Minister of information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has got the social media back on the debate of ‘which country makes the best jollof rice’. You can read more about the CNN interview that brought up this matter here. In the light of the situation, I decided to do my research on Nigeria Jollof rice versus Senegal Jollof rice.
Here’s what I’ve got;
The name Jollof rice was coined from the name of the Wolof people now called theibou dienn or benachin. Based on its name, the origins of Jollof rice can be traced to the Senegambian region that was ruled by the Jolof Empire. Thus, it’s reasonable to say Jollof originated from Senegal.
Jollof which stands as the best known African dish outside the continent has developed lots of diversity depending on which country is preparing the dish. Even, Ghana and Nigeria have for long been in an ‘overgraduated’ debate of whose jollof rice is best and now our Minister is bringing Senegal into the matter.
I’ve only tasted Nigerian jollof but checking out recipes and reviews of Senegal and Ghana jollof on other blogs , I found the cause of the diversity and disagreement; the ingredient used. There’s really no difference in how the countries prepare their jollof rice. Everyone fries tomato stew first adding whatever they deem fit and then, add the rice.
The factors that determines the difference between two similar dishes are the appearance, taste and method of preparation. And, what brings these difference in taste and appearance is the combination of ingredients that make the dish up. For jollof rice, every country seem to have their own peculiar ingredients thus, peculiar taste and probably appearance. Just one thing. Every jollof rice is made with rice, tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, scotch bonnet peppers, salt, spices and vegetable oil. Jollof is also reddish or let’s say orange in colour.
Nigerian jollof ingredients include long grain parboiled rice, plum tomatoes, tomato paste, Scotch bonnets, onions, water, chicken/beef, salt, stock cubes, thyme, Nigerian curry powder and vegetable oil. Check recipe here.
Senegal jollof contains fresh fish, water, vegetable oil, fresh tomato, tomato paste, Scotch bonnets, onions, cabbage, carrots, bay leaves and rice. Check full recipe here.
Sometimes, in Nigeria, we also add bay leaves to our jollof rice but bay leaves are not our distinctive ingredients. From the above list of ingredients, senegal jollof rice is different in that it has cabbage and carrots in it which you’ll never find in Nigerian jollof. The taste of jollof rice that has vegetables in it will definitely be different from one that doesn’t.
Also, Ghana jollof contains tomatoes, onions, pressed garlic, Scotch bonnets/ chillies, tomato paste, vegetable oil , beef/chicken/ lamb, Thai Jasmine (basmati) rice, water, stock (depending on how much meat is used), shito. Emphasis on the ‘basmati rice’ because that is the rice Ghanians love eating. Ghana jollof rice also includes shito which Busayo Oderinde of Bella naija said jollof rice is not Ghana jollof without it. you cann also check for the recipe here.
In all these ingredients, you’ll find out that only a few items varied in each country’s recipe. Thus, not so much difference in jollof rice irrespective of the country. But, we Africans have chosen to capitalize on this honorable dish, picking out what is not. We’ve chosen to debate on who prepares it best rather than complementing each other.
These slight variations in ingredients bring about variations in taste. Of all the jollof rice, Ghana jollof tastes more spicy because of the addition of chillies. While as a foodie, even though I’ve not tasted Senegal jollof, I can tell that it doesn’t taste really different from Nigerian jollof because the distinctive ingredient is the vegetables; that is the cabbage and carrot
On this topic of who has the best jollof, I’ll answer in Senegalese chef, Pierre Thiam’s statement at an interview with trueafrica.com ,sometimes last year. Even though he said Senegal owns the title of ‘who owns the best jollof’ because they are the originator of jollof.
“Everything you judge is your own experience.” – Chef Pierre Thiam
You see ehn, when it comes to food, judgement can never be universal. Because, what satisfies us differs. We can only get close responses to questions of which food is good, bad or best. We can’t get a perfect answer. I’ve eaten all kinds of Nigerian jollof, the good, the bad, the right and the wrong.
Imagine if the first and only jollof I ever ate was a wrong one, would I say jollof is right? No! Because that wasn’t my experience. So, you cannot just sit down somewhere and say the recipe of one country’s best. Remember there are even various cooks and the jollof rice you eat at restaurant A might not be the same with the one you’ll eat at restaurant B.
Also, our tastes differ. I love spicy food and, it’s very much likely for me to choose spicy Ghana jollof over other jollof. But, it doesn’t make sense to say it is the best just because of my personal taste for spice. Thus, abeg, let’s just enjoy the dishes and put aside competition. Jollof is amazing in Africa and beyond, irrespective of which country made it!