Ugonna Ejiogu, popularly known as Mitya, has always been in love with food and travel, so she combined those two passions into one and became a food tourist and consultant.
In a recent discussion with PiggyVest, Nigeria’s Queen of Mukbangs gave us some insight into the world of food tourism in Nigeria, highlighting some of the lessons and challenges she’s gleaned along the way.
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a storyteller; that’s the best way to describe what I do. I tell stories through food. I give you a piece of history and a slice of culture through the dish sitting in front of me. I can show you places to visit and dishes to eat. I’m also able to tell you what to expect when you have those dishes, where to have certain dishes and how to have them.
What’s your educational background?
I studied Mass Communication at Western Delta University, Nigeria.
Interesting. So how did you get into the food tourism industry?
I love food and travelling. Both of them are massive passions of mine, so I thought, why not just marry the two? I had been watching foreign food vloggers travel for food, and I’ve always had this passion, this dream to travel around the world, so I just decided to do it.
My very first trip was in 2020. I packed a bag with my sister and a friend of mine. We went to Akwa Ibom and I vlogged and talked about the food there. There was no massive planning or anything. I just went for it.
How does your family feel about this choice?
My family has been amazing throughout my journey. I always say they are my number one fans. My dad, mum and sister have been super supportive from day one. They love what I do and help however they can.
How has the journey been so far?
My journey has been exciting. It’s insane waking up in a new city, where you know no one, and you literally travelled there to eat. The feeling of laying in my hotel bed and just wondering how the rest of my day will go is exciting to me!
I get to meet a lot of people during my trips, and I’ve made friends from literally every state I’ve been to. It’s also been stressful because it’s not always fun, excitement and adventure. Sometimes I fall ill, but I always keep my chin up so it doesn’t show on camera.
But yeah, it’s really been an experience. The memories and the knowledge I’ve gained on these trips have been a lot. I would never trade food vlogging for anything.
Do brands get upset by your reviews?
Yes, they do. Especially if they perceive the review to be negative, as opposed to seeing it from an objective point of view.
I’ve had more than a couple of brands get quite upset with my reviews. I’ve even had one very big and popular brand in Nigeria block me because of a review I made. But it’s all a part of the job.
How do you finance your trips?
All my trips are self-financed. I mean, I’m open to brand sponsorships if they come, but if it doesn’t, it won’t stop me. I’ll keep doing what I do. Even if it hurts my pocket a lot, it doesn’t matter, it’s my passion. I’d spend my last dime on it.
Wow. Do you work with many brands?
Yes. I’ve worked with a number.
Do you have a dream brand to work with?
That will be Netflix.
Tell us your craziest tourist experience.
My craziest tourist experience was at a fast food restaurant in Ilorin, Kwara State. I ate a monitor lizard. It was very random and unexpected. And I didn’t know because the establishment lied about the meat. I later found out that it was a monitor lizard and didn’t mind it, because it’s me [Laughs].
What culture’s food has your heart?
This is not me trying to be politically correct, but I don’t have a favourite food from anywhere I have been to. I love the different dishes for different reasons. Different states have particular dishes that have my heart. It’s not something I can compare because each one of those dishes are completely different.
But I’ll say Nigeria as a whole has won my heart with her different dishes.
Is there any dish you’re not willing to try?
I am willing to try any and every dish possible, to be very honest. As long as the dish is not made from human meat [Laughs]. Even if it is one of those poisonous dishes, I’m fine with it as long as it’s prepared properly. And if it’s not prepared properly, well, I’ve had a good run.
What destination has shocked you the most?
Maiduguri in Borno State. I was not prepared for what I saw when I got there. Every single thing I have seen on the mainstream media or heard by word of mouth was the complete opposite of what I met in Maiduguri. It’s just not what you’d expect.
I got to learn a whole lot just by being there and communicating with actual people living there.
Wow. What’s your dream destination as a food tourist?
The world as a whole is my dream destination. I don’t have a specific country I’d like to go to more than the others, because I’d like to go everywhere and eat everything. I’d love a chance to explore the world.
I want to try it all. I want to see it all. I want to taste it all. I want to experience as many cultures and people as I possibly can through the dish sitting in front of me. So the world is my dream destination.
Have you made any money mistakes along the way?
Yes. Quite a number. I won’t say I feel resentful or regretful of them though. Regret is an ocean, you’ll just drown in it. I’ve just learnt from the mistakes I’ve made throughout my trips. Now I know to be smarter and think fast when I need to spend money.
What other difficulties have you faced in this career?
I’ll say insecurity. Travelling around Nigeria with the current raging insecurity is quite alarming. On some trips, I keep looking over my shoulder to make sure I’m safe. So I have to take necessary precautions and stay alert every time. It takes some extra effort to do that.
Food poisoning also happens. Aside from the exhaustion, I could fall sick from the food I eat or the water I drink. Sometimes it’s the places I eat at. Behind the scenes a lot goes on, but I’ve crossed my heart to do this and I’ll gladly keep doing it.
What advice would you give people who want to do what you do?
You have to be knowledgeable about food, first. Eating is only a part of it. You should be able to communicate and express your experience; feel, taste, look, all the works. You need to be open-minded in order to try new dishes. You can’t be selective or a picky eater if you want to go around tasting all sorts of dishes.
As much as it’s fun, beautiful and adventurous, you must also keep in mind the many risks involved. The state of Nigeria’s security for inter-state travels, food poisoning and many others.
Food tourism is something you should do with your heart, and the passion that flows within it. If you love food and travel. Go for it, if that’s what you want. From a distance, it looks complicated but it gets easier once you start.
What’s next for Mitya?
I’ve been very busy. I’m just coming back from a food tour in Benin City. It’s November already, so the rest of this year will be a little slow for me. This is because I co-own a food consulting company called The Tang Impact, and I’m going to be very focused on it.
Next year I’ll spring back up with my backpack on my back and my legs in the airport to visit more destinations. But from now till December, I’ll be focusing on my company.