This is a city spotlight on Senegal, a place where French, Wolof, and North African influence meets local ingredients in the kitchen—and on the street.
Perched on the edge of West Africa, Senegal’s cuisine stands out for its distinct cultural influence from various ethnic groups (especially the dominant, native Wolof and France 1960 when it gained independence).
The Dakarois take pride in their food and frequent visitors may testify to that.
Senegalese are famous for their hospitality and plenty of dining options are scattered among the city’s markets, backstreets, cozy neighbourhood cafes, and upscale seafood joints.
Here’s a brief tour of dishes you must try when you visit Senegal…
Pronounced ‘cheb-o-jen’ thiéboudienne is the quintessential Senegalese dish. Literally translating as ‘fish with rice’ in Wolof, Senegal’s national dish comes in all shapes and sizes with recipes and techniques varying from family to family. At its core, a piece of fried or grilled local white fish, fluffy seasoned rice and a flavour-rich tomato sauce, accompanied by a varying phalanx of steamed vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, manioc, aubergine and sweet-sour tamarind called dahkar.
Originating in the northern city of Saint-Louis, this hearty, inexpensive meal has become a mainstay of coastal Senegalese menus, while its meaty cousin, ceebu yapp, tends to be found further inland. Like with many traditional dishes, the best tcheb is often found in the smaller, shabbier, family-run restaurants.
In the 1960s, Senegal exported almost a quarter of the world’s peanuts. Today that figure is around one percent, but the humble peanut still dominates Senegalese agriculture and is sold in bags and recycled bottles on nearly every street corner. No surprise, then, that it’s the principal ingredient in one of Senegal’s best-loved dishes.
Usually made with beef, but occasionally with lamb, chicken or vegetables, mafé is a spicy stew with a tomato and ground-peanut base. Served with rice, variants of mafé are common across West Africa, but the Senegalese version tends to be thicker, oilier and richer in flavour. It may not look much, but let your taste buds be the judge.
Yassa poulet / poisson:
Senegalese restaurants that don’t serve yassa are few and far between. A simple, yet delicious concoction of lemon juice, caramelised onions and garlic and sometimes mustard. Most commonly served over chicken or fish with a side of rice, yassa has also infiltrated the street-food scene with vendors selling yassa-filled baguettes at football stadiums, roundabouts and beaches.
Coastal Senegal is a seafood-lover’s paradise. However, one catch stands above the rest – Senegal’s national fish, thiof.
Thiof is a large, meaty, white fish that is best served grilled or stuffed with spices and vegetables. Thiof can also make an appearance in the ‘ultimate Senegal’s thiéboudienne. Although usually the most expensive fish on the menu, thiof is double the size of the competition and can easily fill two stomachs.
The dish most associated with and beloved by Senegal and eaten for lunch several times a week. Ceebu jën, the native take on rice (“ceeb” in Wolof) and fish (“jën”).
Hailing from St. Louis on Senegal’s north coast, ceebu jën consists of seasoned rice, a piece of grilled or pan-fried fish stuffed with a garlicky paste locally called the rof, a few vegetables, plus some unique blend of mouth-puckering sweet-sour tamarind called xooñ (this is the crispy burnt rice scraped from the pan’s bottom). The flavours are fresh, bold, and surprising and the textures are beautifully varied.
This is common street food in Senegal and other parts of West Africa. Accara are black-eyed-bean fritters, usually served with a tomato and onion sauce called kaani.
Wolof burger is an official thing in Senegal! The burger is built with a little bit of everything – lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, fried egg, french fries and some local sauces.
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