BBC – Travel – Jollof Wars: Who does West Africa’s iconic rice dish best?

BBC - Travel - Jollof Wars: Who does West Africa's iconic rice dish best?

With its seductive aroma, deep-red colour and spicy flavour, Jollof rice is the undisputed queen of West African kitchens. It’s our beloved culinary treasure and a dish from our really coronary heart and soul. But just whisper the word “Jollof” in West Africa and you could effortlessly start off a fiery feud of enthusiasm. That’s simply because deciding which West African country helps make Jollof best is an ongoing matter of area pride and contention.

Jollof rice is to West Africa what paella is to Spain, risotto to Italy, biriyani to India and fried rice to China. As a kid expanding up in Ghana, I gobbled Jollof down at relatives gatherings, birthdays, coming-of-age ceremonies, engagement get-togethers and weddings. Relished as a most important food, this prosperous, mouth-watering dish is made up of rice cooked in a flavourful sauce of tomatoes, onions and aromatic spices. These base components are often layered with ginger, garlic, thyme, grains of selim (a West African spice), tomato puree, curry powder and Scotch bonnet chillies, however the exact elements and preparation differ from place to nation even from property to home.

Whilst every single plate of Jollof may perhaps vary, every single one particular provides enjoyable flavours. The savoury sweetness of onions is really essential. Seasoning is vital. And the choice of meat – mutton, beef, hen, goat, lamb or even fish – provides a diverse deliciousness just about every time. The meat is spiced and delicately braised in inventory until tender, before remaining fried and returned to the stock. Then the rice is additional to the meat, inventory and spicy sauce and simmered until eventually it absorbs all the flavoursome liquid, leaving each individual grain aromatic, delectable and a luscious orangey-red hue.

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The origins of Jollof rice can be traced to the 1300s in the historical Wolof Empire (also referred to as the Jolof Empire), which spanned areas of present day Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania. Rice farming flourished in this area, and Jollof started existence as a dish called thieboudienne, geared up with rice, fish, shellfish and greens. As the empire grew, the Wolof folks dispersed throughout the region and settled in unique sections of West Africa, taking their sumptuous rice dish with them.

Regardless of its ubiquity throughout the region, couple of food items have brought about as much of a stir as Jollof rice. These days, each West African state has at least a person variation of Jollof, which equally divides and unites the location. Each and every country and loved ones add their have twist and interpretation, which maybe is the root of the fierce competitiveness getting location across social media, functions and avenue-aspect chats. Black Foodie web-site, which explores food items and tradition by a black lens, explained it as “a person of the most fascinating and heated meals debates among the diaspora… it is really the most epic meals beefs of all time.”

The principal protagonists in a steam over who can make the most effective Jollof rice are Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cameroon. The Gambia and Senegal are very laid-back again and hardly ever enter the Jollof controversy soon after all, they gave it to the entire world. Myriad variations gasoline the ongoing competition with as lots of similarities as there are variations and with oral traditions of passing down recipes, what else could be anticipated?

For instance, my Ghanaian mom would stew the rice with the sauce and meat in a a single-pot dish, which is, of program, my favoured planning. Nigerians and Liberians at times use palm oil rather of vegetable oil to give a richer depth of flavour, primarily when cooking with smoked and dried fish. In Nigeria and Cameroon, crimson peppers are generally blended with the base substances of onions, tomatoes and chilli to insert vibrancy and a subtle sweetness. These two nations also like to insert smoked paprika to give Jollof a smoky flavour, very similar to cooking above an open up wood hearth. A Gambian mate features of adding smoked snails to her Jollof, a conventional component in The Gambia and Senegal.

Nigerian foodstuff writer Jiji Majiri Ugboma believes that “the Jollof feud among Ghana and Nigeria is arguably the most heated food discussion amongst any diaspora”. As a Ghanaian with numerous Nigerian buddies, I couldn’t agree extra. These two passionate nations appear to really like to despise each individual other, and both equally experience theirs is the very best Jollof rice. One particular primary change is the sort of rice made use of. Ghanaians use aromatic basmati rice, which gives it extra flavour, while Nigerians use long grain rice, believing that it is best for absorbing flavour. Each international locations delight in this light teasing, observing it as a struggle of wits in which each individual attempts to don the other down with phrases.

