In September 2017 the Nigerian minister of information, Lai Mohammed, caused national outrage when he told a reporter that Senegal made the best jollof rice. Although the tomato-based rice dish is said to have originated with the Wolof people in Senegal and Gambia in the 13th or 14th century, it is now regarded as a delicacy across west Africa. Following what was regarded as treachery, thousands of Nigerians took to Twitter calling for the minister’s resignation – until the vice-president reassured his countryfolk that their jollof was “the best in the world”.
The Twitter hashtag #jollofwar has long been a beacon for gastronomic banter. In 2016 Sister Deborah, a Ghanaian television presenter and musician, released the hit single “Ghana Jollof” with a video showing Nigerian men falling in love with Ghanaian women because their “jollof brings the boys to the yard”.
These days it is eaten with family and friends on Sundays and during festive occasions, such as weddings, Christmas and Eid. In Nigerian slang the word “jollof” is used to describe enjoying yourself.
Although there are national variations on the exact ingredients, spicing and method of cooking, most west Africans agree that Jamie Oliver’s recent interpretation of the dish is a crime, tagging his addition of cherry tomatoes, coriander, parsley and lemon wedges as #jollofgate.
To make the traditional base, caramelise onions with garlic, scotch-bonnet chillies and pureed tomatoes, and season with fresh ginger, dried thyme and cumin. Then simmer the rice in the sauce for around an hour, before eating it with fried plantain, grilled fish and meat and – if you’re Lai Mohammed – your words.