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Friendly, Delicious Rivalry Surrounding Jollof Rice


In West Africa, there's a long-running rivalry over a favorite dish of the region. It's called jollof rice. And from Senegal to Nigeria, there's a war of words over what country best prepares jollof. Here to explain is NPR's own West Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Good morning, Fei (ph).

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings (laughter).

WERTHEIMER: Now, you made me hungry talking about this. What is in jollof rice?

QUIST-ARCTON: Basic ingredients - rice, tomatoes, water, onion, salt, pepper, chili pepper. And then it becomes whatever inspires you, Linda. You can either have goat meat or beef or lamb. The Senegalese, they use fish. And it's called ceebu jen.

WERTHEIMER: What is there to argue about? Is somebody doing it more spicy, cooking it differently? What do they do?

QUIST-ARCTON: That is the real question because as you know, Linda, I come from Ghana. I travel all over the region West Africa and all over the continent. So, of course, I grew up eating my mother's jollof, but I've tasted jollof in Nigeria. I've tasted jollof ceebu jen in Senegal, where I'm based. I've tasted Sierra Leonian, Liberian. And we all fight all the time about whose is best.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter).

QUIST-ARCTON: But I have to tell you that actually, I vote for Senegalese jollof. But it's very different to the jollof we eat elsewhere in West Africa. They put everything into one pot - the rice, the fish, the huge vegetables. And we're talking about lady fingers...

WERTHEIMER: ...Okra. Okra to us.

QUIST-ARCTON: Okra. Yes, we can have okra. You can have huge carrots they also put in. And they steep everything. And it is absolutely exquisite.

WERTHEIMER: But it's not really a rivalry, is it? I mean, this is not serious in a take up arms and go after each other kind of rivalry?

QUIST-ARCTON: It's not a war. But I tell you, it's a war of words. It has become quite heated. A delectable debate, one friend calls it. A delicious discussion, another calls it. And not only West Africans enjoy it, but anyone who has tasted jollof remembers it.

WERTHEIMER: So this dish is important to the culture of West Africa, I guess.

QUIST-ARCTON: Oh yes, hugely important. What is wonderful about jollof rice is that it brings everybody together. In a way, it's a celebratory meal. You eat it at weddings. You eat it at funerals. You eat it at naming ceremonies. You eat it at parties. There's even music about it. This is Sister Deborah - she's from Ghana - talking about Ghana jollof, which she says is much better than Nigerian jollof. They're the two countries that fight the most over whatever is happening in West Africa. Have a listen.


SISTER DEBORAH: Yummy. Ghana jollof. Ghana jollof, yummy. Nigerian jollof, dear (ph), it tastes funny. Ghana jollof. Ghana jollof, yummy. Ghana jollof.

WERTHEIMER: I got yummy. And that other word, what was - how would she use the word to describe the Nigerian rice? It's sort of roughly translated as yuck, I think?

QUIST-ARCTON: Yeah, funny. She says their rice is funny. I think all the rices are good, whether they're with shrimp or prawns or fish balls or whatever. Yummy.

WERTHEIMER: You'll be doing a live interview with a chef famed for making jollof for NPR's The Salt blog. What do we hear?

QUIST-ARCTON: I believe that The Salt is going to interview a Ghanaian chef, so the Nigerian chefs are not going to be happy. And the Senegalese chefs - well, they aren't even getting into this fight. But I think it's really to continue the debate, to hear the views and, more specifically, what you put into jollof that makes it such a delicious dish.

WERTHEIMER: If I wanted to go out for jollof rice, could I do that here in the United States?

QUIST-ARCTON: Oh yes, all over. First of all, in the home of any West African family that you know, but also in all the restaurants - any good West African restaurant worth its salt will serve jollof rice.

WERTHEIMER: NPR Africa correspondent and jollof rice aficionado Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Bon appetit.



SISTER DEBORAH: When eating jollof don't use spoon, use your hands to consume. If you like, you can use fork. Jollof ready? Pop champagne cork. Ghana jollof. Ghana jollof, yummy. Ghana jollof. Ghana jollof, yummy. Ghana jollof. Ghana jollof, yummy. Nigerian jollof, dear, it tastes funny. Ghana jollof. Ghana jollof, yummy. Ghana jollof. Ghana jollof, yummy. Ghana jollof. Ghana jollof, yummy. Nigerian jollof, dear, it tastes funny. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.