Jollof rice is the most ‘sabi’ of the children from the lineage of Mr. and Mrs. Rice. As beautiful as the colors of fried rice, together with its proud look, it is nothing compared to jollof rice, as its legs have not since birth, entered half the places jollof has entered. Jollof brought happiness to the rice family, it is the family’s pride. If jollof were a person, it would be a female from the Yoruba tribe, because the Yoruba people know how to make jollof feel special.
Nigerian jollof rice is a spiced dish, cooked in a blend of tomatoes, onions, peppers, vegetable oil and different seasonings, with respect to where it’s made. It is the most significant dish in Nigeria, and ‘the center of excellence’ in celebratory social gatherings, most especially, in Lagos parties. This dark-orange beauty of an amazing rice dish can be eaten by itself especially when cooked with blended crayfish, and well enjoyed with fried plantain and chicken.
Nigeria jollof rice is the special delicacy used to celebrate nearly every event, from wedding parties, burial, graduation ceremonies, and naming ceremonies to a bunch of other celebrations.
The Origin of Jollof Rice
There are several regional variations to jollof rice. History has it that the name ‘jollof’ originated from the Wolof people of the Senegambia region in West Africa, which were ruled by the Jolof Empire, located in today’s Senegal. Before now the Wolof people are a West African ethnic group found in northwestern Senegal, Gambia, and southwestern coastal Mauritania. Some people believed jollof rice was spread from Mali while others believed it was spread from Senegal. Both school of thoughts are discussed below.
The James C. McCann School of Thought About the Origin of Jollof Rice
Most people are of the opinion that jollof rice spread from Senegal to the regions of the world. James C. McCann, a food and agriculture historian, considers that the dish could have unlikely spread from Senegal, because the Senegalese at that time have no linguistic pattern, historic pattern nor do they have a political pattern. Instead, he proposes that jollof rice spread with the Mali empire, most especially it spread with the Djula tradespeople who, dispersed widely to the regional commercial and urban centers, taking with them economic arts of ‘blacksmithing, small-scale marketing, and rice agronomy’ as well as their Islamic religion.
Theory for the Expansion of Jollof Rice
This is the most adopted theory that explains the origin of jollof rice, with its root from the Senegambia region of West Africa, in the ancient Wolof/Jolof Empire, during the 14th-16th century. The former empire is located in modern day Senegal.
Rice was the most prominent farming known across the Senegal River, which became known as the ‘grain coast’. In 1448, the Portuguese introduced goods such as tomatoes into Senegal, and it became the vital ingredients for the dish.
The Senegalese enjoy Thiebou dieun, a reddish dish made of broken rice believed to be the antecedent to jollof rice. Penda Mbaye, a cook who lived near the Senegal River was the first to prepare Thiebou dieun. Due to the barley shortage, she was forced to replace barley with rice. There is also thiebou wekh (wekh means “white” in Wolof), which is the color of the jollof rice made by the Gambians during the GTA event held in Ghana.
The Jollof War amongst Sister Countries
During the GTA (Ghana Tourism Authority) event, 4 African countries held a contest on who makes the best jollof rice. These African countries were Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia. Ghana made use of Tilapia, tomatoes and other ingredients, producing a reddish color jollof rice, same as Nigeria and Senegal who prepared theirs with their various ingredients which include tomatoes. However, Gambia prepared the Gambia jollof without tomatoes, using mustard, fish and other ingredients. Their jollof came out yellowish white, which kept me thinking, are the Gambians the real Wolofs?
Ghana and Nigeria Jollof War
These two West African countries have been in the battle of who prepares a better jollof rice. Various social media contests have been held with respect to both countries over the years and the battle is yet to be won. Ghanaian musician Sister Deborah released ‘Ghana Jollof’ a song with several beef at the Nigerian jollof rice, and claimed Ghana jollof is superior to that of Nigeria. Similar to Kelis’ Milkshakes, the Ghanaian sister Debora claims her jollof brings the boys to her yard and Nigerian jollof rice tastes funny. But that wasn’t what Zuckerberg said when he tasted the Nigerian jollof rice. He probably doesn’t want a jollof that will take him to a yard, he wants a jollof with the taste of home.
