Wednesday 30 June 2021

Meals on (Two) Wheels: Accra Palace in Upper Clapton

Who cares where jollof rice comes from when the food is this good?

The Third World War – if ever there is another one, that is – won’t start over oil or territories. No, the next world conflict will probably kick off over the provenance of one of Africa’s most delicious and emblematic dishes: jollof rice.

The coordinates we can agree on: West Africa. We can also trace its roots back to the Senegambia region, in the ancient Wolof or Jolof (see?) empire. But that’s about it. Things get a bit murky thereafter. Senegalese, Gambians, Cameroonians, Liberians, Nigerians and Ghanaians all claim ownership of this iconic recipe.

Accra Palace on Upper Clapton Road is not interested in murkiness. Its business is food. And food – good food – is what it delivers. Over time I’ve become a regular, especially when my former favourite Ghanaian restaurant, Rebecca’s in Edmonton (Enfield), is no longer within easy reach.

The dish in question (photo by the author)
The restaurant’s location is excellent. Sandwiched between Stamford Hill’s long-established Orthodox Jewish community and an already hipster-driven, gentrified Hackney, Accra Palace adds a multicultural touch to what used to be a rather drab, drive-through area.

What I love about Accra Palace is both its service and grub. Both come with a smile. My usual fix is jollof rice, fried chicken and plantain. The rice is loose and soft. I once asked one of the staff at Accra Palace what type of rice they used and she told me that they favoured long grain rice (Thai or jasmine).

The other element that makes jollof rice such a distinctive West African staple is its spice mix. In the Ghanaian version warm spices are used most of the time. This means clove, nutmeg or cinnamon. Something else that sets Ghanaians apart from other jollof rice-consuming West African countries is their use of the same protein stock (beef or chicken, for instance) to simmer their dish.

None of the above answers the one million-dollar question: where does jollof rice come from? But as long as we have places like Accra Palace, the provenance is irrelevant. Only the food – and good food at that – matters.


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