Asalaa Maalekum, everyone!
Hope your week has been a good one! From your previous questions and comments, it’s been easy to gather that food has been on everyone’s minds. And rightfully so! I loooooove the food in Senegal, I’m going to miss it dearly when I leave. ‘Kai, lekkal!’ means come, eat!! in Wolof. ‘Lekkal’ was the first Wolof word I learned, as my family is very keen on me eating my fill at dinner.
Breakfast at my home is the same every single day, between 7-10am. The maid sets up the breakfast table every night before going to sleep (Side Note: no matter how much money a family makes, if they have
enough, they hire a live-in maid. This is completely normal and expected, and often is one of the better jobs a woman can get in Senegal depending on her situation). In the morning we have white baguettes, fetched early in the morning from the neighborhood boulangerie (bakery). With the bread there is a choice of either ChocoPain, a kind of knock-off Nutella, and margerine. The bread and ChocoPain is usually accompanied by a nice, steaming-hot cup of Nescafe instant coffee with sugar cubes (I use one or two, but I’ve seen Senegalese folks use up to six!) and powdered milk.
On days when I don’t eat breakfast at home, I get it on the way to school. Women set up shop on the side of the road with tables surrounded by sheets, making a sort of breakfast tent. They have huge covered bowls filled with beans, peas, hard-boiled eggs, beef, and other goodies to put into breakfast sandwiches. Sometimes they have my favorite kind of bread, a softer-and-fluffy loaf eaten in smaller towns called tapalapa!
Lunch and Dinner:
Lunch is my favorite meal of the day, and the most important meal in Senegalese culture. We usually eat pretty late, between 1:30 and 4pm, but it’s almost always worth the wait.
The most famous Senegalese dish is called ceebu jën (or thieboudienne), pronounced ‘cheb-ooh-jen’.Ceebu jën literally translates to ‘fish and rice’ in Wolof, and that’s exactly what the dish is – a giant steaming pile of spiced rice typically topped with fish, carrot, casava, bitter tomato, yam, and cabbage. Most dishes for lunch are some variety of ceebu jën with different meats, sauces, and vegetables. Let me tell you – it is delicious.
Last week I spent my Friday learning how to make ceebu ñebbe, or ‘rice and beans’ with my maid. We made the rice and beans, but in addition added sea urchin, sea snail, dried fish, salted fish, smoked fish, and all of the vegetables mentioned above!
Dinner is typically something similar, but there are a million different delicious Senegalese dishes I’ve eaten here that I can’t even begin to describe in full! My favorites are soupe kandia (rice with sticky, spicy okra sauce), yassa poulet (white rice, carmelized onion sauce, and roast chicken), and mafe (white rice with beef cooked in a thick, peanut butter stew). Dinner is usually around 8:30pm, but can be as late as 11pm!
Cultural norms and expectations:
Something important to remember is that for most cultures, eating isn’t just about the food. In Senegal, as with any culture, there are specific cultural ‘rituals’ that accompany meal times. For meals, as you can see pictured above, the family eats around one giant plate. My family is a bit more modern, so we each get a spoon to eat with, but at most households the whole family eats with their right hand. Eating with your left hand is considered very disrespectful and unsanitary, as it is the hand you use when going to the
bathroom (eeeew). Talking during meals is okay, but not encouraged, and when you are done you simply get up and leave. It is not expected to wait around and chat – chatting is for later, when we drink ataya (a kind of sweet tea).
Another thing extremely important to Senegalese food culture – sharing! The rule goes: If you are eating something in the presence of someone else, no matter how much you have or how many people there are, you always offer to the other people. Bottle of peanuts? Pass it around. Eating an apple? You better offer a bite to your neighbor. Not everyone will say yes, but it’s the principal that’s important. If there’s anything about Senegalese culture that I hope to take back with me to the states, it’s this.
Meals are often huge in Senegal, so there’s not a lot of reason to snack. That doesn’t stop
me, though! Fruit stands can be found on any street corner selling all sorts of sweet treats. I usually have a kilo or two of apples and bananas at school to share with friends. On top of that, you can always find a woman selling re-purposed liquor bottles filled with roasted peanuts to satisfy a pre-lunch craving. Something that struck me as funny when I arrived is that you can buy all sorts of liquids and snacks in baggies – water, juice, milk, even yoghurt!
My favorite snacks include peanut brittle, freshly fried beignets, fresh coconut (they’ll bag the coconut water for you to drink, too!) and these sweet little peeled oranges that you can eat like apples on the walk home from school.
What do you most want to try? What do you think are your cultural norms and expectations around eating in your household? Can’t wait to hear from you all!
A la prochaine, insh’allah!