There are many reasons to love Dakar, Senegal which is now proving its position to be the newest West African hub for travellers in 2019. The coastal beaches, vibrant nightlife, and the hospitable core of Senegalese lifestyle – otherwise known as “teranga” – gives Senegal full marks as an all-rounded destination.
Nothing quite beats discovering a place through its food and Dakar is no different. From the homes of locals to high-end restaurants, experiencing traditional Senegalese food is not just a recommendation – it’s a must!
Fish tends to steal the show in Senegalese cuisine due to the country’s proximity to the sea, providing ample opportunities to indulge in juicy, fresh fish for reasonable prices. Meats like lamb, mutton and beef are also common in traditional meals, but vegetarian and vegan Senegalese dishes are often challenging to find.
We will be serving two of these dishes during our culinary experience at our event, Taste the Culture: Senegal Edition, a cultural immersive event designed to bring Senegalese food & culture to you without needing to pack a suitcase! The two dishes will be revealed at end of this article. To buy your ticket and read more about the event, click here.
If you find yourself in the vibrant city of Dakar, these are the top foods to try:
Wolof for “rice and fish”, thieboudienne originated from Saint-Louis and is Senegal’s national dish. While normally served with red jollof rice (rice cooked in a tomato stew), marinated fish and plenty of vegetables like cassava, cabbage, okra and carrots, it’s very common to have thieboudienne with a white-coloured variant, known as thiebou wekh.
Thieboudienne is familiar to most as it’s the original jollof rice, which other nations have learned and adapted as their own. We’ll keep quiet about which West African country we think has the best jollof, but after tasting thieboudienne, it will be impossible to deny that Senegal is a strong contender!
If you are not a fan of fish, try thiebou guinar (rice and chicken), thiebou yapp (rice and lamb).
Native to Casamance, a region in the south of Senegal, yassa poulet is a simple, traditional dish consisting mainly of chicken that is grilled and cooked in loads of caramelised onions, lemon juice and mustard. Olives and pepper are commonly added, depending on who prepares it. A simple dish with few ingredients, the incredible flavour makes yassa poulet our most recommended dish to have in Senegal.
If you prefer, try yassa poisson instead – which is served with fish instead of chicken.
Although the dish originates from Mali, mafé has been effortlessly adapted into traditional Senegalese cuisine. Served with white rice or millet couscous, mafé is a thick tomato and groundnut stew with mutton or beef and vegetables. As with a lot of African dishes, the flavour is slightly different depending on who prepares the mafé.
If you don’t eat red meat, you can order mafé with chicken as a great alternative.
Thiou is a light tomato-based stew with palm oil, onions and chunky vegetables, such as okra and carrots, served with white rice. This dish is perhaps the most reminiscent of other West African commonplace tomato-based stews, which is ideal if you look for familiarity in new cuisines.
Thiou can be served with fish or meat, and olives are occasionally thrown in.
A thick stew with loads of okra, fish, seafood, vegetables and palm oil, soupou kandja is a local dish spooned over white rice.
Appreciating soupou kandja will depend on your take on cooked-down okra, which eventually results in a slimy texture. If you love other West African okra dishes, you may just enjoy this.
Thiéré is Senegal’s traditional couscous made from millet, originating from the kingdom of Saloum. This dish holds a lot of significance for Senegalese people and is often a testament to their cultural heritage. Thiéré is typically served the day after the public holiday Ashura (also called tamkharite in Senegal). Ashura is a celebration of the 10th day of the Islamic new year. However, thiéré is frequently cooked on fridays and funeral occasions to be served in the evening.
The millet couscous is served with a light, watered down tomato sauce. Cooked in a similar method to thiou, the sauce consists of vegetables, meat or chicken.
Last but certainly not least, dibi is a local street food found in restaurants, roadsides and dibiteries – hole in the walls that serve dibi during the evening time in Dakar. Dibi comes in the form of delicious spiced grilled meat or chicken pieces, sprinkled with onions and accompanied with small bags of mustard and pepper sauce. Dibi is usually served in brown paper and ordered by the kilo.
In addition to yassa poulet, dibi is our second highly recommended food that you must try in Dakar.
Traditional foods in Senegal are often shared, where eaters gather around a single large dish and others are invited to join. To give you a glimpse into Senegalese dining life, we will replicate this at our event, Taste the Culture: Senegal Edition, where you will have access to a culinary experience of thieboudienne and yassa poulet!
Senegalese food is quite tricky to find in the UK, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to taste the flavourful cuisine.
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