Last Updated on June 2, 2019 by Soumya
Baobab juice and Chicken Yassa? I, certainly, had not heard of them until recently when I was introduced to the flavorsome Senegalese cuisine. Yes, you heard it right! Senegalese cuisine right from the shores of Western Africa but conjured up in old town Paris!
I dipped into a plateful of some amazing Senegalese flavors last month and have been totally floored ever since. So, there was no way I could not write about it.
A good part of Africa and its food has always remained a secret to people outside the continent. But things are changing for the better now, especially for foodies like us who are always on the lookout for new, innovative, and delicious food. And cosmopolitan cities such as NYC, London, and Paris have made a good contribution to that effect. They are dotted with numerous immigrant-owned/managed restaurants that serve authentic but unconventional cuisines. And even though it takes a bit of an effort to spot the best among them, believe me, it is totally worth it.
Senegalese cuisine is a rich and delicious mix of West & North African, Portuguese and French food. It is, often, considered to be one of the richest and most varied cuisines in the whole of West Africa. Onion plays an important role and is used generously. An onion sauce, along with a portion of rice, almost always lays the base for every major meal. The sauce is sweetly delicious and goes quite well with the main course of chicken, seafood, or beef. Pork is usually absent since a majority of the population is Muslim.
Seafood is a staple, obviously because of Senegal’s close proximity to the seacoast. Fish and shrimps are well liked. In fact, the national dish of Senegal is the Thieboudienne or Ceebu jën, which is a delectable combination of rice, fish, vegetables, and tomato sauce. Also, in my cover picture above, you can see a complete Senegalese meal consisting of sauteed prawns, a small portion of rice, and a sauce made out of onions and tomatoes.
Chicken is popular too. Chicken Yassa or Poulet Yassa, a specialty chicken dish that originated in the Casmance region of Senegal, has become the Senegalese signature dish for food connoisseurs around the world. The Yassa is, simply, chicken cooked in an onion-rich sauce with a hint of mustard and lime. It is served with either rice or sweet potatoes. And trust me, it would be a crime not to taste Poulet Yassa if you are anywhere near Senegalese food.
Apart from their delicious food, Senegal surprised me with some interesting juices. And the showstopper was definitely the Baobab juice, a pale brown liquid that could easily be mistaken for the Indian Chai. However, it tasted nothing like tea. The juice is made from the fruit of the Baobab tree and has a lingering sweet taste coupled with an exquisite, coarse texture. The texture is quite similar to that of Bela Panna or the Wood Apple drink popular in many parts of India. Other juices on offer were those of hibiscus and ginger.
I came out a happy person after a wholesome meal and a quick chat with the Senegalese waiter. This was definitely not my holistic experience of Senegalese food but I am happy that it was a great start. Maybe, one day, I will have some authentic Thieboudienne with a glass of cold Baobab juice in old town Dakar! And till then I can just dream about it. 🙂
Read my post on Ethiopian Food from East Africa.