The markets of Senegal are full of lively color, the clothing of the merchants competing with the vibrant displays of fruits and vegetables.
Peanuts are the main crop and in the peanut-growing regions of the gloomy northern plains the plants grow by the thousands, small and dry. Everywhere you go, the aroma of roasted peanuts follows you. In the markets they sell biscuits covered with peanut butter and grilled peanuts, but the peanut also makes its way into every aspect of the local cooking, including soups and main courses spiced with chilies and cloves. Peanut oil takes the place of butter and flavors meat and fish.
Fish is a staple of the daily diet. Though chicken, lamb and beef sometimes appear on the menu, there is no pork since 80% of the population is Muslim. In restaurants and hotels on Goree Island and in Tambacounda you might find grilled gnu or wild boar on the menu.
In the Casamance region, north of Dakar, the scent of chicken yassa with onions and limes wafts from the kitchens.
In the village of Soumbedioune, fishermen provide the fish that is used in "thébouidienne," a fish and vegetable stew that is served on white rice. The most colorful village is certainly M'Bour. In the late afternoon, everyone who hasn't gone off fishing heads for the beach, bucket in hand, to choose a fish for dinner, free of charge. On the beach piles of branches are waiting to smoke the fish. Thousands of mackerel, sardines, bonito and dorado will be dried on wood fires as night falls and the flames reflect off the pink bubus of the women.
When you enter the dining room, it is customary to pour water over your hands and dry them with a cotton towel. Then all the guests take their place at the table.
You can entertain like a grand Senegalese restaurant: with a long list of appetizers, a rich soup, a hearty main course (yassa, mafe, couscous) and dessert. But you could also host a village-style meal outdoors, preparing the food on a small charcoal grill.
At home, stewed dishes are very common - chicken "thiou," mafe with peanuts, or fish "thebouidienne" - served in glazed earthenware bowls containing enough for 3 or 4 people. Each guest uses the first three fingers of his right hand to take what he wants. The meal ends simply with fruit, followed by coffee served in the living room.
Generally the table is brightly colored: a vibrant table cloth with contrasting napkins will produce the desired effect. Add a floral centerpiece composed of red and yellow flowers to evoke the dominant colors of the markets. Add an African sculpture and eat your meal leisurely, since this is an occasion for conversing and enjoying the cool evening air.
Photos: ID 24229158 (Chicken Yassa) / ID 46529368 (Thiéboudienne) / Mychko Alexander / MSCOMM
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