I never thought I would write on Jollof rice mainly because I believed I was jinxed.
The first time I stumbled upon jollof rice was around 2010. Before then I do not really have any memory of seeing or eating rice at all. I have 2 main rice memories that stick out and the first one was when I ate rice and stew for the first time. I remember the moment I saw it fondly. The white rice was in a mound and there was a summit of deep reddish brown sauce on the top. I was not sure how to approach it as the sauce seemed far off and somehow confused of its existence on the plate. As I went to mix the stew in with the rice it stuck to the spoon and I noticed a puddle of orange oil below it. The flavor was greater than any rice or stew I had tried previously. Up until that point I just assumed that stew was supposed to be a light orange to orange red color.
Jollof rice for me was the thing that I went to parties for. I never liked parties because of the crowd but the rice and puff puff always made it worth it. During my childhood I can not remember a time where jollof rice was made at home. The first time I had memorable jollof rice was at my moms’ friends house. For the first time, I could almost swear that I was eating the essence of smoke. With each bite I could feel the experience in the hand that made it. From that moment I was hooked. Jollof rice went from a ceremonious food to comfort food. I ate it to feel alive. I ate it when I felt sad. I ate it when I felt lonely.
Naturally I tried my hand at it a few times. Each time the results were more and more disappointing. One time I ended up with a melange of raw and cooked rice. Other times, I ended up with a flavorless porridge that I would pass off as risotto. Eventually I just assumed that I was jinxed. My hand was just not made for jollof rice and I was alright with that. For the longest time it caused me pain but I set a date. I wanted to have the ability to construct party jollof rice by the age of 40. For some reason I assumed that time would force my skills to develop.
Last week I realized that I was not jinxed. For some reason I ended up at the Kitchen Butterfly’s table with Imoteda as she got ready for world jollof rice day. She was testing a recipe that was going up on Food 52 and that led to making a batch of J rice at 10pm. I had no intention of learning anything but by osmosis I noticed all my mistakes at the same time. Believe it or not, I could not believe that I had not seen it sooner. Good rice has its texture because it was cooked on low heat. High heat ensures that you end up with rice and stew. The low heat forces the sauce to interact with the rice in a way where it jollofs (process of ordinary rice and stew becomes jollof rice). Alas the jinx was broken. I knew what to do but the simple step of turning down the heat was lost in my learning process.
I can not even lie. I still have a long way to go as far as my personal jollof journey goes. There are many subtle techniques that need to be mastered but I am now a loyal student. I now know that I am not jinxed but that means that my journey of growth can now begin. I still have 16 years to master it.
Here is a small video I put together from the world jollof rice event yesterday at whitespace. I am happy I finally got the change to meet Muslimahanie. It was an amazing event and an amazing celebration with amazing art. I can not wait till next year.