Eja Yoyo (pronounced as Yor yor) is a street food delicacy in the South West of Nigeria. Eja yoyo is the juvenile species of fish often called fry/fingerlings. The marketing term for the immature fry of fishes is whitebait.
The fish are really small (about the length of your finger) and the whole fish is consumed from mouth to tailfin (caudal fin).
The Eja yoyo is not a delicacy that is indigenous to Nigeria. The name whitebait is popular in New Zealand describing the fry of particular freshwater fish of the Galaxias spp. In the UK, whitebaits usually refer to fry of the Clupeidae spp. such as the herring. This is different from that of Puerto Rico and other countries. In summary, different countries refer to the fry of different fishes as whitebait.
In Nigeria, whitebait will consist of fry of fishes such as Ethmalosa spp (Bonga fish), Sardinella spp (Shawa). Other fish species include Chrysichthys spp (Catfish native to Africa ), Brachydeuterus spp (grunts), threadfin to mention a few.
In Lagos, these juvenile fishes are often deep-fried after being coated with white flour and or cornflour and spices. It is the fried fish that is called Eja Yoyo.
Pros of eating Eja yoyo
Fish is an important source of protein, micronutrients, and omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are particularly important for the cognitive development of children while vitamin B12 is essential in brain and nervous system functioning. As an Animal Source food, it has the potential to contribute to a significant reduction in undernutrition in Nigerian children.
Eja yoyo is fried mostly using non-farmed fish species that are expected to have higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids compared to cultured fishes. There is ample evidence that non-farmed fishes have higher nutritional quality when compared to farmed species not just about omega 3 fatty acids but also concerning micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin A, D, B12, Zinc, and iron.
While fish is not high in iron, they contribute to iron absorption when consumed with non-heme iron source foods.
Including this as part of your diet, adds variety as they consist of fish from brackish water, freshwater, and marine water.
Another point is that many of them have shorter life expectancies than bigger fishes that accumulate more toxins from the water and are much safer to eat.
When compared to other fried street foods that are calorie-dense, the Eja yoyo offers more value in terms of nutrients for money and health. It brings to the table quality protein, micronutrients such as vitamin A, D, B12, and minerals such as zinc, calcium, iodine, and selenium.
Trans fats are associated with Eja yoyo as with most deep-fried foods. When many of the vegetable oils used for deep-frying are heated at high temperatures, trans fats are formed. These trans fats are associated with heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
Alternative methods of making Eja yoyo include oven-frying and air-frying. Both methods use much less oil and can achieve the same result as deep-frying if well carried out. Also, other oils can be used for frying such as coconut oil which will not produce trans fats.
Other issues have to do with handling practices, and food safety as fish is highly perishable and prone to microbial contamination.
Lastly, issues of sustainability come up when dealing with the overharvesting of juvenile fish.
In a nutshell
Eja yoyo is a better street food when compared to pastries, fried dough, and other high-calorie, high-sodium (salt) street foods that are usually devoid of micronutrients. They can contribute to solving the malnutrition problem in children and are a good snack for school. It provides high-quality protein and bioavailable micronutrients. While deep-frying has been condemned for increasing risks of diseases such as heart diseases and cancer, alternate methods of preparing Eja yoyo exist to give the same satisfaction so you can still enjoy them without the worry of endangering your health.
Eat better, Live better.