The recent jollof rice war has lingered for about three years in West Africa, especially in Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, and others. The reason for this fierce war is for the taste bud trophy of which African Country makes the best tasting version of Jollof rice. As the Editor-In-Chief of www.oaekpost.com, I have only tasted two versions–the Nigerian Jollof and Ghanaian Jollof rice. For that reason, I will be writing primarily about the Nigerian version and comparing it with its Ghanaian counterpart. I may sound a bit partial due to my original roots; however, I think my taste bud awards go to the Nigerian Jollof so far, except any other African chef out there wants to give me a taste of their creation and prove me otherwise.
The exact origin of Jollof rice is not fully confirmed, but research tells us that it came from the country of Senegal and Gambia in the Wolof region of the current day West Africa. Nigeria and Ghana have competed fiercely and continuously in the debate about who is better with the taste and texture of the most popular dish from this part of Africa. This debate has also attracted critics from many places worldwide to judge the famous course as to which country prepares it best, with the primary criteria being service and taste. Recently, social media has also caught the Jollof rice bug, especially after Mark Zuckerberg joined the debate during his recent visit to Nigeria. They told Zuckerberg not to compare Nigerian Jollof to that of other West African countries. However, he could not resist exclaiming that the Nigerian Jollof is remarkably delicious. That says a lot.
The main ingredients needed to make a delicious pot of Jollof are long-grain rice (preferably not basmati rice); stock (vegetable, chicken, fish, or beef) or water; oil (e.g., olive oil or vegetable oil), tomatoes (e.g., Fresh Roma tomatoes or tomato paste); peppers (e.g., fresh poblano pepper, red bell peppers, or habanero pepper); onions (e.g., red or white onions); and spices (e.g., Caribbean/Jamaican-style curry powder, dried thyme, dried bay leaves, and salt). Neither of these ingredients has any saturated fat or cholesterol. As this meal is a rice dish hence, it is a high carbohydrate dish. Chicken, beef, eggs, turkey, or fish stock make up the rich protein content of the Jollof rice meal. The addition of fish stock avails the dish with omega-3 fatty acids, as well as protein. The tomatoes and peppers are excellent sources of antioxidants, dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Albeit high in carbs, it is relatively nutritious and delicious, depending on its constituent ingredients.
Nigerian Jollof Rice
Although considerable variation exists, the basic profile for Nigerian Jollof rice includes any parboiled rice, fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, pepper, vegetable oil, diced onions, chicken or beef stock, sometimes crayfish, curry, and curry and thyme spice, bay leaves, salt, and Maggi cubes. Most of the ingredients are mixed and cooked in one pot. Thus, the first step in making a delicious Jollof rice meal is to prepare the parboiled rice. The next step is to fry the tomato in diced onions with pepper puree and olive oil. This tomato sauce forms the meal base and is mixed with the meat stock and a sprinkle of spices and salt for taste. Finally, pour the prepared rice into the tomato mix, stir gently and cook over slow heat.
Ghanaian Jollof Rice
Though the Nigerian and Ghanaian Jollof rice looks similar, there is much difference between the Ghanaian and Nigerian Jollof. If you watch various videos on YouTube, you will notice that the preparation method for the two kinds of Jollof rice is similar. However, what makes the difference is the ingredients that the Nigerians and Ghanaians use. For instance, the Ghanaians use black pepper and long grain basmati rice, which they call perfumed rice. In addition, what this dish usually goes with is a special pepper sauce called “shito.” The black pepper they add sometimes makes it slightly darker than the Nigerian bright red color.
For the Nigerian Jollof rice, the difference is in the taste. The variety of ingredients and style of cooking makes all the difference. My all-time favorite is the type of Jollof rice called “Party Jollof.” This “Party Jollof rice” is usually for occasions where many people have to be fed. This type of Jollof rice is especially very unique because of its firewood taste. Its soft mushy texture tastes better because it is prepared outdoors with a local firewood stove in big cauldron pots. This technique is where it gets its unique, delicious, smoky taste. You could also garnish the Jollof rice with sliced onions, tomatoes, sweet corn, kidney beans, and green peas. It can also be served with any protein of choice and often served alongside fried plantains, Moi Moi, coleslaw, salad, etc.
There are several versions of the classic jollof rice, including coconut jollof rice and the fisherman Jollof rice. The Fisherman Jollof rice is synonymous with the African riverine habitats. It is usually made with giant or small prawns, periwinkles, crayfish, and fresh fish, as these are the primary source of their proteins. We also have the mixed vegetable jollof rice. The preparation for this meal is like its close continental companion, the “fried rice,” which means it also uses similar kinds of vegetables used in the preparation of fried rice, like carrots, green pepper, etc. Some Jollof rice meals are made with beans. The most popular one for most Nigerians is the “concoction rice.” The preparation is very economic friendly; you could literally add any ingredient to it; and involve as little as just using rice, onions, salt, and pepper.
It was interesting watching the video called “Jollof Wars: Ghana vs. Nigeria, The Official Taste Test“ on YouTube. OkayAfrica published this video on November 23, 2016, and I give them props for doing so. It was fun watching the actors and actresses debating on which Jollof Rice tasted better; the Nigerian Jollof or the Ghanaian Jollof. One of the fun highlights of the video is the statement that the Jollof rice captures the soul of Africa. Furthermore, one of the actresses establishes that it is the beginning and end of all African dishes. A dish that is so delicious and nutritious that it can pass as the continental dish of Africa. You can take some time to view the video below and see the debate for yourself.
“One who eats alone cannot discuss the taste of the food with others.” —African Proverb.
As earlier stipulated, I may be a little biased by saying that I lean towards the Nigerian Jollof rice. Possibly because I grew up eating it, and to date, the whiff of its delicious aroma makes my mouth water as I sharpen my taste buds to eat the mean every time I have the chance to do so. By the way, if you are ever in the Seattle, Washington area, seek out the West African food caterer, Kelchi’s Kitchen, and have Chef Kelchi make you the version of her Nigerian Jollof. The taste of her Jollof is heavenly and out of this world delicious. But, as her motto goes, “…it’s not your average West African Cuisine.” Chef Kelchi’s Nigerian Jollof is also not your average West African Jollof. The taste is celestial, a work of a culinary genius.
- Ward, K., & Isama, A. [OkayAfrica]. (2016, November 23). Jollof Wars: Ghana vs. Nigeria, The Official Taste Test [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P79YWaS-uNk