Casual online research, or an ear on the floor of a West African home, will tell you that jollof rice is important. People care about the way their jollof rice is made. Their jollof rice?
There does seem to be some consensus that jollof rice is a West African thing, and that there are some ways of making it that are more correct than others. (Commenters on Jamie Oliver’s version of this popular dish will confirm this.)
But which ethnic group makes jollof rice the right way? Who authentically owns it?
Not my family in Ghana. During my first week here, I had jollof rice twice. An uncle saw me eating it one day and indignantly cried out, “You should be eating our local dishes!” This of course implied that jollof rice was not a “local” food. I soon learned that he, and the rest of my family in Ghana, do not consider jollof rice to be “local.”
This especially interested me because of the debates I have heard pitting “Ghana jollof” against “Nigeria jollof.” I guess the thing that I missed in those debates was that no group was claiming that jollof rice was their food specifically, but that their way of making it was better than the other’s.
I didn’t ever stop to think of jollof rice as not “our” food or “our” local dish because it was a non-American dish that my mom made. It necessarily then had to be Ghanaian and part of our culture.
But there is distinction. My cousin Prince once said that he can eat local foods (like the rice dish waakye) with his hands, but outside foods (like jollof) he needs to eat with utensils. It’s a feeling that goes so deep that he can taste it with his fingers as he eats.
More casual online research has taught me some things. We can trace jollof rice to the Wolof ethnic group, a group that was mostly in Senegal and spilled into Gambia. As rice and other imports came, members of the Wolof tribe, potentially the Jollof people in their midst, created the popular dish. Through trade and other means, the dish has spread throughout West Africa.
Jollof, nevertheless, is one of Loretta’s specialties, and we’re making it today.
An easy to read and helpful resource: http://www.kitchenbutterfly.com/2014/11/19/part-1-a-short-history-of-jollof-rice/