Friday, June 3, 2016

Senegal: An Experience for Every Taste Palette (FOOD, both local & international).

If you know me, you'll know that next to travel, meeting new people, and spending time with my loved ones, food is right up there.  It brings people together.  It allows you to get a literal taste of the culture.  It opens up conversations.  It allows you to try new things and make conclusions from it.

Senegal, but specifically the capital of Dakar, is quite the melting pot.  Of course, you have the gamut of (wonderful) traditional Senegalese dishes.  But being an international city with people from all over the continent (and the world), you're bound to find something that suits you.  

Below is a collection of pictures of various dishes I've had (local dishes mostly cooked by my host sister, Arame, and my host mom, Mama Soda) and some recommendations for places to eat around this beautiful city of Dakar -- and in no particular order.  I want to preface: this post, by no means, does not give justice to the culinary scene here in Senegal.  There are many Senegalese dishes I did not include but do know I found all of them tasty and delicious!

Bon appétit! 

Thieboudienne: One of the most iconic Senegalese dishes.  It is made of fish, rice, and tomato sauce with many other ingredients such as carrots, onions, cabbage, etc.  The green side dish on the top often accompanies it, which I absolutely loved.  I believe they were bissap leaves with mixed with lemon and few spices.  Absolutely delicious!  This is best served in a large platter for everyone to share by eating with their (right) hands.  

Yassa Poulet (variation) & Haricots Verts: This is another iconic Senegalese dish, though a variation of it.  The chicken is marinated in lemon juice and other spices for quite a while, and top with grilled onions.  Arame would often accompany it with a delicious green beans side with black pepper, carrots, and bell peppers. 

Poisson Rouget: I don't know if this is the exact name but this is what Mama Soda would always call it.  They served it with fries but this fish was seasoned in a way I've never quite experienced.  And I realized it was only with my host family that I ever had it this good!  Often times, they would accompany it with salad and a homemade dressing. 

Poisson Daurade: When I was working at the Ministry of Education in downtown Dakar, there was a place we would always go to in the same area as the Ministry of the Interior.  Nothing super fancy but the food was cheap and pretty god.  You'll notice that Senegalese cuisine often involves lots of seafood because of the proximity to the water.  

Bar Mermoz (Mermoz, Dakar) - Fataya avec des Crevettes: One wouldn't expect this neighborhood dive bar to have much, but their fataya was on point and the best I've had in Dakar.  Fataya is like a deep-fried empanada stuffed with a variety of things -- onions, fish, tomatoes, etc.  This one was particularly great because they seemed to make the bread themselves.  And the fact that this came (randomly) accompanied with shrimp was great! 

Au Marché: This isn't quite at one of the many bustling markets of Dakar but just around the corner from my house.  Vegetables and fruits are often sold on sides of the road and you can select what you want.  I just love all of the colors (which became a recurring theme during my time in Dakar). 

Restaurant Le Zaouli (Plateau, Dakar) - Foutou: This Ivorian restaurant in downtown Dakar (Plateau) is quite good and is across from a Dakar institution, Chez Loutcha, a Cape Verdian restaurant.  When I was living in Burkina Faso, my neighbors would often cook foutou, which easily became one of my favorite West African dishes.  Foutou is usually made from plantain, cassava (manioc), or yams.  They are boiled and then ground with a mortar/pestle with warm water until it becomes a sort of ball.  It is served with a variety of sauces and is very filling! 

 Praça Do Império (Bissau, Guinea-Bissau) - Caldo: Michelle and I went here when we had our work trip to Guinea-Bissau.  It's at a restaurant along one of the main roundabouts in Bissau.  Caldo is a stew dish, often served over rice.  Quite delicious! 

Simone Café (Mermoz, Dakar): This is one of my most favorite places in Dakar -- not only because it was a mere three-minute walk from my house, but because the atmosphere was so calm, the food/drinks were so delicious, and the owners were absolutely lovely.  I really felt at home there and often would 'escape' here from the hustle-and-bustle of Dakar.  It's a Brazilian café owned by a wonderful couple (the husband did most of his schooling/growing up in the U.S.) and they have some of the best treats.  I'm not a huge coffee drinker but their Brazilian coffee was divine.  They also have your classic Portuguese favorites!  A must try! 

 Le Jardin Thailandais (Point E, Dakar): I believe the only Thai restaurant in Dakar.  It can get pretty pricey (as is the case in Dakar for ethnic/international cuisine) but it was good Thai fix, especially their pad thai. 

Feel Juice (Plateau, Dakar): When I wanted a break from Senegalese cuisine for lunch, I'd often walk around Plateau (downtown Dakar) and see if I can find a new place.  Restaurants/cafés are opening up everywhere and this one fit the bill.  Smoked salmon wrap and a strawberry smoothie.  Refreshing on a hot day! 

La Demeure (Almadies, Dakar): This is somewhat hidden in one of the neighborhoods of Almadies, an area where many expats live and where the U.S. Embassy is located.  This restaurant/hotel isn't too far from one of my good friend's place, Tiyok.  They have a wonderful spread for brunch and is great to have after a long night before! 

EspritSushi (Plateau, Dakar): This sashimi bowl was everything I needed at the time, with avocado to boot! You'd be surprised at the number of sushi/Japanese restaurants in Dakar. One of my good friends, Violette, and I made it our (expensive) mission to try as many sushi places we could find (and even created our own ranking system).  EspritSushi was quite good, though the best was Fuji in Plateau as well.  Not surprising that Fuji was also the most expensive! 

La Royaltine (Plateau, Dakar): You'll note that many of these restaurants are located in Plateau, the downtown of Dakar. One institution, especially for sweets, is La Royaltine.  And trust me -- it delivers!  Cakes, pastries, and the like of every kind.  Their 'croissant aux amandes' (almond croissant) is to die for! 

Pause Douceur (Plateau, Dakar): This place just opened during my last couple of months in Dakar and it is quite the café.  Another quiet spot to escape the hustle-and-bustle of Dakar, they have fresh and tasty food -- like these fluffy quiche with salad.  Top it off with one of their fresh juices or smoothies, and you're good to go! 

Presse Café (Plateau, Dakar): If you're looking for a café that's equivalent to Starbucks (where you can get work done, use the WiFi, etc.) but with better coffee, this is the place to come to!  The drinks are quite good and it's a great place to get some work done.  Whenever I need to work but wanted a change of scenery from the office, I would come here.  And the people watching is great, too! 

 Ndougou (Breaking of the Fast for Ramadan/Iftar): During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims all around the world fast during the day.  They break their fast when the sun sets, and in Senegal, they would often break it with tea, dates, and something small like sandwiches.  They would pray, and then have their full meal.  It was a great time to reflect and just be a part of this very important cultural experience. 

Had to end this with Linda (cat in the background), eyeing my oatmeal.  This was when I was housesitting for a friend and just reminds me of the simplicity of enjoying a meal. 

Like I said, this is by no means an exhaustive list of the food in Dakar/Senegal or the many restaurants I was lucky to try.  Go check it out for yourself, and I think you'll be quite surprised! 

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