Quick—name a dish you love from Senegal. Drawing a blank?
Aside from what we see people like Andrew Zimmern trying on-screen, most of us are a little clueless about Africa's rich cuisines and food cultures.
That was–and still is for the most part—me. I didn't get into Senegal's food until Amadou, a friend of mine and proud Senegalese native, decided that we should give each other a crash course in our ethnic cuisines. I brought him downtown for xiao long bao and bustling stalls promising fake handbags in New York City's Chinatown; he took me uptown to West Harlem to marvel at more fake handbags and generous, satisfying plates of peanut butter-lathered mafé (a West African stew studded with meat, vegetables and Scotch bonnets).
Chef and cookbook author Pierre Thiam
Not everyone has an Amadou in his or her life, but luckily New York City chef Pierre Thiam is unveiling the secrets of the cuisine in his new cookbook, Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl (Lake Isle Press, $35). In this hefty follow-up to his first cookbook, Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal, the Dakar native gives a local's look at the food culture with gentle guidance. He poetically instructs readers on how to take tea after lunch—"the first cup is bitter, like life; the second is sweet, like love; and the third is gentle, like the breath of death"—and dives into anthropological depths to explain the fascinating mash-up of Vietnamese and French influences in the cuisine. It's a fun, eye-opening read, unfurling Senegal's culinary roots and sharing essential dishes.
RELATED Fall's Best New Cookbooks »
All of the sweeping information is to prepare you for the vastness of Senegalese food: here, distilled down to over 75 recipes, which waver from vegetable-stuffed Vietnamese-style summer rolls to beautiful pan-fried sea bass to classic mafé swimming with fall-apart-tender lamb shanks. And they're all still doable for those without smoked, fermented fish lying around (there's an ingredient guide for hard-to-find products). The recipes, along with Evan Sung's lush photos, make me realize two things: Mafé sounds really good right now, and I'm due for another food swap with Amadou.