The Judges Notes: How Nigeria Won the Jollof Wars of 2017

In the battle for Best Jollof, Nigeria was  redeemed.

For many Nigerians, the New York leg of the Jollof Festival held in Dumbo last year was the chance to prove their prowess in a competition that had seen lots of debate since they won the title in the initial DC Jollof Festival. For others, New York was the perfect platform to grab the title from a country that had won when faced with with fewer opponents (in DC, both Ghanaian vendors had sold out their jollof rice by the time the judges came around to taste, Senegal had also run out of food by the time the judges came around).

That fateful Sunday, we hosted more than 1,200 jollof-aholics who were as excited about the diverse Jollof dishes represented as they were about seeing which country would win the Jollof wars. The Akokonante Cultural Group was on hand to give participants a traditional welcome feel with cultural drumming. The Ankara Bazaar lounge was live with colorful Afrocentric inspired clothing, jewelry, bed sets, and accessories. New and well-recognized African print vendors like Disapora Africa. Freshly Brewed Collective also set up an artist’s view featuring local notable artists like ikeslimster who were showcasing work and doing live paintings.

But the at the soul of the event was the jollof competition, and this round was a West African showdown with Cameroon, CIV, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra-Leone, and Senegal in the running. Samples were passed and the judges came around. In the end, they made their choice and Nigeria sealed their claim to the title.

The Jollof Wars is a friendly competition that Africans take very seriously so we made sure to select a panel of independent judges to make the final call. Here’s what some of the judges had to say about their voting process:

Judges notes

 

My judgement was based on the three criteria that were set: presentation, taste, and originality. I was impressed by the jollof from the Ghanaian chef. I still think she nailed it. She had a better presentation, better taste, and she added her own way of making that food with special ingredients, spices, and fragrance. I chose Ghana’s joloff  as the winner although other judges didn’t agree with me. But I agreed with the final decision which made the Nigerian chef the winner. He might have won because of the presentation and doing it the way his grandma was doing. I would definitely order or recommend the Ghanaians jollof  for myself or friends.” — Eric Kpakpo, entrepreneur and proud champion of the cuisine of his home country, the Central African Republic. He organized C.A.R.’s first national food festival as well as its first national culinary competition.

I was a little bit surprised by the winner. I thought the other judges would pick Ghana — and I think two of them did, and two of us had Ghana and Nigeria tied. The fifth judge (from a neutral country) gave Ghana a shockingly low score on the originality metric, and that was the difference. Nigeria won by just a couple of points. A tie would have been a totally fair outcome, in my opinion.” — Charles Biblio, American foodie and creator of the United Nations of Food project, which documents his attempt to eat meals from every nation of the world without leaving NYC.

I was a little bit surprised by the winner. I thought the other judges would pick Ghana — and I think two of them did, and two of us had Ghana and Nigeria tied. The fifth judge (from a neutral country) gave Ghana a shockingly low score on the originality metric, and that was the difference. Nigeria won by just a couple of points. A tie would have been a totally fair outcome, in my opinion.” — Charles Biblio, American foodie and creator of the United Nations of Food project, which documents his attempt to eat meals from every nation of the world without leaving NYC.

 

“Since I don’t eat jollof rice every day, I voted for the one I would be happiest having ordered at an African restaurant. Ultimately, they were all delicious, and it was great to have the opportunity to experience the minor, and sometimes the major, differences side-by-side explained.” — John Wang, founder of the Queens International Night Market.

 

“For Jollof, taste and texture are King. The most important thing in my opinion is for a spice and flavor profile that keeps the palate calling back for more and for the rice to be just soft enough for easy bites without being too oily. I enjoyed tasting the variations of jollof and in the end, for various reasons, three of the countries were tied for their high marks in various categories. The flavor of the Liberian Just Jollof was out of bounds delicious and they received almost a perfect score in that area. While I did not get much heat, they found ways to incorporate bold flavor. Ghana’s jollof was unique and delicious. I loved tasting the hint of warm spices in there and the texture was perfect. Nigeria’s jollof was very well presented and had a strong touch of seafood that is authentic. I had to give a special nod to Senegal for real originality, represented by Nafi’s Original!! She did it her way, giving a nod to her own blended roots in Senegal and Mauritius.

All in all, as a champion of Pan-African cuisine, it was enjoyable to experience the bounty of our continent, using the simple things like rice to create variations of culinary heaven on earth.  Looking forward to next time!” — Grace Odogbili, a Nigerian-American chef based in Brooklyn, NY.

For now, Nigeria gets to keep the bragging rights, but like they say, nothing lasts forever. Sign up for the upcoming Jollof Festivals in NYC, DC, ATL & the UK where once again, we’ll battle it out to see which country’s jollof rice will come out on top.

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