Senegalese cuisine is one of the richest cuisines in West Africa and a fusion of influences from France, Portugal, the Middle East, the Americas, and Vietnam.
Traditional food from Senegal is made for sharing where guests gather around a single dish, which is usually hearty and very fragrant and can be enjoyed with a spoon or a piece of bread.
We discover more about this hot, flavourful and tropical cuisine in 10 dishes worth knowing below.
The Ingredients of Senegalese Cuisine
Fish naturally takes centre stage in Senegalese cuisine due to the countries geographical proximity to the sea. Mero, red carp, tuna, sole, monkfish, barracuda, swordfish ... The choice of fish is wide and the cooking varied, from dried and braised to smoked or even fermented.
Meat is not so commonly featured although there are nevertheless beautiful cuts available at the markets, like mutton, beef or goat, at a price. Chicken is generally more popular and less expensive than other meats.
Many Senegalese dishes also contain cereals like millet, fonio or rice as well as many vegetables like tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, eggplant, or less common vegetables like okra (green and fibrous vegetable), cowpeas (beans) or cassava roots.
Finally, fruit forms an integral part of the Senegalese culinary landscape with delicious yellow or green mangoes, mandarins, dates, papayas, guavas, coconuts, pineapples, plantains or avocados, as well as plenty of peanuts.
Typical Dishes of Senegalese Cuisine
Thiéboudienne is considered the national dish of Senegal. It was invented by Penda Mbaye, a famous nineteenth-century cook, and consists of fresh fish, dried fish, rice and tomato-garlic-onion-chilli puree, all served with many vegetables like pumpkin, cassava, eggplant and carrot.
2. Chicken Yassa
This typical dish in Senegalese cuisine is native to Casamance (south-west of the country). It consists of chicken pieces marinated in a mixture of onions, lime juice, vinegar and peanut oil, before being grilled over a wood fire and then cooked over low heat in its marinade. It's served simply with white rice.
Yassa can also be prepared with mutton or fish. To make this dish:
- Marinate the chicken for several hours.
- Brown the chicken in a skillet.
- Sauté the onions from the marinade in the skillet.
- Add pepper and chicken and bring to a boil, then bake in the oven.
- Serve over white rice.
Caldou is a recipe based on fish cooked in palm oil and served with vegetables and rice, served with a lime sauce. To make it:
- Cut fish into pieces scored with horizontal lines.
- Mix pepper, garlic, and other spices and pack the stuffing into the fish’s horizontal lines.
- Sauté onions and tomatoes, add water, okra, and nokoss
- Add fish pieces and cook for 30 to 35 minutes.
- Serve with rice and lime juice.
4. Bassi Salte
Bassi Salte is a couscous of millet. It consists of meatballs made of mutton, sweet potatoes, potatoes, white beans, cabbage, carrots, dates, raisins and a tomato sauce. Here are the steps for making it:
- Pour boiling water into couscous.
- Fry meat until golden brown.
- Add tomato, onions, salt, and tomato paste.
- Add a liter of water
- Add cassava, green pepper, carrots, and garlic. Season and let simmer.
- Add cooked kidney beans to couscous.
- Pour sauce over couscous and add raisins.
Mafe is a dish from Mali adapted to Senegalese cuisine. This is a rice base topped with a peanut paste sauce and usually accompanied by meat and vegetables. Here’s how to make it:
- Whisk together peanut butter and stock.
- Season and brown meat in pan with oil and remove from pan.
- Sauté onions, garlic, pepper and carrots in pan.
- Add peanut butter and stock.
- Put meat back in pan, add tomato, thyme, and bay leaf.
- Simmer for one hour.
6. Lakhou Bissap
Lakhou bissap is a dish from Central and Western Senegal made from semolina and meat. It can be accompanied by dried fish, sorrel and tamarind and looks like a soup.
Firire is a dish from Senegalese cuisine based on fried fish and onion sauce, served with fries, salad and bread.
Domoda is a rice-based dish with tomato and flour vinegar sauce - it's served with meat, fish or meatballs.
Pastels are small hand held deep-fried pastry pockets stuffed with fish and spices, which can be soaked in a tomato sauce.
Bissap is not actually a dish, but the most popular drink in Senegalese cuisine. It's a refreshing juice made from hibiscus flowers, water, sugar, mint or orange blossom.