowned artists will be taking place at popular locations on the island and mainland. Details of these are usually advertised on TV or radio.

Music, culture and a cultural ambience

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If you are a lover of excellent music and Yabis or intelligent conversations on current affairs, then don’t miss attending the new Afrika Shrine in Agidingbi. It is where everyone comes to relax and be free. It is where people like the legendary Afrobeat creator, Fela Anikulapo Kuti are immortalised every day.

Freedom Park, located on Broad Street, Lagos Island, holds almost the same appeal as the New Africa Shrine. It is a memorial and leisure park area which was formerly Her Majesty’s Broad Street Prison. You’ll find music, food, palm wine, Suya, live band, spoken words, stage plays and so much more in Freedom Park, all with an ambience of cultural heritage and freedom. At the park, there is always a very high possibility of catching up with celebrities and high profile literati who often hang out there.

Lagos people also spend time in any of the many shopping malls across town. Window shopping, actual shopping, and movie viewing are some of the activities one can engage in at the malls. Be sure to visit the mall in the late afternoon and early evening to catch the Lagos crowd at its peak and participate in some “people watching” before you watch a movie.

Temi Bamgbose lives in Lagos, Nigeria where he has a special interest in telling stories about Africa's rich culture. While he holds a degree in Agricultural Extension and Rural Sociology and a national diploma in electrical electronics engineering, it is his journalism diploma from the London School of Journalism that fuels his passion for writing.