There was no winner at this year’s Jollof Festival in Washington DC, United States. The bragging rights to who owns the best version of jollof in West Africa were shared. For the African countries that have an association with this delicacy, it’s considered a national pride to be crowned as the country with the best version of jollof.
That’s why a tie between Senegal and Sierra Leone at the 2022 Jollof Festival competition made screaming headlines. Caterers from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal who participate in this keenly contested competition bask themselves in the pride of raising their flags high at this competition. Here is why.
No one smelled the aroma of a spicy jollof and never left a smile on their faces. If you are a rice lover, you may reschedule an appointment or tarry on a work assignment to have a bite of that tasty jollof. That’s the attraction jollof commands among its lovers.
To begin with, jollof is prepared differently depending on the country one hails from. To Ghanaians, jollof is a mixture of rice dipped in a stew laced with spices with nutmeg and cloves. Meat lovers in this part of West Africa will include either beef, chicken or some dried fishes to spice it up.
Nigerians start with partially boiled rice, tomatoes, onions and red pepper balls. The Senegalese dwell heavily on palm oil to give their jollof rice a crispy feel in the mouth. For the Cameroonians, jollof is prepared with beef and a cocktail of carrots and green beans.
This mix of how each country approaches how to cook jollof could partly be blamed for the #JollofWars that heralds who cooks the best jollof among the West African countries.
The orange-colored spicy dish has a humble history. The Wollof Empire where this meal is traced to doubts a time will come in history where jollof will stir such controversy among millennials. The heated debate about which country cooks the best jollof has centered among Nigerians, Ghanaians, Sierra Leoneans, Gambians and Cameroonians. The fiercest of the banters has been between Nigerians and Ghanaians on whose mother or girlfriends cook the best version of jollof.
The #JollofWars dates back to 2014 when Twitter triggered the conversation. It has since taken an international dimension when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once stated that Nigeria’s jollof was awesome. But, their Ghanaian counterparts have always found ways to smack the alternative truth in the face of their sister nation. A Ghanaian songstress led this campaign in a song she released dubbed ‘Ghana Jollof’ taking jabs at her Nigerian counterparts on what real jollof looks and tastes like.
Can the African continent leverage on this international leverage to validate jollof as a go-to authentic black cuisine that must be embraced by all? It could be one of Africa’s unique food exports to the international market.
It’s a step in the right direction for the innovative pan-African organization, Afropolitan Insights, led by Ishmael Osekre, in translating this controversy over jollof wars into an international festival. But, food lovers may argue that may not be enough. It could be elevated to make it an accepted international cuisine with an African story and heritage embedded in it.
There is a need for governments through the tourism and arts ministries to push effective management and branding of jollof controversy and package it for new markets. It can be done by giving it a black identity to enable a mass section of minority groups to identify with the spicy meal.
Global food brands have rode on direct advertisement in the international space to make their local cuisine acceptable. This wheel can be modeled to sell different versions of jollof. It must appeal to the working class as well as the elite. The best version of Africa’s delicacy must satisfy international tastes and preferences. Religious and cultural barriers have caused global brands. If these ingredients are looked at, the international space will help determine which African country has the best version of jollof.