A pale blue smoke rises from the fire as Mohammed Abubakar turns a large chunk of shredded cow meat on a brownish iron net. The hot steam burns his fingers badly yet as a master kilishi maker, he merely rubs his left hand against the right one and continues with the business of getting the kilishi ready for a teeming line up of customers at the local market. His has been reputed as one of the best on State Road, Kano thus making Yahuza Suya Spot, a must-visit for lovers of kilishi.
Kano like most northern cities in Nigeria is a place where tourists and regular visitors can discover a wide range of spiced meat delicacies. The region lays claim to the breeding ground for majority of livestock in the country, starting from the flat lands of Maiduguri to the rolling countryside of Kaduna where cows, goats, sheep and camels roam the landscape. Thus, it introduces tourists to such mouth-watering meat snacks like suya, danbu nama, tsire, and balangu, including the famous kilishi, a tasty, sun-dried and grilled sheet of spicy meat.
It is principally consumed as a snack and valued for its ease of storage, long shelf-life and high consumer acceptability. Because of its distinct and exotic flavour, kilishi has further gained wide acceptance not only in Nigeria but also across the sub-Saharan region and beyond. It is made from high quality beef obtained from the fillet and hind quarters of the remains of the animal. The product is sliced into thin sheets, covered in a preparation of a variety of spices and crushed groundnuts, after which they are spread to dry. Following this, each piece is then grilled and laid out to cool.
Kilishi features in many homes, either as a fast-bite for entertaining guests or as part of a meal, as it is often appreciated and praised for being a great complement to “soaking” garri. A recent visit to one of the smaller production centres of the delicacy at the Area Two shopping hub in Abuja is a thrill, as a spread of red peppered and shiny kilishi greets one from a distance. Ismail Na’Baba, one of the assistants at the centre, popularly called Alhaji Bala ‘Chairman Kilishi,’ says he opened shop in Abuja five years ago, though he began the business over 12 years ago in Kano State.
Speaking in Hausa, Na’Baba says, “We sell the most during the weekend as our customers in the hotels order more during this time. There is profit in the business, but we can’t tell you how much, because it is a secret. By God’s grace we feed ourselves and family and we are able to take care of our parents at home. “We have 15 people working here that slice the meat, mix it with the spices, and also spread them to dry. And we have others that help us distribute it to the hotels that we supply, and then there are others that sell for us at the two shops we have at Wuse Market and Area Two Shopping centre.”
He explains further that the process of production involves stripping the meat and immersing it in a mixture of groundnut paste, water, pepper, salt, seasoning, garlic, curry, thyme, and chopped fresh onions. Then they are sundried for a couple of hours after which they are roasted for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Na’Baba, however, notes that a major setback to the business is the rainy season that disrupts the production process as there is no sun to dry out the meat, saying, “During this time, we depend on the ones we have already done and stored because the kilishi doesn’t spoil easily.” This singular quality of the kilishi, (its long shelf life) makes it a great consumer product with a notable potential for export. However, this seems not to have been fully explored, as Na’Baba explains that rigid regulations surrounding food export to the west and Europe smothers such a venture. Due to the high consumer demand, the kilishi business is booming, a fact testified to by its inclusion in the menu of several major hotels in the country. In Abuja, dozens of kilishi spots continue to spring up all over the central area of the city with prices of the product nearly doubling what is obtained in Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, and other parts of the north.
An explanation for the higher cost of product in Abuja, apart from the high cost of securing a production and sales spot, is the price of transporting the cattle; brought in from the far north to the capital city. This clearly shows the price advantage that producers in the far north have over those in the city of Abuja. These days, it is not unusual to hear the calls of “buy kilishi” at the Abuja international airport, as sales men fall over themselves to get to a potential customer and generally hassle anyone in the vicinity to buy their products all wrapped neatly in brown paper.