“Ironically, the feud truly delivers Nigerians and Ghanaians collectively,” Ugboma said. “It is a adore language between both equally nations around the world and is identical to the dynamic of siblings teasing every other.”

The Jollof feud involving Ghana and Nigeria is arguably the most heated food stuff debate among any diaspora

Musicians have joined in the banter far too, with Akon claiming Liberian Jollof is the most effective, even even though he is from Senegal. Ghanaian musician Sister Deborah released an anthem in 2016 identified as Ghana Jollof with lyrics which includes “Ghana Jollof, yummy Nigerian Jollof, it is amusing”.

Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam, who owns Teranga restaurant in New York Town, believes that this banter is each “playful and actually really serious”.

“I wish all wars had been fought like the Jollof war. No killings! No blood,” he reported. “I also feel that there will under no circumstances be a winner. Everyone thinks that their mother makes the greatest. I love equally the Nigerian and the Ghanaian and even the Sierra Leonian Jollof dishes, but in my humble belief, very little compares to the primary one: Senegal Jollof.”

As a great deal as West Africans delight in these excellent-natured dissimilarities of opinion, you will find no doubt our love for the dish can provide us with each other. It really is uncomplicated to comprehend why all hell broke loose when celebrity chef Jamie Oliver cooked Jollof rice and shared his recipe on his internet site in 2014. West Africans forgot that they experienced a Jollof war going on. Outraged, their collective response was to drop almost everything, maintain palms and charge for Oliver’s web-site. They may have been arguing over whose Jollof was most effective in West Africa, but they were not going to allow for anybody to mess with their culinary treasure. Hashtags like #jollofgate were unleashed on Twitter. With ingredients like lemon, coriander and parsley, Oliver’s Jollof was for lots of a twist too significantly, even while he stressed that his recipe was his possess acquire on Jollof. Africans have been anxious that if this went unchallenged, cultural misappropriation could rather effortlessly make Oliver’s version the official Jollof rice.

Yet, by and massive, the Jollof discussion has been constructive and has elevated recognition of and interest in West African meals. The top rated 10 swiftest-growing meals trends for 2020 predicted by Total Food items included foods from West Africa: peanuts, lemongrass and ginger grains like teff, sorghum, fonio and millet and the superfood moringa ended up all described as common West African flavours that “are popping up just about everywhere in food and in beverage”.

And, as if an awakening in the diaspora, Jollof is out of the blue everywhere you go much too. Jollof foods festivals have been held in Washington, DC, and Toronto, and Jollof competitions in Nigeria. Environment Jollof Working day has been celebrated each yr, on 22 August, due to the fact 2015, with photos and videos unleashed on social media.

As African eating places all-around the entire world grow to be ever a lot more mainstream, they are introducing even extra versions and interpretations to their Jollof choices. London’s Ikoyi dishes up smoked Jollof rice with crab custard when Teranga’s Jollof rice finds new type in an “Historical Vegan Bowl”, topped with a sweet potato and black-eyed peas stew, a kale and organic pink palm fruit oil stew, and spicy plantains.

With the enhance in Jollof’s world wide recognition, Thiam thinks that “We will see a escalating interest for the dish and for African meals in common. Look at out for Jollof rice in your grocery store aisle.”

As excited as we are about the environment embracing Jollof rice, for West Africans, it is additional than a vibrant and tasty rice dish we delight in arguing more than: it connects to our loaded heritage and is a dish that will permanently continue to be in our hearts. Even as we draw closer with each other, the fireplace in the Jollof kitchen rages on.

Foodstuff Wars is a series from BBC Travel that invitations you to feel the heat when passions flare close to beloved dishes that condition a culture’s identity.

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