Google Doodle celebrates jollof rice: What is the dish and what are its origins?

The doodle was made by Nigerian content creator and visual artist Haneefah Adam (Google)
The doodle was made by Nigerian content creator and visual artist Haneefah Adam (Google)

Today, Google celebrates West African dish jollof rice, with a Google Doodle. Jollof rice is a unifying dish originally from Senegal but also made in countries like Nigeria and Ghana, simmered in reduced tomatoes, onions, peppers, and regional spices.

So, who makes the best jollof?

Jollof rice has created a longstanding (humorous and lighthearted) rivalry between Nigerian and Ghanaian variations. For example, Nigerians use long-grain rice that absorbs more spices, while Ghanaians use basmati rice with a more aromatic flavour. But it is also a dish that unifies people among the West African diaspora.

Although jollof rice was traditionally cooked with fish for dinner, Africans today also enjoy this savoury dish with chicken, beef, or goat.

Why is jollof rice being celebrated today and what are its origins?

On this day each year, rice farmers plant and reap a generous harvest, and cooks across West Africa prepare to make fresh jollof. Also known as benachin and thieboudienne, jollof rice is a one-pot meal that originated from the Wolof tribe in the 14th century. The Wolof Empire, ruling parts of modern-day Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania, popularised jollof throughout West Africa.

For the doodle, Nigerian content creator and visual artist Haneefah Adam created a stop-motion animation video showing the preparation of jollof rice. She shares her thoughts behind the making of the doodle with Google in this Q+A:

Q. What were your first thoughts when you were approached about working on this Doodle?

A: I was very excited. It was a big deal and a wonderful opportunity to have my work on the Google homepage!

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of creating a stop-motion animation? Is it challenging working with food?

A: Creating stop-motion animation with food is challenging because you want to capture food in its best form and, most of the time, the form changes.

For example, when food dries up, the colour changes (this means, you’d have to work very fast!). Also, the lighting has to be right and consistent throughout the shoot.

I first drew a sketch to plan how the final form should look and then proceeded to roughly animate (just to see how it would turn out before starting the real shoot).

Stop-motion requires intricacy and is labour-intensive but it is really unique and fascinating.

Q. Is there a message you hope people take away from the Doodle?

A: This is a celebration of culture — not just my culture, but of everyone who recognises food as a conduit. The diversity of how we approach food is really interesting — like how the preparation of jollof is different in Nigeria vs Senegal (they even have different names).

This just goes to show the richness and beauty of our collective culture as a continent.

Q. Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

A: Creativity is bottomless. One of the great things about the human race is how much we can create and refresh from a finite number of resources.

Jollof is food but, at the same time, is art. Think about the precision of the combinations required to make good jollof. And then think about how a good piece of art comes together.

It’s been a privilege to shine a light on this aspect of my culture with food and I hope to be able to continue to share beautiful stories out of Nigeria.