Biodiversity…we can eat it too!
Sénégal — Uniterra
Cereals, fruits and foods of Senegal
This week, I wrote about the cosmetic oils and the medicinal plants used in Senegal. The third part of this “Plant” trilogy will be about the diversity of foods that I am discovering. And having a diet mostly vegetarian, my discoveries are principally coming from the Plant Kingdom…
I have tried some very different foods, even yesterday, I hate a little ball of shea butter in the central market of Thies! The seller was selling my friend some, and she was eating it, so I tried, I did not know that we could eat it too!
This article will be about some of the typical dishes of the country and about some of the discoveries that I have done in these seven months.
I will say that the national dish is the CEEBU JЁN (rice and fish) with the variant CEEBU YÁP (rice and meat).
This dish consist in broken rice cooked in a sauce made with vegetables and fish. These vegetables and fish are served on top of the rice in a big metallic plate, and we all eat together from it, with a spoon or just the hand, and of course with the right hand only! There are little sauces served on the plate too: tamarind sauce (DAHKAR) and one made with the bissap leaves plus the XOOÑ which is the crispy burnt rice scraped from the pan’s bottom. Traditional seasonings include GEJJ, or dried fish, and YÉET, a dried shellfish. There is usually one yellow really hot pepper that gives flavour but nobody eats, too spicy… (I tried once just to be sure, and yes, it’s spicy!).
There are other dishes that I ate many times already: the YAASA GANAAR: chicken with an onion sauce, where the onions are sliced and cooked for a long time; MAFÉ: a sauce made with peanuts paste served with rice and chicken, SUPKANJA: a sauce of gombos or okra cooked with palm oil and dried fish and served with rice. Only once, I tried MBOROKHÉ: a sauce of sweet potato leaves and palm oil. Green peas with a flavourful sauce are a special treat for breakfast accompanied with bread. When visiting the coast and beach towns, seafood is the specialty: shrimps, grilled fish, octopus, squid, even sea urchins!
Talking about drinks, there are the juices of bissap or hibiscus, of the baobab pulp, of the green ditakh fruit (my favourite), of tamarin, of ginger. They are sometimes mixed as cocktails and always with the addition of lots of sugar (none of these fruits are naturally sweet). Then, the CAFÉ TOUBA which is a coffee flavoured with a spicy grains of SELIM, known as Guinea pepper or DJAR. I tried Palm wine made with the palm sap, and the delicious WARANG LIQUOR, an alcoholic beverage made with milk, coffee and chocolate. In some fairs I tasted wine of mango, baobab, hibiscus and more. KINKELIBA TEA is a classic for breakfast. Once I tried a coffee-type drink made with torrefied beans called NIEMBÉ.
The deserts more consumed are NGALAKH, sweet baobab pulp and peanuts paste or THIAKRY, yoghurt or curdled milk, both served on top of millet. MBOURAKÉ is a powder mix of grounded peanuts, bread crumbs and sugar eaten by the spoon.
Some starters are the FATAYA: little patties stuffed with meat or fish and served with an onion sauce, and BEIGNETS (round doughnuts) made with millet flour.
The unique fruits that I tried here are the DITAKH (prepared like juice, it is dry and fibrous if eaten), two from the Casamance region: TOLL and MADD (served with a mix of red pepper powder, salt and sugar), some dry fruits: the SOUMP or desert date, and the little round SIDDEM or jujube. I tried the fuchsia fruits of the American cactus that have been introduced here. There are the tamarins and the baobab seeds that can be eaten as candies, the transparent fruits of the palm, the corossol, and lots of mangoes!
The cereals or staples foods are varied: millet, FONIO (two cultivated grains in the Digitaria genre, ATTIÉKÉ (a flour made from cassava), sorghum, broken corn, rice. All these presented in different forms and sizes of grains as a base. On top there may be salted sauces or the yogurt for a sweet version. I may say that these plates are the traditional of the country.
I ate many more things that I found in fairs, or even in the country side: the gelatinous inside of aloes, the moringa leaves, seed, flowers (all with a radish taste), candies made with coconut and ginger, dry acajou apples and the acajou nuts, a bitter algae called Salicornia, lots of marmalades including one of eggplant and another of potatoes! I tried a mango vinegar and the baobab oil. I showed to some of my coworkers that we can eat termites…good to know if we get lost in the country side some time! I may say that they did not look very convinced!
Many of these products are original from West Africa and have been consumed for many millennia, others are new imports but adapted to a Senegalese way of cooking…the main point for me is the great diversity of plants and other resources that can be eaten! When we talk about biodiversity, the first thing that comes to mind are animals and plants, but as I titled a degustation activity that I organised in the Botanical Garden of Montreal a few years ago: Biodiversity…we can eat it too!
The National Dish: CEEBU JЁN (rice and fish)
Beach Food: Grilled Fish and Sea Urchins