Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Naamdu Senegalnaabe

Senegalese Dishes:

There are not very many, but I think that you should all know what I eat everyday.

For my family and most other Senegalese families breakfast is white ‘village’ baguette bread (meaning thick spongey and delicious, cooked in mud stoves) and Nescafe coffee (with TONS of sugar in it) or Kinkilibe (a delicious tea with milk and sugar that unfortunately my family does not drink). Sometimes they will put beans, or an oily tomato sauce on the bread, but usually it is just bread.

I actually eat my own breakfasts (variations on: oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, fruit, peanut butter and bread) because it is my one chance to have whole grains and eggs or fruit (aka. Something a bit more substantial to tide me over because lunch is usually around 2 pm).

ALWAYS “Marro e Liddi” which means “Rice and Fish.” This is the national dish and everyone eats it for lunch every day.

Imagine a big bowl of rice, oily oily rice, sometimes tomatoey oil, sometimes not. A couple of whole (bones and everything) fish on top. Then the vegetables are always the same: cabbage, a carrot or two, an eggplant, maybe a potato, maybe some bisap leaf paste (very sour and now palatable after 3 months in country), a piece of manioc/cassava, lots of onions, a hot pepper (which I avoid like the plague) and TONS OF SPICE AND OIL! I’m talking puddles of oil. Literally, and the wealthier you are, the more oil you put on your food. Since my family is pretty comfortable I usually have oil dripping down my hands by the end of the meal. Now I really am not quite sick of it yet. I still enjoy marro e liddi, but you should know that it’s not as if the vegetables are steamed and the fish marinated. Nope, they are all cooked to death in huge quantities of oil in a big pot over an open fire. I foresee a day in the future where if I eat another bite of marro e liddi I will puke everywhere, but that day has not yet arrived thankfully.

My strategy is to try and only eat the fish and vegetables and eat as little rice as possible to decrease my oil content, and because of this my family thinks that I do not eat and they are concerned that I will lost my jaye fundae! (I don’t know how to tell them in Pulaar that the amount of oil I consume in one meal is probably more than I would eat in a week at home!)

Another dish that they sometimes cook is Mafe. There are all sorts of variations on Mafe. There is mafe yassa, which is rice with an oily onion sauce and maybe fish, or chicken, and some overcooked chopped carrots mixed in.
But my FAVORITE is mafe gete, which is peanut mafe. It’s basically a thick oily peanut sauce blended with a little bit of tomato sauce over rice with some fish and vegetables thrown in and it’s TOO DIE FOR! We ate it today at my family’s house for the first time and it’s the first meal where I’ve actually finished my section of the bowl. (Needless to say they were thrilled!)


HACO!! I LOVE HACO! Seriously, I’m obsessed with it. It’s going to sound totally disgusting to the rest of you and there is a huge debate among volunteers because most people either love it or can’t even look at it.
I think that one of the reasons I like it so much is because it’s the closest I’m going to get to eating a dark green leafy vegetable, and there’s very little oil in it and it’s over millet instead of rice.
It’s made from bean leaves. Literally, the leaves that come from bean plants. They are chopped up and soaked in water and mushed up with fish and some spices to make a sort of mushy green fishy paste. (I know, I know, it sounds disgusting, but it’s the closest thing I get to spinach). So that is poured over the millet (sort of like couscous) and you ball it up and eat with your hands.

Actually, all the dishes are eaten by balling up the food and eaten with the hands (RIGHT HAND ONLY ALWAYS!) and there is a technique that I have now mostly mastered but definitely took some time. I still drop rice all over myself sometimes though, but less than I did at first so that’s progress.

When we don’t have Haco, it’s usually some gross oily version of Rice and Fish, with fewer vegetables, and more oil and the rice is mushier. When this is dinner (usually every 2 or 3 days) I just politely have a couple bites and excuse myself. After a certain point, you just can’t take any more oily rice.

A couple times in Thies and once here at site I have had what I like to call the “Carbtastic Dinner.” It is oily spaghetti or macaroni noodles with french fries, potatoes, and a couple of chunks of meat, eaten WITH white bread as a spoon. Yes. I kid you not. Luckily, this dish is rare.
I am told that when the seasons change and my family’s garden starts to grow again that we will have salad and tomatoes. This is what I ate almost every night at my Thies family’s house and it is delicious (and oily…of course). It’s a huge plate of lettuce, tomato, and cucumber with french fries and meat sprinkled on top, and eaten with white bread as a spoon. Yum.

I guess I was thinking of Ghana when I was picturing all of the delicious produce that I would be eating in the Peace Corps. Thus far the only thing I have come across on a regular basis are bananas and apples (sometimes) and TONS of mangoes. I’m fine with mangoes though, and I can buy a HUGE bucket of them for a dollar. And I do. And I always bring them home to my family and they are so happy when I do and we sit around and stuff ourselves with the juiciest mangoes you’ve ever had until our arms and faces are sticky with mango juice.
There is also “monkeybread” which is this hard, citrusy, whitish fruit that comes from baobab trees and they use to make juice. You can eat it by sucking the dry fruit off of the seed, but it’s not my favorite. The juice is fantastic though.

Bisap juice: a sweet red juice made from bisap (hibiscus flowers). Add tons of sugar and freeze it in a plastic bag and it’s the best substitute for a popsicle you could get. The big bags cost about 1 cent and they are easy to find and the perfect thing on a hot day (aka. Everyday).

That’s pretty much it. Funny enough I don’t miss much American food yet. Maybe because it’s still the beginning, but for the moment I’m still pretty satisfied with my Senegalese diet.

Next time you all bite into a delicious salad covered in produce, or anything with whole grains, think of me, happily chomping away at mushy leaf and fish paste.

Bon appetite!

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