I read with amusement and some bemusement Jamie Oliver’s take on that West African perennial, Jollof Rice. My amusement stemmed from the many indignant comments on his website, Facebook and Twitter, mainly from my fellow Nigerians. His recipe and the photograph of the finished dish heightened my bemusement, but more on that later.
The loudest noises were from the self-proclaimed ‘Giants of Africa’, many blissfully unaware that, contrary to popular opinion; Jollof is NOT native to Nigeria. That was one of the few things that Jamie did get right. Received wisdom is that it originates from the Wolof People (pronounced Jollof) of The Gambia. Interestingly, the name for the ancient Kingdom is also ‘Jollof’.
So important is Jollof to Nigerians that, not only is it almost obligatory at any gathering of two or more Nigerians, the word has entered common parlance as a synonym for ‘enjoyment’; for instance, “make we go jollof” (“let’s go and have some fun”).
Ironically, the ‘Fried Rice’ that is so popular amongst Nigerians would be totally unrecognisable as such to Chinese and other Asians and I don’t see them raising a huge outcry but that’s a debate for another day.
Looking at Mr Oliver’s plate of his take on ‘Ghanaian Jollof’, it was immediately obvious he had taken his inspiration from the moister end of the ‘One-pot Rice Spectrum’. His version is more akin to an ‘Italian Chicken and Tomato Risotto’ than the ‘dryer’ consistency which we expect to see in a Nigerian or Ghanaian Jollof (think Biriyani or even Paella). His list of ingredients (coriander, squashed oven-roasted tomatoes, parsley, garlic) and especially the accompanying lemon did little to calm the nerves of Jollof aficionados. Real Jollof’, as far as Nigerians and Ghanaians are concerned has a sweet, slightly smoky flavour which can only be achieved by a long slow simmer of the tomato base, preferably over a wood fire just as Grandma made it.
.Jamie Oliver’s Take on Ghanaian Jollof Rice (www.jamieoliver.com)
Looking further West towards the purported home of Jollof, I was surprised to find that tamarind and lemon make an appearance in Senegal and Gambia. The Benachin (meaning one-pot) of these two countries, as their Jollof is known, has a slightly tart taste according to friends that have actually eaten it. Its consistency, I am reliably informed, is risotto-like and it is usually served topped with vegetables such as ‘bitter tomatoes’, okra, carrots, squash and cabbage. Suddenly Mr Oliver’s dish with lemon and squashed tomatoes began to make sense to me.
A trawl of Google and a completely unscientific survey on my Facebook page threw up the following main differences:
- Type of Rice: The Gambians favour ‘broken rice’ (chep); Nigerians, long-grain and Ghanaians, basmati.
- Flavourings: varied from herbs such as bay leaf, curry powder and thyme (Nigerians and Ghanaians) to dried fish and dried snails (Senegalese and Gambians).
- Texture: Senegalese and Gambians prefer a more risotto-like finish whilst Nigerians and Ghanaians eat a dryer version.
- Accompaniments: Casseroled vegetables top off the most Westerly versions whilst fried plantains often pop up in Nigeria and Ghana.
- Taste: Tamarind, lemons and limes add a sharp note to the ‘original’ dish and are omitted as you come eastwards.
Apart from the star-of-the-show, rice; onions, tomatoes and oil are ingredients everyone agrees upon.
For those of us that grew up eating Jollof, the most fun part of the meal was fighting one’s siblings for the crunchy burnt bits (or “bottom-pot” as it is known in Nigeria). The Akus of Gambia call it “krawoh” and serve it separately.
In the interest of world peace, I decided to try and re-present (or re-image??) Jamie’s twist using the same ingredients and paying homage to the original version so that it more familiar to the West African eye.
My dish comprises three main parts:
- the Jollof rice itself, made the Nigerian way with liquidised tomatoes, onions, Scotch Bonnet and chillies, flavoured with bay leaf, thyme and a pinch of curry powder; and topped off with some chopped parsley and bits of “bottom-pot”
- barbecued chicken, marinated in Jamie’s suggestions of garlic, lemon juice, ground coriander and white pepper; tossed in a simple salsa of roast tomatoes, roast red bell peppers and parsley;
- steamed carrots, pumpkin and leeks to reflect the dish’s Wolof origins.