Considering how much I love food I’m shocked to realize that I have yet to write an entry dedicated to what I eat here! The food is delicious, if not slightly carbohydrate heavy, and I think I’ll give you a little sampling (taster if you will) of a typical village day’s food.
We start off with one of two options. Breakfast is either raw crushed peanuts boiled with white rice to a slightly thick porridge consistency. If it is available salt or sugar is added. The other, tastier, option is corn, millet, or sorgum flower which is rolled into balls, mono. These are then boiled to the same thickish porridge. Sugar is usually added, but for a fancier occasion you can mix in yogurt, peanut butter, bissap juice, or lime juice. I especially love the millet flour mono because it has a slight tang to it, which complements the sour yogurt, bissap, or limes well. Not to discredit the peanut butter because the peanut butter with sugar combination makes the breakfast thicker and creamier; almost like tapioca pudding for breakfast except filling. So delicious! Unfortunately I enjoy having control over one of my meals a day, so I do not eat breakfast with the family and instead make myself oatmeal. Since it is the only meal I cook myself I have to expend all my culinary creativity on that one dish and consequently I think the oatmeal deserves an entry all to itself.
Lunch is the most versatile meal. There are many options depending on what’s available and the cook’s preferences. I’ll just go into three of the most common and popular dishes I eat here in village. My family makes the best mafe in Senegal. It may be premature to say that but theirs is so good that I’m willing to bet I’m right. I’ve eaten a lot of mafe in a lot of different places and I’ve never tasted better. Mafe is a thick peanut butter sauce served on top of white rice. Depending on what we have there will be goat chunks, fish, or sometimes the occasional squash square cooked in the sauce. The peanut butter here is what you might find at a fancy hippy grocery store back in the states. It’s sugar free, preservative free, salt free, just crushed up roasted peanuts. Mix that with some water, a little salt, maybe oil, and you’ve got yourself an amazing lunch. My friend once described mafe as peanuts’ final reincarnation. The other huge dish here in Senegal is cheb. It’s fundamentally fish and rice, but each house has their own specific way of getting there. We first steam our rice, while frying fish. When the fish are crispy and put to the side water and spices are added to the pot and then vegetables we have available; squash, potatoes, okra, carrots, cabbage, eggplant, hot pepper, depending on what’s in season are boiled. Once they are soft enough to break apart with one hand the rice is added and boiled until cooked. The spiced and oiled rice is served with the vegetables and fish on top in the middle. Crispy fried rice from the bottom of the pot and a whipped sour bissap leaf sauce are served as garnishes on the side. If you want to get really fancy you can make an onion sauce with mustard and vinegar and sprinkle that on top of the entire thing (although we’ve only done that once in village). So delicious! The other dish I often eat is steamed then boiled white rice mixed with crushed up raw peanuts, Parkia biglobosa seed, a magi cube, and some salt. It sounds simple but tastes amazing. Sometimes we’ll have the bissap leaf sauce or raw onion flavored with magi in the middle of the bowl.
Dinner is also one of two options, both served over a couscous. The couscous is not like the kind we cook in America, it is made out of corn, millet, or sorgum flour and then steamed three times to reach a consistency somewhat reminiscent of sand (but don’t get me wrong, it’s very good). The sauce is either a watery peanut butter sauce with fish, beans, or goat boiled in it. There are usually a few chives, some salt, and a magi cube. The other option is a thick leaf sauce boiled with crushed peanuts. It’s flavored with salt and chives and oh so good! I think I could eat that every night here and be happy!
So that’s pretty much the menu. I’m learning how to cook with my moms so hopefully when I return I can make this food that I’m sure I will miss.