Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

10 Dec Written by  Kimberly Ward

Abuja Bread Wars

For a long time, Abuja residents had crowned one brand of bread as the undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World: The Grand Loaf. As soon as I arrived into the city, I noticed that the majority of the road-side bread sellers, those selling out of their car boots and the shops within many estates all stocked the Grand Loaf. The makers named it well; people travelled for miles to get their hands on it.

Grand Square and its equally grand loaf held a monopoly on the capital’s baked goods for a good number of years, until two new supermarkets – Shoprite and Next Cash and Carry – opened in Abuja within months of each other and released their own brands of bread. Both supermarkets offered a large variety of items in their huge store space, but their most popular product remains a piece of bakery product costing less than N300. I wonder if the supermarkets' owners are bemused that in a class-conscious, money-talks city like Abuja, it’s not the exclusive perfumes or the international brands of confectionery that people clamour for, but the locally-produced bread.

So after listening to Abuja residents wax lyrical about the sumptuousness of the Grand Loaf, I went to Grand Square – one weekday afternoon to avoid queues – and took one home. I tried it and lo and behold...I was underwhelmed. I’m not a fan of pre-sliced bread anyway – I prefer to slice it myself as thickly or as thinly as I want – but I was distinctly unimpressed with Grand Loaf and put the furore down to Abuja things I might soon grow to understand.

Shoprite is near my house so I usually buy its bread. Shoprite's bread is good. Unremarkable, but good. I like that it is kept unsliced, although for the life of me I can’t understand why they leave the bread-bag untied; I always tie it up before heading to the check out for fear that the just-out-of-the-oven- warmth will escape prematurely and it will start drying out.

So I existed on Shoprite's bread for months, not knowing that life could be so much more delicious, until I tried the bread from Next Cash and Carry. Again I went on a weekday afternoon, but not to avoid queues as I wasn’t even aware of the popularity of its bread, and was immediately struck by the joyous mushiness of the unsliced loaf, and the colour was brighter, and the smell...oh the smell was heavenly!

I took it home and tasted it, and my dear readers, I fell in love. The sweet yet buttery, melt-in-your-mouth goodness of both the soft, white insides and the gentle outer crust transported me into a world of happy munching. It was all I ever wanted in a loaf but didn’t know I could have. I sat there examining the slice in my hand, turning it over and over in wonder as I chewed, trying to see just what exactly it was that was making my mouth so happy. I devoured that whole loaf in record time; it was the best bread I have ever tasted in my life, and that is no exaggeration. Next must have taken delivery of a magic recipe straight from the angels because that bread was divine.

I then made an appointment with myself to return to Next to purchase two loaves this time, but alas, I went on a Sunday evening, and as I rounded the corner approaching the bakery section, I saw a queue of around 30 people snaking around the store, all waiting for their fix of Next’s bread. The bakery wasn’t even open yet, but the people waited patiently, and I joined them. After 20 minutes, a lone baker-woman came out with six loaves, three on each hand, and placed them on the empty bread shelves.

I was bemused. For the queue of over 50 people now waiting, why was she bringing out only handfuls? Those at the front of the queue took delivery of their bread and left, and in 10 seconds the six loaves were gone and the baker-woman had gone back into the bakery room. We waited another two minutes, and the baker-woman emerged, again with handfuls of bread.

I became angry. Why on earth would Next punish those it had turned into addicts by only allowing bread to be purchased in such an excruciatingly painful way: one by one, little by little? What kind of twisted game was Next playing? Why not bake a whole store-full every three hours and bring them all out at once, then control the eager crowds as they come for the loaves? After around 30 minutes when only about 25 loaves had been sold, I lost patience and left. I had waited an hour and there were still around 15 people ahead of me in the queue.

I returned home that evening angry, despondent and yearning for a slice of Next’s Bread which, for me, is the new undisputed Heavyweight Champion of loaves in Abuja.