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West Oakland’s New Nigerian Spot and the Power of Jollof Rice

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Takeout container of jollof rice topped with plantains and baked chicken
Jollof rice topped with plantains, kale, shrimp, and baked chicken. (Luke Tsai)

Jollof rice might be West Africa’s most famous dish—the smoky, spicy, tomato-tinged pride and joy of countless households across Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. In the Bay Area, however, the dish is still a relative rarity. So when a new Nigerian takeout spot called Jolly-Jolly Coffee & Kitchen opened in West Oakland last month, it was happy news for jollof rice lovers across the Bay—and, really, for anyone who appreciates well-spiced food. 

Located in a former pupusa shop across the street from the West Oakland BART station, Jolly-Jolly specializes in what chef-owner Jahswill Ukagumaoha describes as street foods. These were the kinds of inexpensive dishes that Ukagumaoha survived on when he was a university student in Nigeria. He serves a fiery suya chicken skewer that he bakes in the oven. A breakfast plate features Indomie, Nigeria’s most popular brand of instant noodle. 

Overhead view of jollof Indomie: Indomie instant noodles tossed with vegetables and topped with plantains and scrambled egg
Indomie jollof: a classic breakfast for thrifty Nigerian university students. (Luke Tsai)

But the star of the menu is that orange-tinted jollof rice, which is available in several different configurations, topped with oxtails or stewed goat meat or even kale. It’s a family recipe, passed down from the chef’s mother. (As Ukagumaoha quips, “Who would teach a male child how to cook if not your mother?”) In fact, the chef had been making jollof for years, but he says it never tasted quite right until recently, when his mother divulged her secret ingredient.  

More Jollof Rice

Of course, Ukagumaoha won’t say what that ingredient is. But the results speak for themselves: His jollof is packed with umami and fiery enough to make you break a sweat. It’s nearly impossible to stop eating. Of particular note is an extra-savory version that’s topped with kale and shrimp, both tossed in a potent shrimp-based sauce—an original creation, Ukagumaoha says, that adds a little bit of California flair to the traditional party dish.

Ukagumaoha helped run a small restaurant during his university days in Nsukka, Nigeria. After moving to the Bay Area in 2014, he worked mostly in the nonprofit sector for various housing programs. During the pandemic, however, after other job contracts had run their course, Ukagumaoha started thinking seriously about starting a food business, and started doing volunteer food prep at large corporate catering companies like Bon Appétit.

Takeout container with an akara burger: bean fritters between sliced Ghanaian bread.
The akara burger. (Jolly-Jolly)

While jollof is the headliner, Jolly-Jolly serves a number of other dishes that are even harder to find in the Bay. There’s an akara burger, made up of fried bean fritters that Ukagumaoha sandwiches between slices of sweet agege bread made by a local Ghanaian baker. And in the mornings, he cranks out orders of Indomie jollof, a staple for thrifty Nigerian university students. “My mother used to buy [Indomie instant noodles] because we were five of us all in the university at the same time,” Ukagumaoha recalls. To make his version, he tosses the noodles with diced vegetables and spices, and serves them with fried plantains and a juicy egg scramble. All of those humble constituent parts combine to make up a hearty breakfast that’s almost unreasonable in its sheer deliciousness. 

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In the long term, Ukagumaoha says his passion lies in researching spices and their various health benefits. Eventually, he hopes, that line of inquiry will give his menu a more pan-African flavor, adding recipes from Ghana, Egypt and Cameroon. Already, he’s begun incorporating the flavors of the diaspora in dishes like his baked chicken drumsticks, whose spice rub includes Jamaican curry and Ethiopian berbere. 

“I want to blend all the spices together to create my own signature,” he says.

Jolly-Jolly is open at 1498 7th Street in West Oakland, Tuesday through Friday 9 a.m.–7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Call in orders at 415-941-8817 (preferred) or order online.

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