History of Jollof Rice: Origin & How to Cook


The history of Jollof rice in Nigeria is not complete without the eternal debate about whether or not the Ghanian or the Senegalese Jollof Rice is better. It is one of the major sources of heated discussion online among Nigerians, Ghanaians and Senegalese as to who owns the bragging rights to the dish. However, in order to understand the magic of Jollof or who can rightfully lay claim to it, first, its history must be understood.

Jollof rice packs a powerful punch in the taste department. It is one of the most consumed dishes in West Africa, but mainly in Ghana and Nigeria. In fact, both nations proclaim themselves as the inventors of this culinary work. In addition, they live in an eternal debate to decide in which country jollof rice tastes better.

The essence of this post is to focus on the history of the Nigerian Jollof rice and how it has gone ahead to become the most sought after meals at occasions in Nigeria. You read it right, Jollof Rice is the most sought after meal in any Nigerian party. As a matter of fact, your party is incomplete without it, no matter how grand or elaborate your occasion was. Jollof rice is the life of the party! (pun intended).

Origin of Jollof Rice

Jollof Rice: History, Origin in Nigeria & How to Cook Party Jollof Rice

Jollof Rice originated from a part of Senegal and The Gambia (Senegambian region), from the Wolof people, a West African ethnic group found in Senegal and The Gambia. The name ‘Jollof’ is reportedly derived from the name of the people from where the dish originated.  In Wolof, the ethnic group found in Senegal and The Gambia refer to Jollof as ‘ceebu jën or benachin (meaning, one-pot)’.

Despite originating from these two areas, Nigeria and Ghana have been at loggerheads as to whose taste better and why. It is the most vigorous Jollof rivalry in the world, presently. The main argument in this debate is currently centered on which country’s version tastes better. The reason for the debate is due to the huge popularity of Jollof, in regards to West African cuisine.

Both countries have shown consistent competitiveness over the debate as to who can serve the dish the best. The debate has gone so far as to even having organized contest shows like the Jollof Festival in Washington, DC, in order for famous critics from all over the world to taste, examine the differences, and give their overall judgments on either forms of the dish. Recently, social media has also become a popular tool for people to share pictures, and opinions over who serves the dish the best.

Jollof Savage
The never-ending Jollof Rice war.

The Best Jollof Rice in the World

The buzz and the debate won’t end or die soon, even if we choose a side. The Nigerian Jollof Rice, like its Ghanian counterpart, is tasty and brightly coloured as well. Given Nigeria’s massive lust for meats and fishes, the refined garnishing of the Jollof Rice makes the Nigerian Jollof better in every aspect. It is not only a dish in Nigeria but a party anthem. A party’s success in Nigeria is measured by how good its Jollof Rice is!

What is Jollof Rice?

Jollof Rice is a subtly spicy, one-pot, West African stew made with rice. The rice is garnished with certain ingredients such as ginger, thyme, garlic and curry and is often preferred with Chicken, either roasted, grilled or fried.

Party Jollof Rice

Party Jollof Rice refers to Jollof Rice served at Nigerian parties. They are considered to be the best Jollof Rice, far better than the one cooked in homes. The reason for this is because traditional methods are adopted in cooking the Jollof from start to finish. Instead of modern-day cooking methods such as with gas or stoves, party Jollof Rice is mainly cooked with firewood and the smoke of the firewood gives it a more unique, refined taste. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why Nigerians have argued over the years that they have mastered the Jollof craft more than any other country.

History of Jollof Rice in Nigeria

How Jollof Rice came to Nigeria, all the way from Senegambian remains unknown. However, Jollof Rice started out as the main Christmas dish in almost every Nigerian home, before becoming a party anthem. Christmas in most Nigerian homes was never complete without Jollof Rice, Chicken and Soda. At the time, it was more of a seasonal dish, appearing only during Christmas while White Rice and Stew was for every other occasion.

The narrative changed when it transcended from being a seasonal, Christmas-only dish to a regular Saturday dish at parties. Consistency and everyday parties would make many Nigerians hone their Jollof Rice skills and become better at it.

Jollof rice remains a fairly festive meal to date. While it is no longer eaten during Christmas, its presence is not limited to Christmas celebrations but is also served at weddings, birthdays or baby showers. For those occasions, rice is usually given more elaborate ways to serve it, to give it a more festive look.

Party Jollof Rice Ingredients

  • 4 Cups Easy Cook Rice
  • 3 Large/ 4 Medium Red Bell Peppers (Tatashe)
  • 1/2 Can of Plum Tomatoes/ 2 Medium Size Tomatoes
  • 11/2 Scotch Bonnet (Ata Rodo)
  • 2 cups Beef or Chicken Stock
  • 120g Tomato Paste
  • 2 Onions
  • 100ml /6 Tablespoons Cooking oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 Tablespoon Minced Ginger
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Curry powder and Thyme
  • 1/2 Teaspoon any seasoning of your choosing
  • 3 Knorr Chicken cubes
  • 2 Teaspoons White pepper
  • 3 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Medium Size Tomato for Garnishing
  • Salt to Taste

How to Cook Party Jollof Rice

  • First blend the red bell peppers, tomatoes, scotch bonnet and 1 onion to a smooth paste and set aside.
  • Add the cooking oil into a large pot, place on the hob on medium heat, add half sliced onion into it and let it fry till fragrant.
  • Add the blended pepper, tomato paste, knorr cubes, curry powder, one teaspoon white pepper, bay leaves, cover and let it fry till oil begins to float to the top. This should take 15 to 20 minutes.
  • While that’s frying, wash your rice thoroughly to rid it of starch and set aside. If you’re choosing to parboil your rice, parboil for 5-8 minutes with little water on low heat. The rice should still be very firm and not soft, wash with warm water and set aside.
  • When oil floats to the top, add the chicken/ meat stock, cover and let it fry for a further 8-10 minutes.
  • Now add the washed rice. (It’s better to transfer the rice into another big pot, then add the stew so you can control the amount of stew that goes in to avoid over adding.
  • Combine thoroughly, ensure the stew is only about a cm over the rice when combined, it’s better to start with little liquid and add as you go)
  • When that is fully combined, add the butter, the minced ginger, the remaining teaspoon of white pepper and combine.
  • Cover and let it cook till the rice softens. Do stir every now and then with a WOODEN spoon; this prevents clumps and doesn’t break the rice up.
  • Add little bits of stock or water as you go, be careful not to add too much. Jollof rice needs steam to cook and not water, don’t be alarmed if/when the rice begins to burn, it will definitely burn a little, this is what gives it the much loved smokey, party Jollof Rice flavour.
  • When the rice is soft enough, add the onion rings and sliced tomato and stir.
  • Onions and tomatoes should be added just a couple of minutes before final doneness. Combine thoroughly.
  • Switch off the heat and leave to steam with the residual heat for another minute or two and your Party Jollof Rice is ready.

Jollof Rice

Some spread Aluminium or tin foil over the rice in the pot to enable it steam properly. If you have never tried before, it is better not to use it. If you have, you can spread the tin foil over your rice when you have turned off the heat.

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