Jollof Rice is Nigeria’s crown jewel, nothing unites the country more than a good old jollof discussion. What makes it even more special is the claim Nigeria’s West African neighbours insist that they have on it; Senegal, Ghana and the Gambia all have their versions of jollof.
Jollof Rice is a fragrant one pot rice dish made from plain white rice, red tomatoes and fragrant spices. It has arguably become the staple in Nigeria alongside eba, fufu, garri, pounded yam which are generally known as swallow. Jollof rice is the one party dish that always finds its way to every single party of Nigerians at home and in diaspora, and is a winner every time.
So who first created the jollof rice dish? As much as Nigerians hate to admit it, Jollof has its origins from Senegal, we know this, and it is indisputable, much to our annoyance, because the word jollof itself is a wolof word, a language spoken in Senegal. Jollof means “one pot” which is essentially how the jollof rice dish is made. I suppose since it is called jollof rice, one more word after jollof was added, then there must be other one pot dishes in Senegal? As an aside, I am curious. Is there a jollof beans? Jollof cassava? Jollof plantain?
Since the origin is no longer disputable, Nigerians have moved to the more important matter, which is, who makes the best jollof rice? For some reason, probably because Senegal pioneered it, the jollof war leaves them untouched for the most part. The main disagreeing parties are Ghana and Nigeria. More than once, I have played the devil’s advocate, asking my friends,
“But Nigeria did not pioneer this dish; surely they must make the best?”
To which I have always received the same answer.
“Life does not work that way, it is quite normal in life for the trainer to grow and hone his skills in such an expert and innovative manner, that he outdoes the trainer, Nigeria has the best jollof.”
There are mock fights because of and hero songs about this dish, it is arguably the easiest meal to make, yet the easiest to ruin. It is one of those dishes which can go wrong if a step or an ingredient is missed. It can lose its essence. Conversely, because of its one pot nature, it is tasty regardless; people will eat it and complain as they do. Most Nigerians will learn to cook jollof rice before any other dish, jollof rice was one of the first dishes my mother taught me to cook.
In 2014, Nigerians and Ghanaians set aside their differences to unite when British chef Jamie Oliver added jollof rice to the long list of dishes he made. The hash tag jollofgate trended on twitter as West Africans on home soil and in the diaspora disagreed vehemently with his version which had parsley and lemon. A few months ago, the Journalist Richard Quest visited Nigeria and asked the Nigerian Minister for Information one jollof question.
“Who makes the best jollof rice?”
It was a simple enough question, one which always elicited a light hearted response and applause. Lai Mohammed responded, to everyone’s shock.
There was an audible gasp from the crowd, and since this was on National Television, everyone saw it, and shortly after, there were clips circulating on the internet. Another jollof gate was created on twitter, Nigeria’s neighbours Ghana had a good laugh. People were calling for Lai Mohammed’s head and his resignation. He was a traitor who had committed an unutterable sacrilege. Richard Quest tried to do some damage control, and said the Minister had heard “where did jollof rice come from” and not “who made the best jollof rice”.
Although there have been a few “jollof wars”, there has been one moment of jollof victory. When Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook visited Nigeria last year, he told his audience;
“I had jollof rice and shrimps and it was delicious. I have been warned never to compare it to the Ghana jollof rice.”
Nigerians took this statement and ran with it, claiming the Zuck had endorsed Nigerian jollof as the better one. I personally think mentioning Ghana jollof in the same sentence as the Nigerian jollof should have earned him a jollof gate on twitter.
I would be shocked if there’s anyone who is Nigerian, or is of Nigerian descent, and has not had jollof rice. Show me anyone who is non-Nigerian and lives in Nigeria or lives elsewhere but has some linkages to Nigerians, and hasn’t tried jollof. That is an atrocity that needs to be fixed, you need your jollof fix. It goes really well with chicken and plantain. Do not wait for August 22nd,which by the way, is World Jollof Day. Try it today, if you are in Nigeria, visit a restaurant, the more low end, the better. This is because jollof is tastier when it has a smokey flavour which is derived from cooking on open fire. That smokey flavour is known as the party flavour.
Nowadays, with the explosion of content on the internet, I have seen hash tags on social media proclaiming the dish served up at a certain party a cultural revolution #jollofrevolution #jolloffortheculture #winnerjollof #Nigerianjollof. Indeed I have heard a man describe his girlfriend as Nigerian jollof; there is no better complement. If someone describes a person to you as Nigerian jollof, that person embodies all that is good and all that cannot be broken. Jollof rice has become a beloved piece of national treasure, one that attracts goodwill and unites the people; why else do you think I named my podcast “Salute to Jollof”? Here’s my podcast, for your listening pleasure.
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