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Humans · Economy

Jollof rice and the supremacy battles in West Africa

October 16th, 2017
in:Humans, Economy
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Ghana, Nigeria
tags:cuisine, Facebook, food, Ghana, Jollof rice, Mark Zuckerberg, Nigeria, West Africa
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It is fluffy, red, tangy rice whose ingredients vary from one country to another. But the humble cuisine that is a signature dish in most of West and Central Africa has been creating culinary fisticuffs among nations on whose is the best at preparing it. It is a contest that has dragged in politicians, tycoons, business men and even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Jollof rice - the dish that still reigns supreme as a national staple in Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leon, Cameroon and Liberia traces its origins to Gambia and Senegal. It derives its name from the Wolof people of Senegal whose Wolof language is also spoken in some areas in Gambia.

While the main ingredients, rice and tomato sauce, are common in all dishes across the countries, it is the additional recipes and variation that define the culinary battles. Beef, chicken, fish and even shrimps define these culinary differences across countries. 22nd of August has even been set as the national Jollof rice day in many of these countries as a day to honour the cuisine while jollof aficionado put their best food forward in organizing festivals around the cuisine. Now conversations and debate have moved from the kitchens to the streets at times transcending boundaries.

In a visit to Nigeria last year, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to sample Jollof rice. Aware of the regional wars that it had elicited he diplomatically choose his review. "Yesterday, I had jollof rice and shrimp. It was delicious, fantastic. I was told not to compare Nigeria's jollof rice to that from other neighbouring countries," he was quoted as saying. Nigerians interpreted this to mean he had endorsed their variety over the rest.

This battle would also be taken to Washington DC in US during the Jollof Festival that brought together 600 contestants from various West African countries. Their task was to make the most sumptuous variety of Jollof rice that best represented their country. Judges did a blind sampling to avoid bias and at the end of the contest Nigeria’s Atinuke Ogunsalu won.

But in another contest dubbed Jollof Rice Competition in Ghana under the tourism scheme “See Ghana, Eat Ghana, Wear Ghana, and Feel Ghana” that brought together top chefs from Ghana, Gambia, Nigeria and Senegal, a team of international judges picked Ghana’s Jollof rice as the winner citing fine presentation and better taste compared to the others.

And there has been no end to the fisticuffs. Already Ghanaian celebrated songstress Sister Deborah has also composed a song “Ghana Jollof” disregarding the Nigerian recipe as tasting funny and weird.

“But even with these contest on who is best at making the Jollof rice, we are always united in being proud of a cuisine that has originated from West Africa and which has captured the global scene and captivated food mandarins in ways we have never seen before. The festivals and the national day of Jollof rice has also been key in entrenching our heritage and helping us spread our culture across the world,” said Kwame Mawuli a Ghanaian based food enthusiast and proprietor of Muhsin Hotel in the Tanzanian city of Arusha. Kwame is making inroads in introducing the rice to East Africa where it is barely known. “Such culture exchanges and transfers help us to appreciate one another and would even foster bigger things like inter cultural marriages,” he added.

And in a region that is known for its strict obsession with traditional foods like pounded yams and Egusi soup from melon seed and fermented beans, which have not gone well with the youth, Jollof rice has received warm reception across all ages and social standing.

“You can find it in weddings, parties and even funerals. It is more appealing to us the young generation as opposed to the traditional food due to its unique taste. My friends in East Africa are already warming up to it,” said Christian Adedeji a Nigerian final year student at the University of Nairobi Kenya studying Biochemistry.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Current Map: Our coverage
Embed from Getty Images
While the main ingredients, rice and tomato sauce, are common in all dishes across the countries, it is the additional recipes and variation that define the culinary battles.
Embed from Getty Images
22nd of August has even been set as the national Jollof rice day in many of these countries.
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