Hi Everyone,  There was a period of time when I was going to secondary school that chickpeas (aka channa, garbanzo beans) were scarce. As a result, the snack vendors replaced the much loved and highly demanded boil ‘n fry channa with boil ‘n fry black eye. The black eye was a good place filler but once chickpeas were back on the market, boil ‘n fry black eye was quickly dispensed with. Forgotten. It was almost as if it never existed. I just want to say thank you black eye, for being there to satisfy our cravings and to fill our hungry bellies.

20131123cynthiaAs regular customers, we students were skeptical at first about this boil ‘n fry black eye peas. First of all it did not look as attractive as the beloved channa – plump, khaki-coloured, sometimes with a hint of yellow if it was cooked with turmeric. Instead, here was this sea of black-spotted, tiny peas.

What would it taste like? Our regular snack-lady encouraged us to give it a try. We did. It was okay. Alright, it was better than okay but we only admitted that begrudgingly because it could never take the place of boil ‘n fry channa. Or could it?

Each subsequent day after the first sampling of the boil ‘n fry black eye, we’d ask the snack lady if she had channa. Every day we hoped the channa would be back. She’d shake her head and then we would resignedly ask for the black eye. After about 3 weeks, it was clear that channa was not going to be back in the channa bowl anytime soon so we stopped asking for it. Soon, not only our regular snack lady was doing brisk business with boil ‘n fry black eye but so too was the canteen and the other vendors scattered outside of the school’s compound.

Black-eye Peas: stand-in for Channa Photo by Cynthia Nelson
Black-eye Peas: stand-in for Channa
Photo by Cynthia Nelson

Boil ‘n fry black eye was selling like crazy and just like the channa, you had to get there early before it was sold out. Just as with the channa, we ate the black eye with lashings of hot sour followed by sweet red frozen icicles to cool our mouths. Life was good.

My friends and I found ourselves buying more (in terms of dollar value) of the black eye, simply because 75 cents worth of black eye was not as satisfying as 75 cents worth of channa. The black eye peas/beans were smaller and not as filling as the channa, therefore, we each ended up buying $1 worth of black eye every time we visited the snack lady.

Apart from paying more for the black eye in order to satisfy our appetites, we found the black eye peas to be tiny as we held it between our thumb and index finger and it was slippery.

It was nothing like the channa that was easy to pick up and put into your mouth. Of course the flavour of the bean was different too, as well as the mouth feel.

The channa was creamier. It is important to note that the black eye peas was in a league of its own, it had its own texture and taste but we were forever comparing it to the channa. It was like a gift (the black eye) that we kept complaining about, never mind the good it was doing by keeping us filled. See why I am saying thank you to the black eye is important?

A little over 6 weeks after the first tasting of boil ‘n fry black eye, channa was back on the market! Snack bowls brimming with plump, soft, jeera-flavoured chickpeas. Wait! There were bowls of black eye too. But alas, no one was calling for black eye; everyone was jostling and shouting for channa.

The bowls with black eye only got opened when all the channa was sold out. The boil ‘n fry black eye never took off as a snack on its own or developed into a new offering. Once the channa was back, black eye was out.

As I contemplated the content of this column, I came to the conclusion that maybe the black eye never took off in the snack arena because it already had its place of prominence in our food, in the much loved Cook-up Rice and in soups. For us, the chickpea as a snack in channa is where it is most prominent. Sure we have chickpeas in curry with potatoes, but as a snack, it holds a place of importance in our hall of foods.

Dear black eye, as a snack, we complained and constantly compared you to channa. We were never truly appreciative of the role you played in our time of need.

However, it is never too late to say sorry or thank you. Thank you black eye. Thank you innovative cooks in the form of the snack vendors who thought of a way to satisfy the hungry needs of your many little customers.





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