By Ebele Orakpo
After the day’s activities and the challenges of working in the budding mega city, most people need a place where they could relax and unwind with cold drinks and some delicacies.
Such relaxation outlets dot the nooks and crannies of Lagos but there are a few that are different in terms of what they offer. Popularly called Snake Island, Aranse Joint, an eatery in the Igando area of Lagos, offers snake pepper soup as one of its many delicacies which include antelope, grass cutter pepper soups and snails.
In a recent chat with Vanguard, the Chief Executive Officer of the popular joint, Mrs Motunrayo Olanrewaju, alias Aranseoluwa, said she came into the business by accident. She tells her story below:
“I started this business 15 years ago. You can say it was by stroke of luck. I had a canteen where I sold food but one day, one of my customers went to Badagry and saw people selling smoked snakes and he became interested and brought one for me to prepare for him.
As I was doing that, other customers saw it and asked if I was into snake pepper soup and I said no, ‘I don’t sell snake pepper soup that somebody brought this for me to prepare for him.’ Then one of them said: ‘But madam, you can start this business because it will attract so many more customers as many people can’t imagine they can get this delicacy here in Lagos.’
That was how I started. The man then took me to Badagry, to the place from where he bought it. When I got there, I saw all sorts of bush meat – roasted grass cutters, antelopes, snakes, fresh snails and others. I bought as much as my money could buy.
Then, customers started coming and were really enjoying themselves, then they started introducing their friends, families and colleagues,” she said.
According to Olanrewaju, she started the business with just N20,000 but today, she can afford to buy meat worth over N100,000 at once.
“Depending on the size, one single smoked snake goes for between N1000 and N1,500 and a plate goes for N300. A plate, according to her, contains a sizeable chunk of snake meat in a sauce.
Aranse, as she is fondly called, said she gets as many as 100 customers in a day.
“We have three outlets now. They are Aranse Phase I, where most of the work is done, Aranse Phase II and Aranse Phase III at Ijegun.”
Asked how she coordinates activities in the three outlets, she said: “I have workers. In Phase I, I have two permanent staff.
Phase II has eight permanent staff while Phase III has two also. And then there are so many part-time workers who come on market days to help clean the meat.
“Although the snakes come smoked, the scales are still intact so I cut them to the sizes I want then pass them on to the cleaners who roast and scrape the skin, then wash and fry them before we use them for pepper soup.”
Not being selfish as some are wont to be, Aranse has introduced some other people into the business who are equally doing well.
Wildlife advocates need not fear that these animals may become extinct as according to Aranse, the traders whom she buys the snakes from have farms where they rear these snakes.
“Some Togolese bring them to Badagry and we buy from them. They rear the snakes just as you rear chickens or pigs. But the funny thing is that they don’t eat it,” she said.
Asked why that is so, she shrugs and says: “May be it is their tradition or a covenant, I cannot tell. But then, not everyone eats snake but I can tell you that snake meat is very good for the body. It’s like fish. If you eat it, you will enjoy it, it has no fat.”
On the challenges she faces in the course of doing business she said: “The number one challenge is the stress involved. It is a lot of hard work. Any day I am to go to the market, I must wake up by 4.30 in the morning in order to meet up because so many people come to buy also. The market day comes up once every eight days. Some people even come all the ay from Ibadan so I must wake up early in order to get something to buy.
Before I employed the cleaners, I was doing it with my children. The stress was too much. Sometimes we may start cutting, roasting and washing in the morning and by 10pm, we are still on it, sometimes 11.00pm if it rained. But since I employed these people to help on market days, the work has drastically reduced. What I ensure I do now is to go to the market and buy the meat, bring them back, do the cutting and then they take over the roasting, scraping, washing and frying.
Another challenge is electricity. If there is no light, it means we must bring out the meat every two days to air it to prevent it from going bad. But if there is light, we put everything into the deep freezer and that way, they last longer.”
Some customers buy as many as three plates of snake pepper soup and some buy take-away. We have grass cutter pepper soup which goes for N400 per plate, antelope pepper soup goes for N500 per plate, snake pepper soup goes for N300 while snail stick meat goes for N500 per stick.
Like the three blind men who were asked to describe an elephant, some say snake meat tastes like fish, some say it tastes like chicken, and some say it tastes like rabbit. Some believe it cures malaria,. It contains plenty of protein, it cures malaria and some swear it has aphrodisiac properties.Looking at the roasted flesh without the skin, nothing differentiates it from fresh fish.