Jollof Wars: Reflections on the Ghana – Nigeria culinary debate

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The first time I experienced what would become a recurrent, if periodically heated, debate was back home in Atlanta. A few years ago, I introduced a friend to another. One was Nigerian; the other, Ghanaian. No sooner had I finished the introduction than the popular question came in; “have you tried exceptional Ghanaian Jollof?” Well, that simple line of statement kick started a series of back and forth debate, laughter, occasional jabs and my desire to try both food, preferably in the respective countries.

That desire, an increasing interest in West African history and a short stint with a multilateral institution led me on my first trip to Nigeria. A couple of months later, I visited Ghana as part of a small group travelling with Nugwa Journeys. I had gotten enough opportunity to taste Nigerian jollof. I thought I might explore Ghana, try the country’s famed foods, and learn more about its history and culture.

We did visit a range of restaurants, ranging from upscale places like the West-Africa themed Buka to the famous Frankie’s on Oxford Street in Osu. We tried everything from the jollof to light soup, wakye, kelewele (fried plantains), and fufu among others. It was good. You bet it had to be! Our trip led us across more than three regions and one could feel the gradual variation in the taste and look of the food, including the much debated Ghanaian jollof. You would think it all tasted same. Sigh.

That’s one thing you notice quickly in both countries. There’s a rich diversity in culinary offerings, and it varies across regions, and maybe restaurants. But I’ll save my verdict for now. Suffice to say that one thing that remained consistent with all the restaurants we visited in Ghana was the add-on to the jollof; the shito, a small soup that was quite spicy. This was absent in Nigerian restaurants. Winks.

While we did visit many restaurants (upscale and chop bars), my favorite restaurant for jollof turned out to be Didipa Locals, a small mid-scale outlet in the quiet neighborhood of Labone in Accra. While I have no standards in how a quality West African food should taste, I admired the down-to-earth and somewhat original nature of the setting. I had jollof rice with goat meat. And I went back during my free time. It just felt special, even without the upscale design of the expensive restaurants. Back to the Ghana vs Nigeria jollof debate. 

I loved my time in both countries. I learned a lot about Ghana and West Africa by visiting historically important places, including the Elmina and Cape Coast castles. I had sumptuous meals, especially at my favorite restaurant. When I got back home, I told my friends what I thought of the debate. First, I love both. Secondly, within each country, there was a lot of variation in how jollof tasted. But I enjoyed all. Especially at my favorite spot.

Overall it was a nice experience and I’m glad I visited Ghana. Hopefully I’ll contribute more positively to the debate when my friends get at it again!   

Nugwa & Co. designs private luxury trips to interesting locations across West Africa. Learn more about us at https://nugwa.com/

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