Nigeria is competing for the first time this year in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, with a bobsled team composed of Nigerian-Americans. Though bobsledding may not get a lot of press in Nigeria, we wanted to highlight this country and its food. So what is the most representative Nigerian national dish? A poll conducted this year by Pulse Magazine had readers selecting Jollof rice, whereas a poll done previously by CNN had them selecting Egusi soup. Well, we are definitely not informed enough to weigh in, so we figured we’d highlight each of these national dish rivals.
Jollof rice is a rice-based dish made with tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, hot peppers and spices, usually served with some kind of protein. Popular throughout West Africa, the recipe for Jollof Rice varies wildly depending on where you are. And of course, each country thinks that they have the best Jollof rice, and it has inspired years of heated debate (and even a rap song). In Nigeria, the dish is also typically accompanies by fried plantains and moin moin, a spicy side made from black eyed peas. You can find recipes for Jollof rice from All Nigerian Recipes, Sisi Jemimah and Ev’s Eats.
Goat Egusi with fufu by HC
Egusi soup doesn’t have as wide of a range in Africa, and is made from the ground seeds of Egusi melon, palm oil, dried fish, and leafy greens (in many cases bitterleaf). Unlike Jollof rice, Egusi may be a little harder to find, unless you live by a Nigerian market, but thank goodness for the internet. Egusi soup is usually served with fufu (boiled and pounded cassava) that helps sop up the soup. You can find recipes for Egusi soup at Demand Africa, All Nigerian Recipes, and All Nigerian Foods. Though we have tried both of these dishes, our hearts are with Jollof rice, one of our favorite West African dishes, yum! Of course, Nigerian cuisine is is full of delicious dishes, so don’t stop with just these two.
This post is particularly appropriate for the world cup since it connects host country Brazil with one of the countries playing a game today, Ghana. One of the most emblematic foods in Brazil, especially in the Northeast of the country, is acarajé, which we have written about extensively for this blog. However its roots are in Africa, and brought and adapted by enlaved Africans brought from West Africa to Brazil. Both Nigeria and Ghana have a dish called acara/akara, which is very similar to acarajé, and all variants are fritters made from black eyed peas. Betumi blog and Kitchen Butterfly have recipes for akara, which definitely seem similar to acarajé. However, akara is typically eating for a snack or breakfast, while acarajé is more of a later-in-the-day snack. Another difference is that, in Nigeria, the akara fritters may be fried in vegetable oil, while in Brazil it is always the bright-red palm oil – our favorite!We love acarajé, so we assume we would be fond of its predecessors as well.
Acarajé with dried shrimp from Cida in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
3346 N Clark St
Bolat has been around for awhile, but the the slick redesign is much newer. The walls are a rich red and brown and there is an oversized mural on each wall, very different from the simple stark mom-and-pop restaurants that are the familiar faces of international food in Chicago. Located in Lakeview, Bolat features Nigerian, Kenyan and some popular-pan African dishes. Our waitress suggested that we each should order 2-3 dishes, but we think she may have undersold the size of the dishes…. If we had followed her advice – I think we would have each had enough food for the week. For the three of us, we ordered 3 entrees and 2 appetizers.
We started out with Fried plantain with peanut sauce ($6) and Fried yuca with 3 sauces ($10). The fried plantain was amazing, and yuca tasted like a particularly starchy version of french fries. For our entrees we chose Peanut Soup over fufu with fish ($12), Yellow Goat Curry ($16 – with a little kick of heat) and Jolloff rice with goat ($18). Jolloff rice, made with onions and tomato, is a standard go-to order to gauge how good a west African restaurant is. The Jolloff rice we sampled at Bolat was excellent, and we were very pleased.
We also sampled an interesting dessert – a very strong hibiscus cordial – kind of like a beefed up Jamaica. There had been some complaints about the painfully slow service, but we found it to be perfectly pleasant, though it should also be noted that we were not in any sort of rush. Though it is a little pricey, Bolat is a good place to explore West African food in Chicago, and newbies will be tempted by the convenient location.