Jollof Rice-An Ultimate Guide (A)

Jollof Rice-with eggs, fried plantain and fish chunks

Jollof rice has not always been a Nigerian dish, in fact the term Jollof stems from the Wolof word Benachin which translates literally as “one-pot”. It is believed that Jollof rice as a dish was introduced around the late sixties, early seventies, when there was a great influx of immigrants and a booming economy which favoured the importation of long grain rice in abundance!

During this time, Jollof rice featured mainly at the elites’ parties and homes. Prior to this time, there existed some form of rice dish cooked with the “one-pot” technique. This dish was not referred to by any specific name, it simply was as a rice dish made on special occasions and going by its very basic ingredients; local indigenous rice, meat or beans (for protein), peppers and palm oil; it was a really frugal dish indeed.

As it was in the seventies, Jollof rice is essentially made with blended fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions and tomato paste (another import). These ingredients impart its characteristic bright red/orange colour. In addition, basic spices like curry, dried thyme and white pepper, all imports to Nigeria, were also used.

Plain Jollof Rice
Nowadays, Jollof rice is prepared in a variety of ways with everyone putting their own spin on the ingredients and spices used. In fact, the way young generation cooks/chefs prepare their Jollof rice will most certainly differ from the way their mothers used to prepare theirs!

Travel, education, lifestyle and migration are all obvious factors that have influenced methods and techniques of preparation and sourcing ingredients, which leave me in no doubt that preparation of Jollof rice will continue to evolve!

The West African Legacy
It is an already established fact that the name “Jollof” originates from the Wolof people of Gambia / Senegal, based on the “Benachin” one-pot cooking technique. This said, Jollof rice is eaten across the whole of West Africa, Nigerians being the highest consumers of the dish! No occasion or celebration is complete without featuring the dish!

As expected, there are significant variations in preparation with every region passionately claiming to make the best!

Jollof Rice with vegetables & seafood
Nigerians arrogantly claim to popularise the dish and that their version (which incorporates more chilli peppers and not added meat or vegetables) surpasses all others in taste and flavours. Senegalese brag about their ability to effectively use “broken rice” to create an epic version of this dish. French speaking West Africans also stand by their own versions which incorporate nuts, meat/fish, vegetables like okra, cabbage, carrots, green beans etc., and even fruits (e.g. lemon).

Beyond West Africa, Jollof rice bears close resemblance to dishes such as the Cajun Jambalaya, Spanish Paela, in a clear example of how West African cuisine has influenced cuisines in other parts of the world or is it?

Read here - Jollof Rice-An Ultimate Guide (B).

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