My food, my heritage, my history

Nigerian jollof rice

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From a casual lunch with friends to a family birthday party, all the way to a wedding menu, jollof has always been a unifying dish across Nigeria. It’s been used as the main dish in celebrations and its rich flavours always seem to bring the whole community together. At its core lie three main ingredients: rice, tomato and seasoning, although additional ingredients such as vegetables can often be added to the main recipe to further enhance the flavour. In my experience, every jollof recipe has varied from family to family and so the taste can range from sweet to spicy. But, the main thing binding all the ingredients together is the rich, flavourful tomato base which is traditionally left to simmer for hours and allowed to stew before the rice is added in, hence why it has such a deep flavour. In my family, we usually eat jollof during celebrations such as Christmas or Easter, in addition to also having it regularly on Sundays. Whilst jollof on its own is great, it’s the combination with other foods that really makes it special. As shown in the picture, usually we would have the rice alongside salad, plantain and chicken, or assorted meat and fish. Jollof means enjoyment and this celebrational food has been passed down through generations to today, where it’s now Nigeria’s national dish.

Ghanaian jollof rice

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The most debated West African food, which has managed to separate people for as long as I can remember, has to be the special delicacy called jollof rice. Originally from Senegal, taking its name from the Wolof tribe, this delicious dish made with rice, tomatoes and various spices has become extremely popular even in the diaspora. Ghanaians and Nigerians have been contending for decades over who makes the best jollof, and though I might be biased due to my own origins, I have to say, Ghana jollof is by far superior to any other. There have even been many competitions throughout the years to settle this everlasting dispute. The most recent one was the Onga Jollof Battle, which took place in Accra, and Ghana was crowned the winner in 2019. Despite causing a lot of agitation, jollof rice is also a celebratory food. It defines West African heritage for many people, representing a link to the traditional way of living that we don’t get to experience from outside of our parents’ countries. What some people may dismiss as just a plate of colourful rice has been an intrinsic part of my childhood. To this day, it connects me to my roots and I have many fond memories attached to it. This experience is certainly one I hope to pass forward to my children and hopefully, they too will defend Ghana jollof, as I have.

What some people may dismiss as just a colourful rice has been an intrinsic part of my childhood.

Taste of Cabo Verde

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My heritage hails from the shores of West Africa, Cabo Verde, an archipelago of ten islands barely visible on a world map and even less so in the consciousness of the rest of the world. Despite our small population, our cultural cuisine is still as rich as that of nations triple its size. Food is an integral part of being Cape Verdean as it serves to connect our large diaspora; more Cape Verdeans live abroad than in Cape Verde itself. Food is also an important part of our collective cultural identity: growing up, cooking together with my mum and tias was instrumental in forging relationships and passing recipes down. I have strong memories associated with the food I was surrounded with growing up: leftover catchupa (the national dish of Cabo Verde, made from a mix of maize, yams, plantains and more) refogada with a fried egg, is tied to the comfort of a lazy Sunday morning. Also, Feijoada, a hearty bean stew associated with joy and familiarity. It is a staple at any large family gathering, paired with varieties of rice brought by each household. With a fraught history of slavery and colonialism, Cape Verdeans have had to build up our culture from the fragments of our stolen ancestors’ previous ancestral lands combined with Portugal’s colonial influence. The result is a hybrid Afro-European cuisine filled with comfort, heartiness, and a culture equating food (and its preparation) to love and survival.

Images (from top): and Juju Soares

One thought on “My food, my heritage, my history

  • Thank you for bringing the Cape Verdean food – Our Katxupa ou catxupa, ou Mantxupa our main dish! Our Katxupa can be be prepared in many different ways, flavors and tastes depending who os preparing it and what one has available. Katxupa rafugadu for breakfast!!!

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