Why Senegalese Jollof Rice Wins the Diaspora Wars

Senegalese jollof rice is a beloved West African dish distinguished by its spicy & flavorful tomato sauce, which has captured the hearts and taste buds of people across the globe.

Why Senegalese Jollof Rice Wins the Diaspora Wars

The Origins of Senegalese Jollof Rice

Jollof rice can be traced back to the ancient Wolof (or Jolof) Empire, which ruled parts of modern-day Senegal. In the 1300s, rice farming thrived and led to delicious dishes like thieboudienne, a one-pot seafood & rice dish. Senegalese jollof rice is set apart from other variations by its distinctive spicy and aromatic tomato-based sauce. 

Thanks to trade & nomadic groups like the Dyula, thieboudienne traveled across West Africa. As the dish entered new communities, folks added their unique twists using locally-sourced ingredients and spices to jollof rice. Today, we have variations from Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Senegal, Liberia, Gambia, Cameroon and Sierra Leone.

Additionally, we see this iconic dish’s influence found in classic American dishes like Charleston red rice and jambalaya. We like to think of these dishes as the “cousins”  of jollof — the resemblance is undeniable!

Beyond the deliciousness of this dish, jollof rice is a marker of good times and a unifying dish epitomizing both the similarities & diversity across West Africa & her diaspora.

The Jollof Rice Wars

When it comes to African cuisine, few dishes generate as much passion and debate as jollof rice. The jollof rice wars have ignited conversations, sparked friendly rivalries, and brought people together to defend their nation’s culinary pride. With its aromatic blend of rice, tomatoes, spices, and various proteins, jollof is prepared differently across West Africa. 

The debate centers around which country has mastered the art of jollof rice. From the savory and smoky Nigerian version to the vibrant and spicy Ghanaian rendition, each country has its unique take. You can explore an authentic Nigerian rendition with your friends, family or team in a virtual class by fellow jollof enthusiast, Chef Patty. The jollof rice wars have taken on a life of their own, with social media serving as the battleground for passionate arguments and mouth watering food photos.

Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are virtual arenas where jollof enthusiasts from around the world passionately defend their country’s version. Memes, videos, and hashtags like #JollofWars have fueled friendly competition, turning the jollof rice wars into a cultural phenomenon. This online engagement brings together people from diverse backgrounds, sparking conversations, and strengthening the bonds of African identity. 

While the jollof rice wars are filled with playful banter and friendly rivalries, it is important to remember the elders of the game—the Senegalese. Senegal, the birthplace of jollof rice, holds a special place in its history and culture. As Africans, we should pay homage, honor the Wolof Empire’s influence, and recognize Senegal’s pioneership! Not only is this factual, but also will contribute greatly to the fostering of a greater sense of unity among all of us folks who love jollof around the world.

How to Make Senegalese Jollof Rice

To prepare this famous dish, use this recipe from Chef Kinorah Awini of Telande World. This uses chicken, but you can add it as your protein of choice.

Ingredients you will require:

For the Fish

1 Medium Cassava Fish
4 Cloves of Garlic
1 Medium Ginger
1 Tsp of Black Peppercorn
1 Tsp of Anise Seeds
A handful of Lemon Grass Chopped
1 Tbsp of Soy Sauce
1 ½ Tsp of Salt
1 Tbsp of Flour
500 ml Vegetable Oil

For the Jollof Rice

3 Cups of Short Grain Rice Washed
1 Medium Onion Sliced
4 Cloves of Garlic Minced
200 g Tomato Paste
6 Medium Tomatoes Pureed
5 Scotch Bonnet Peppers Blended
1 Tsp of Curry Powder
2 Bay Leaves
2 Medium Carrots Chopped
15 French Beans Halved
1 Large Aubergine Chopped
8 Petite Belle Peppers (Kpakposhito)
1 Large Irish Potato Chopped
1 Cup of Beef Stock
1 Tbsp of Salt
1 Medium Red Bell Pepper

Directions to follow:
  1. Pour garlic, ginger, black peppercorn, anise seeds and lemon grass into a blender.
  2. Add water, blend and set aside.
  3. Score the cassava fish, place in a bowl, pour the blended mixture on, add soy sauce, salt and rub on and let it sit for 20 minutes.
  4. Heat vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat, add flour, then add the cassava fish and shallow-fry for 5 minutes on both sides.
  5. Take out and place aside, using the same vegetable oil for the fish.
  6. Pour into a saucepan over medium heat, add sliced onion, garlic, stir until translucent, then add the tomato paste.
  7. Stir and let simmer for 4 minutes.
  8. Add purèed tomatoes, scotch bonnet pepper, stir and let simmer down for 10 minutes.
  9. Add curry powder, bay leaves, stir.
  10. Add the carrots, french beans, aubergine, petite belle pepper and stir for a minute.
  11. Add beef stock, potato and salt.
  12. Cover and let boil for 10 minutes.
  13. Take out the cooked vegetables, then add the washed rice, stir and let cook for 35 minutes on medium low heat.
  14. Add the chopped bell pepper, stir to mix and let cook for a minute and take off the heat.
  15. Thieboudienne ready. Serve with the cooked vegetables and the fried fish.

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