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Ghana Nigeria Jollof Saga: A Tale of Love and Hate

If the continent of Africa was one big extended family, Ghana and Nigeria would be the two siblings who are always at loggerheads with each other but somehow, still found in each other’s company almost all the time.

If the continent of Africa was one big extended family,Ghana and Nigeria would be the two siblings who are always at loggerheads with each other but somehow, still found in each other’s company almost all the time. Woe betides anyone who approaches either sibling in the offensive because both would drop their squabble with each other and attack that unsuspecting stranger. This affectionate rivalry between the two countries spans across many different topics/areas but the most heated of all, is the debate about which country prepares the best jollof rice, also known as the Ghana/Naija jollof wars.

Jolof rice, fondly called jollof is a popular West African rice dish that has its roots in the ancient empire of Djolof (present day Senegal). Referred to as thieboudienne by its original culinarians, the meal consisted mainly of rice, fish, shellfish and vegetables. But as migration would have it, jollof has now come to have many different variations, with alterations to the recipe that differ from one household to another. The meal is usually complimented with protein, vegetables, and fruits, depending on what is preferred, or what is popular in the region. Even though the recipe has been modified many times, everywhere it has been, its chief ingredient of tomato sauce which gives it its delicious orangey-red colour that makes it unique, remains a constant. From the time of the migration of the Djollof peoples into various West African regions, to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, through colonialism and independence, jollof has become a cherished dish all across West Africa. Jollof has found its way into the heart of the rest of the world also, through West Africans in the diaspora. Much so, that on various social media platforms, diasporans can be found in the most entertaining threads, fanning the flames of this never-ending Ghana-Naija jollof war. So which jollof, really, is the superior jollof? Talking to proponents from both sides of the argument, their “beef” with each other is based mostly on the style of preparation and the type of rice used. Of course, there is always the initial acknowledgement of the fact that jollof, whether it is from Nigeria or Ghana is still the same jollof. The contradicting “but…” then comes right after to express all the ways in which the other jollof is inferior. One of the ways which the contending parties use to gauge each other is the type of rice used. Nigerians use sturdy, long-grained rice while Ghanaians use the smaller grained the basmati rice. While the long grains have a good flavour absorbing quality, the basmati rice has its own aroma which adds extra flavour to the dish. In talking about their rice choices, proponents on the Ghanaian side argue that the Nigerian long grain rice is not the right kind because it takes so much time to cook. On the Nigerian side, they argue also that the Ghanaian choice is wrong because it becomes mushy like potor-potor when you add just a little bit of water. But perhaps this particular point of argument exists because neither party has the tacit knowledge needed on how to prepare each other’s type of rice? Whether the choice of rice is right or wrong, one thing that’s certain is, both Ghanaians and Nigerians have greater love for jollof than their hate for each other’s version of jollof. If I’m not being exaggerative, both parties might rather even eat each other’s version of jollof than try something else that is entirely foreign to what they already know exists. In 2014, internationally renowned British chef, Jamie Oliver shared his attempt at on his website. On seeing his recipe which contained parsley, lemon, and a few other entirely foreign ingredients to the traditional recipe, Nigerians and Ghanaians, and other West Africans in the diaspora flew into a rage and started an online protest, launching such hilarious hashtags as #jollofgate, #bringbackourjollof #deathbylemons. Even more rib racking are the memes and comments that these upset jollof lovers shared on social media in protest to Oliver’s jollof. If there’s anything to learn about Ghana and Nigeria from their jollof wars, it is that the relationship between both countries is one that balances itself on the kind of love that grows between two people from their shared experiences. Though they might have differences and even conflicts sometimes, their bond still remains strong because they have been in each other’s shoes, so they can also always relate with each other.