Spice and all things rice

La­gos pays homage to Nige­ria’s na­tional sta­ple jollof

Global Times - Weekend - - DINING - AFP

In Nige­ria, jollof rice isn’t just a tasty West African dish – it’s a na­tional ob­ses­sion. Dozens of top chefs gath­ered at the week­end for La­gos’ in­au­gu­ral jollof fes­ti­val, show­cas­ing their per­sonal twists on the tangy toma­toey rice to a crowd of hun­dreds of hun­gry hip­sters.

Imoteda Aladekomo, a 31-year-old chef who has been mak­ing jollof for four years, has led the way in rein­vent­ing the na­tional sta­ple, creat­ing sev­eral pi­o­neer­ing vari­ants through her com­pany Eko Street Eats.

“It’s so pop­u­lar be­cause it’s easy to cus­tom­ize,” she said while pre­par­ing take-away boxes at the jollof fair, staged at a for­mer rail­way yard com­plete with dis­used train tracks, blar­ing Nigerian mu­sic and a gi­ant ver­sion of Scrabble.

“Rice is re­ally easy to get here whereas other in­gre­di­ents aren’t. Ev­ery party has to have jollof rice and ev­ery Sun­day peo­ple will have it, hav­ing looked for­ward to it all week,” she added, her plas­tic gloves caked in rice.

“Jollof rice will al­ways reign supreme – even com­pared to McDon­ald’s or what­ever, your jollof rice cap­tures peo­ple’s child­hoods.”

Her flag­ship ver­sion, deep- fried in bread­crumbs and served with plan­tain sauce and a fiery red pep­per coulis, drew a steady stream of jollof afi­ciona­dos.

‘Lit­er­ally ob­sessed’

Mo Ala­tise, a self-taught chef, also drew a crowd with her dis­tinc­tive fu­sion-style jollof of­fer­ings. “We try to do a mix of re­ally lo­cal recipes, but I imag­ine it with things from other coun­tries – like very tra­di­tional gnoc­chi from Italy with jollof,” the 30-year-old said. “Or a rice bowl from Asia – but in­stead of white rice, I made it with jollof,” she said, wear­ing over­sized sun­glasses and a hat dec­o­rated with a feather. “I’ve been to Italy and I read and re­searched a lot. It’s lit­er­ally our sta­ple, we’re so proud it’s the na­tion’s fa­vorite dish. We’re lit­er­ally ob­sessed.” The ori­gins of the dis­tinc­tive, de­cep­tively sim­ple dish are hotly con­tested. The word jollof is re­lated to “Wollof,” a lan­guage spo­ken in Sene­gal where the dish is also pop­u­lar. As well as Nige­ria and Sene­gal, vari­ants of the recipe are en­joyed across West Africa. “There’s this big bat­tle about where it came from. I’ve tried jollof from Sene­gal and it wasn’t great. I think ours is best – but I’m a lit­tle bi­ased,” said Ala­tise. But the di­vi­sions were set aside in 2014 when Bri­tish celebrity chef Jamie Oliver adapted the lo­cal fa­vorite with alien in­gre­di­ents in­clud­ing pars­ley and lemon – in­spir­ing Ozoz Sokoh, a La­gos food blog­ger, to set up the fes­ti­val this year.

‘You can­not col­o­nize our plates’

“There was this whole brouhaha when Jamie Oliver made it and it didn’t look like jollof,” said Sokoh, a 42-yearold ge­ol­o­gist and author of the Kitchen But­ter­fly blog.

“De­spite the jollof wars be­tween Ghana and Nige­ria they came to­gether to say, ‘You can­not colonise our plates.’”

The “jollof wars” reached fever pitch last year when Ghana­ian singer Sis­ter Deb­o­rah re­leased a song called “Ghana Jollof” that ac­cused the Nigerian recipe of “tast­ing funny.”

Con­tro­ver­sies aside, Sokoh said the univer­sal af­fec­tion for the dish helps to unite the Nigerian di­as­pora and peo­ple with West African roots around the world.

“It brings many coun­tries to­gether – it’s not just West Africa, but coun­tries where the slaves went, like the Amer­i­can south and parts of Mex­ico,” she said.

And while food de­liv­ery ser­vices of­fer­ing in­ter­na­tional fa­vorites like sushi and pizza are ex­pand­ing rapidly in Nige­ria’s big cities, jollof has re­tained a spe­cial place in the hearts of the coun­try’s huge youth pop­u­la­tion.

“Most of us young peo­ple for­get about our tra­di­tional food,” said Jane Ibitola, a 32-year-old fi­nan­cial ad­viser from south­ern oil city of Port Har­court.

“But when­ever you move away from it, you cher­ish it again.”

Pho­tos: CFP

Women hug be­side letters read­ing “Jollof,” a pop­u­lar dish in Nige­ria dur­ing the Jollof rice fes­ti­val in La­gos, Nige­ria on Au­gust 20. Top: Peo­ple sit wait­ing to be served jollof ri­cein La­gos, on Au­gust 20.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.