Jollof Wars: The Dispute Surrounding This West African Rice Dish

For years there has been a war being waged in West Africa. A war over who makes the region's best jollof rice.

According to The Food Network, jollof rice is a tomato and rice-based entree that is available throughout the region. The dish has inspired some heated debates over which African country's version is supreme, with Senegal, Liberia, Ghana, and Nigeria all claiming to sit atop the jollof throne.

Much like the similar biryani (from India), or Spain's paella, there are a ton of varying opinions about what goes into a "proper" jollof rice (via BBC). The most consistent ingredient seems to be the tomato base, but even the type of rice used changes between countries. Food Network says that Senegalese jollof is most often made with "broken rice," while Ghana prefers to use basmati, and Nigeria opts for long grain rice. More often than not, Ghanaian and Nigerian jollof are made with a mixture of curry spices and meat with optional additions of hot peppers like habanero or scotch bonnet. Senegal on the other hand prefers to use ingredients like fish, vegetables, and fermented conch.

The Food Network notes that jollof was originally developed in Senegal by the Wollof (or jollof) Empire which ruled the country in the 14th century. The original dish was called Thieboudienne, and was likely influenced by the region's strong rice crops. It spread then throughout the region, and began to take on new local influences everywhere it went.

Who makes the best jollof?

In recent years, jollof rice has become the focal point of a heated debate over which country makes the best version of the signature West African dish, the BBC reports. For the most part it is a lighthearted battle that is mainly fought with memes, and lengthy discussions online. Nigerian food writer Jiji Majiri Ugboma told BBC that the most intense debates in the Jollof Wars seem to occur between Ghana and Nigeria. Eater notes that this likely has more to do with the two countries — and their jollof rice — similarities than their differences.

Another likely key to the debate is that jollof rice seems to express a certain idea of home and community across the diaspora more than any other dish. It is a constant fixture at parties, festivals, holidays, and family gatherings, per Eater. Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam told the BBC that it's the type of dish where everyone claims the best they've ever had was made by their mother. The BBC notes that when celebrity chef Jamie Oliver made his own take on jollof, he was met with a unified vitriol from the normally divided fan base of the dish.

BBC reports that jollof rice has become one of the most popular African dishes to spread beyond the continent. If you're interested in trying different styles out for yourself, and pledging allegiance to one of the many countries, you can find jollof festivals and competitions in cities around the globe.