A month hardly goes by on social media without jollof rice trending; its origin, which African country makes it better, and pictures of mouthwatering pots and dishes of this favoured dish. Jamie Oliver got a taste of West African unity when he received backlash on social media after putting out his own interpretation of a Ghanaian recipe for jollof rice. The trolling went on for months.
Despite the banter that surrounds it, the cultural significance of jollof cannot be ignored as it has travelled across countries and continents and is one dish that Africans claim as ‘our own’, origins notwithstanding.
The National Museum, Lagos was a flurry of activity on Sunday, December 13th, 2015 the final day of the ‘Wolof-Jollof’ exhibition put together by arts curator, Ines Valle alongside sculptor, Folakunle Oshun.
The week-long exhibition sought to explore the concept of art through food – jollof rice in particular; how jollof rice was interpreted by the different countries that lay claim to it.
The exhibition consisted of a huge outdoor installation of 70 unique 3-legged cooking pots mounted on wheels, with names of different countries written on the pots. In the midst of these pots was a humongous pot, one a child could refer to as the ‘mother pot’ to the others that stood around it. On the floor around it was scribbled ‘United Nations of Jollof’.
For the final day, three cooks were invited to give their interpretation of jollof rice: popular food blogger, writer and photographer, Ozoz Sokoh (Kitchen Butterfly) who cooked Senegalese Jollof with Fish and vegetables; Folakunle Oshun who cooked ‘Poor Man’s Jollof’ even though there was nothing poor about it as it had every conceivable thing that could go with rice including chicken, sardines, vegetables and plantain. The third cook Roli Afinotan, who runs a commercial kitchen, prepared Coconut Jollof Rice with Beef and Shrimp Sauce.
All meals were prepared using the traditional method of cooking, firewood which is said to add a special flavor to the food.
Speaking about the argument and controversy that surrounds the origin of the much loved food in West Africa, Ozoz said that jollof rice comes from the Wolof people, an ethnic group in Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania. “Jollof rice is eaten in most West African countries but with slight variations as you travel through these countries. These variations are mostly procedural differences. What cannot be disputed though are the ingredients. They are a common denominator in all countries and these are rice, tomatoes, pepper, onions and seasonings,” she said.
Food is certainly a crowd draw and the gate fee attached to the event did not keep the numbers down as people milled around having discussions, others assisted the cooks in the meal preparations. The arena resembled a village centre as music played in the background and zobo drink made the rounds.
“I don’t know why we keep arguing over whose jollof is better. I have tasted all three that was prepared here and they’re all quite delicious,” one of the guests said and others shared her sentiments. And in true Nigerian style, small packs of takeaways made their way into bags, to be relished at home.
Written by Roli Afinotan
Photos courtesy Roli Afinotan and Ozoz Sokoh