The Jollof Wars

The fight for Jollof rice rights will never end. Yesterday we got the ultimate proof that neither Ghanaians, nor Nigerians, did invent the Jollof rice. This doesn’t mean that the actual originators are the best at cooking it. The info we got ultimately claims that the Wolof people of Senegal/Gambia originated the meal; because of its name of course; and if Nigerians or we Ghanaians can explain exactly why Jollof is called Jollof, it would very much help. But we must add again, the origin of the dish does not determine the final taste, because I can confidently say to you, after years of painstaking research that Jollof from Ghana is the best. But why take my word for it, when there are a lot of other opinions pointing to this.

Jollof is so serious, there’s an international day for it, on August 22nd. Common ingredients in jollof rice include tomato paste, scotch bonnet peppers, onions, and various spices such as ginger and cumin. Pretty much any meat can be thrown into this wondrous rice dish. The foundation stays the same, but different adaptations of the dish have made for quite the debate over the years.

Jollof rice is one of the most common dishes in Western Africa, consumed throughout the region including Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Cameroon and Mali. There are several regional variations in name and ingredients, with non-local versions regarded as “inauthentic”. The name Jollof rice derives from the name of the Wolof people, though in Senegal and Gambia the dish is referred to in Wolof as theibou dienne or benachin. In French-speaking areas, it is called riz au gras. Despite the variations, the dish is “mutually intelligible” across the region, and has spread along with the diaspora to become the best known African dish outside the continent

Even in the rare instance you find a mild-mannered, soft-spoken Nigerian person (abeg, never deny happen) they will hear nothing you have to say about the possibility that Nigerian jollof rice is not the best. Their pride in their jollof is loud and proud. On top of that, a popular criticism Nigerians have of Ghanaian jollof is that it’s less refined. But then our little brothers and sisters over there maybe talk too much to enjoy the finer things in life, abi.

Busayo Oderinde, Nigerian blogger and food enthusiast, dedicated a post on the site BellaNaija to the Nigerian vs. Ghanaian jollof debate. Oderinde also lived in Ghana for over a year, so her familiarity with both nations’ cuisine is trustworthy. She says there are two key differences in the preparation of Nigerian jollof and Ghanaian jollof. One is the type of rice used. Nigerians use a long grain wild rice, whereas Ghanaians tend to use Thai jasmine a.k.a basmati rice.

Ghanaian Jollof rice is made up of vegetable oil, onion, bell pepper, cloves of pressed garlic, chillies, tomato paste, beef or chicken (some times alternated with mixed vegetables), jasmine or basmati rice and black pepper. The method of cooking Jollof rice begins with first preparing the beef or chicken by seasoning and frying it until it is well cooked. The rest of the ingredients are then fried altogether, starting from onions, tomatoes and spices in that order. After all the ingredients have been fried, rice is then added and cooked until the meal is prepared. Ghanaian Jollof is typically served with side dishes of beef/chicken/well seasoned and fried fish and/or mixed vegetables.

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