The Zuckerbergian and The Washington Views on The best Jollof Rice
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited Nigeria on a business purpose. While on his business visit to Nigeria, he had a taste of the Nigerian jollof rice and declared it to be ‘awesome’. That awesome moment when you get to taste that awesome dish you have heard arguments about. This validation was a glorious one for Nigerians and an amazing one for West Africa with little beefs for the people of Nigeria. That same year Nigerians almost called for the resignation of their information minister, Lai Mohammed, after he mistakenly said Senegal jollof rice is superior to the Nigerian jollof rice in an interview with Richard Quest of CNN.
Jollof rice is significantly felt across the coast of Africa, especially in the South of America, where the transatlantic slave trade saw to the trading of West Africans from the rice growing regions as slaves. These slaves brought with them, their food which has influenced the modern day southern rice dishes. Jambalaya and Gumbo are considered to have been influenced by jollof rice, the ‘one-pot’ dish.
In July 2017, a jollof Hackathon competition was held in Washington DC of the USA, where 5 African countries competed for who is superior in preparing the dish. These countries include: Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Liberia, and Sierra-leone.
Close to 600 entrants represented these West African countries including the judges, who were subjected to blind tasting and blind sensory evaluation to prevent favoritism.
The winner of the jollof Hackathon was chosen based on presentation, taste and originality of the jollof rice. Nigeria’s own Atinuke Ogunsalu, of Queensway Restaurant and Catering Maryland, won the competition. She was rewarded with the sum of $1000 cash prize and a job offer as a chef in Jollof Caviar, an African Fusion Restaurant in Washington.
The jollof war has gradually become the most epic fun fight for a long while, with Nigerians thinking they have the best jollof and Ghana thinking they also have the best jollof. The most amusing thing about this war is that the Senegalese think every country fighting this war is fighting for second place because Senegal has the first place.
BBC Trending spoke with Pierre Thiam, a New York based Senegalese chef, who is an author and a researcher on Senegalese food for years.
When asked who makes the best jollof rice, she says, ”That’s a question that gets me in trouble, but no doubt Senegal makes the best and the original jollof rice – but it doesn’t say that the others are not good.”
How to Prepare Nigerian Jollof Rice
Jollof rice is a very common dish prepared in many African countries, with their recipes differing depending on the nation. In Lasgidi Buka, we prepare the Nigerian party jollof rice which is the best out there. We are not being biased, we are only stating facts.
The Ingredients You Need
- 4 Tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 4 Fresh tomatoes
- 1 6oz can Tomato paste
- 4 Red onions
- 2 Red bell peppers (Nigerian tatashe)
- Blended crayfish
- 4 Habanero pepper (scotch bonnet) (put as much or as little as you want, depending on how spicy you want your rice)
- Parboiled rice (4 cups)
- Chicken stock
The Spices You Need
- Maggi or Knorr cubes
- Cayenne pepper and black pepper
- white pepper
- Bay leaves
- Curry powder
- Garlic or onion powder
- Thyme leaves
The quantity of spices should depend on your preference. Use your judgment and avoid too many spices.
- Using a dry pot, heat your vegetable oil on medium heat, add some chopped red onions. Allow the onions to fry until the redness starts to fade.
- Add your tomato paste and let it fry with the onions. Stir constantly to avoid burning. Do this for about 10 mins, or until the paste fully fries in the oil. Add in your crayfish for an extra tasty flavor.
- Blend some fresh tomatoes, onions, habanero peppers, and red bell peppers together.
- Add the blended mixture and fry it together with the tomato paste.
- Add all your spices and mix. Cover the pot and allow the tomato to fry in the oil on medium heat. Add more oil if necessary. Allow the tomatoes to fry for 20-30 minutes to remove the slappy taste, also stir continuously to avoid burning.
- Wash your already parboiled rice, be certain to remove as much starch as possible.
- Once the tomato is done frying, add your chicken stock to the mix and taste to see if it requires any salt. Add salt if necessary and mix.
- Now add in your washed rice, also add a bit of water if necessary. Mix it together with the fried tomatoes and reduce the heat to avoid burning
- Allow the rice to cook for about 30 minutes.
After about 30 minutes open the pot and properly combine all the ingredients together. Cover the pot again, and let it cook for an additional 10 minutes or until the rice has fully blended in with the mixture.
You can serve your dish. To enjoy the Nigerian jollof rice, serve with fried plantain and chicken. Also, for the smoky taste, cook on firewood.