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The fascinating history of Jollof Rice

Jollof rice as we know today, originated in the 1300s under the Wolof empire in the Senegambia region. Which in modern-day comprises Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania. This region had flourishing rice cultivation. With Portuguese trading ports in the Casamance region, came tomatoes and other spices, and this brilliant concoction of protein with carbs and spices was conceived. It wasn’t just delicious but it also gave people sufficient energy. And as trading routes grew, people settled in various parts of Africa and so did this dish- with them. Thus jollof rice as we know it today slowly found its foothold as a household name in West Africa.

However, there is another version of history surrounding this dish. In the 19th century, Penda Mbaye, the strong matriarch of Thieboudienne (pronounced Cëebu- jen), which is the original name of jollof rice, accidentally created this dish. She was a cook in the Terenga area of Saint Louis, Senegal, and one afternoon when she faced a shortage of barley, she used broken rice that the French brought in with them from Indochina and made a dish with tomatoes, fish, and some tubers/ root vegetables. The dish is synonymous with Senegal’s food tradition and even enjoys UNESCO recognition.

However, jollof rice, a close cousin to Thieboudienne, enjoys another level of fanaticism. While Cameroon, Liberia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Senegal- all have their own variety and method of preparation of this one-pot rice dish- it is Nigeria and Ghana that regularly indulge in a massive tug of war related to this dish which has created waves on social media with the hashtag #jollofwars. Now, which country does it better? That’s a discussion I would much rather avoid since I am a novice when it comes to the cuisines of both these countries. But I am here to try the Nigerian variety of party jollof rice today. And all I care about is enjoying my plate of rice.

I created this dish for my Around the World through Food- cooking series. And I hope you end up trying this wonderful dish if you haven't already.

So now that we’ve enjoyed and tried another dish from another country, we still have a million-dollar question to answer, which country makes the best Jollof? let me know your answer in a comment below :)


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