In Lagos’s Brazilian quarter, Good Friday means frejon. Rich with savory black beans, fragrant with coconut milk and cloves, and sweetened with a few spoonfuls of sugar, frejon is somewhere between a pudding and a soup. It’s a perfect dish for Nigerian Catholics on Good Friday, when meat is forbidden.
Invented by enslaved West Africans who’d been brought to Brazil, frejon is a testament to its makers’ cultural and culinary creativity. Until the end of the 19th century, Brazil’s sugar economy was powered by forced labor. While a large Afro-Brazilian population lives in the country to the present day, some Brazilians of West African origin returned to Nigeria after the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888. Many of these people, called Agudas, settled on Lagos Island, now known as the city’s Brazilian quarter. Their unique blend of African and South American cultures flowered into a cuisine that continues to be enjoyed across Nigeria.
Frejon is reminiscent of Brazilian feijoada. To make the delicacy, cooks boil black beans until they are soft, then blend them with coconut milk to form a soup or paste. Sugar, salt, and cloves give the brew its signature sweet-savory flavor, while traditional Nigerian accompaniments such as fish stew (fish is permissible on Catholic meat-free days), pepper sauce, and garri (pan-fried cassava flakes ubiquitous in West Africa) add a salty heat.
In recent years, waves of demolitions have threatened the Brazilian-style buildings of Lagos Island. Yet Afro-Brazilian culture has always been resilient, and nourished by their unique cuisine, Nigeria’s Aguda community is sure to continue celebrating Easter with their distinctive traditions—and frejon.