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Chef Saikou Bojang - Creator of the best Jollof Rice in Africa

My Magazine 2023/09
16 min
We are honoured to present our international award-winning culinary hero, Chef Saikou Bojang, who led his team to victory in the West African Food Festival & Competition 2023. The contest was held from August 9 to August 14 in Lagos, Nigeria and hosted by the Associations of Chefs in West Africa.

Chef Bojang and his team bagged the awards in the Jollof and Vegan categories, defeating the other participants from Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia.

Jollof Rice, also known as Benachin in The Gambia, is believed to have originated in the Senegambian region, which comprises The Gambia and Senegal, but now it is prepared in other West African countries like Ghana and Nigeria.

Chef Bojang believes in being original and making the dish authentic. He says variations of Benachin are available with ingredients like curry, coconut milk or lemongrass, but the dish loses its originality. His advice is to stick to the original recipe and ingredients to get a dish that tastes authentic. Chef Bojang says originality was the winning factor in the competition.

Benachin or Jollof rice can be prepared in four different ways, and if done right, each version will be different in terms of texture, colour and flavour.

The other award-winning dish in the Vegan Category was Garlic and Sea Salt Poached Courgette Boat, filled with creamy vegetables and coconut cream served with rosemary and ginger-infused rice. However, according to Chef Bojang, making a vegan dish was challenging as it is a plant-based dish without any meat or meat products. But he has proved that hard work and perseverance can overcome any obstacle.

When asked why people sometimes confuse Benachin with Dahin, Chef Bojang stated that Dahin and Benachin are two completely different dishes. Dahin doesn't have the characteristics of Benachin because it has groundnuts and is cooked differently. The technique may be similar, but Dahin is a peanut butter-based dish.

What makes Gambian Benachin different from that of other West African countries is its history. This dish originated from the Jollof Empire of the Senegambian Region, which included Senegal and The Gambia. Hence, we can proudly claim that the Jollof Rice is a part of Gambian culture and tradition.

The idea behind this festival and competition was to bring countries together through food by exchanging cultural heritage and food experiences between the regions. It also opened up doors for networking and sharing knowledge, experience and expertise.

Since 2019, when this competition first started, Gambian dishes have emerged as winners. In 2019, the Goron Soup won the Best Starter in Ghana. The other dishes presented were Domoda(Groundnut Stew), Yassa(Meat/Chicken in an onion-based sauce), and, for dessert, Chura Gherte, a peanut pudding.

According to Chef Bojang, The Gambia should promote its cuisine more than its sun, sand and beach, which is available in other countries, but Gambian cuisine is unique and only available in The Gambia.

If you would like to taste Chef Bojang's authentic Gambian dishes, you can do so at his restaurant in Kololi called The Spice Hub.

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