Jollof rice, West Africa.
Here’s a dish you will find across the world, even if you don’t realise it. You’ve eaten jambalaya in the US? Or Charleston red rice? Maybe arroz rojo in Mexico? Or pretty much anything in the Bahia state of Brazil? Then you’ve eaten jollof rice, or at least the dishes influenced by jollof rice, and by the West Africans forcibly transported to those areas as slaves. Jollof rice in its original form, as you would suspect, is a rice dish, distinctive for the red colour that it gets from ingredients such as tomato paste and red capsicum. The rice is also cooked with oil, onions, garlic, ginger, curry powder, dried thyme and stock, and served with a variety of meats, though most commonly fish or chicken. The recipes vary across West Africa – but we’ll get to that in a second.
The commonly told history of jollof rice is that it originated in the 14th century in what was then the Jolof Empire, which spanned parts of what is now Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania. Makes sense. Only, there’s a small problem, because many of the key ingredients – tomatoes, capsicums, curry powder, thyme, and even Asian rice varieties – weren’t cultivated or imported into West Africa until the 19th century. So, while Senegal is still seen as the birthplace of what would go on to become jollof rice, the dish has evolved separately in the likes of Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Cameroon.
If you find yourself in Lagos, Nigeria, then make your way to the ever-popular Yellow Chilli Restaurant, well known for its Nigerian-style jollof rice.