Comfort Foods: Naomi Greengold connects to her Nigerian heritage through jollof rice

The spicy dish is a reminder of family and childhood

Comfort Foods is a Life section series highlighting AU students and the food that reminds them of home and heritage.

Once a semester throughout her freshman year at American University, Naomi Greengold’s mom would make the nearly hour-long trek from Ellicott City, Maryland to campus to bring Greengold a piece of home — jollof rice.

Now a sophomore living at home during the virtual semester, Greengold reflected on what the dish means to her Nigerian heritage and family.

Jollof is a rice dish with seasonings and a pepper-based sauce with vegetables. Growing up, Greengold’s mom used to make the dish regularly, sometimes adding fried plantains or fufu. Before she lived in Ellicott City, her family lived much closer to African stores where the ingredients were plentiful. Now, a bit further away, her mom only makes jollof rice a few times a month. 

Despite not having traveled to Nigeria, Greengold said that jollof makes her feel more connected to her culture.

Greengold said that she felt particularly proud on cultural food day in her high school world history class when she brought jollof rice for her other classmates to try. She said that she was pleasantly surprised by how excited they were.

“The funny thing is, it is a pretty spicy food, like my mom tends to tone down the spice if she makes it for other people,” Greengold said. “But they … [wanted] the full experience, and so they're eating it and crying because it’s so spicy.”

Greengold has also had opportunities to connect to her heritage at AU. While she hasn’t visited any Nigerian restaurants in D.C., it’s on her bucket list to do before graduating. Since coming to college, Greengold said that she has loved meeting other first generation African students.

“It’s kind of a bonding experience when I meet other people from Nigeria or even other West African countries,” Greengold said. “There's a running joke between different West African countries, like whose jollof rice is better.”

She recalled one instance during her freshman year when her mom visited and brought jollof, and they met with another student who was Nigerian. Greengold said that it was nice to see the student and her mom speak to each other in Yoruba, a West African language.

Greengold hasn’t tried to make jollof on her own yet: “I feel like I’m probably never gonna make it as good as my mom.” 

Regardless, the dish is something that will forever serve as a reminder for Greengold of her family and Nigerian culture.

cmulroy@theeagleonline.com 

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