Jollof Rice

The History of Jollof Rice

Jollof Rice is to West Africa what Paella is to Spain and Risotto is to Italy.

Every West African country has at least one variation of Jollof rice, and each nation is super proud of their own recipe(s).

The origins of Jollof rice can be traced back to the 1300s in the ancient Wolof Empire (also called the Jolof Empire), which spanned parts of today’s Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania. Rice farming was prolific in this region, and Jollof began life as a dish called thieboudienne, prepared with rice, fish, shellfish and vegetables. As the empire grew, the Wolof people travelled across the region and settled in different parts of West Africa, taking their delicious rice dish with them and the recipes started to vary slightly from region to region.

Much love and care goes into preparing an authentic West African Jollof rice dish – as well as time – as it takes many hours of cooking to create the richly flavoured dish that Jollof is.

Recipes vary from region to region and the nations are extremely proud of their recipes handed down through generations, so much so, that people talk of “Jollof Wars”.

The main protagonists in the “Jollof Wars” are the Nigerians and Ghanians. Nigerian food writer Jiji Majiri Ugboma says that “the Jollof feud between Ghana and Nigeria is arguably the most heated food debate amongst any diaspora”.

The teasing and banter are friendly, but it just goes to show how much their Jollof rice means to them.

Ghanaians use aromatic basmati rice, which gives it extra flavour, while Nigerians use long grain rice, believing that it is best for absorbing flavour.

Even musicians have joined in the “Jollof Wars” with the Ghanaian musician Sister Deborah releasing a song in 2016 called Ghana Jollof with lyrics “Ghana Jollof, yummy; Nigerian Jollof, it is funny”!

Another example of how proud West Africans are of their traditional Jollof recipe, is when Jamie Oliver released his interpretation of a Jollof recipe on his website in 2014.  With all sorts of ingredients that weren’t authentically West African and certainly shouldn’t have been in a Jollof dish, chaos ensued with West Africans jumping onto social media using hashtags such as #jollofgate to defend their beloved culinary treasure!

Whilst there may be arguments between nations about whose Jollof rice is best, one thing for sure is that it’s a dish that is embedded in their heritage and culture and is close to their hearts.

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