Monday, November 06, 2006

What's cooking?

In the neighborhood by the Voice of America office, you can buy a bowl of really tasty peanut butter beef stew with white rice for less than 75 cents.

But you have to know where to look.

If you look at the corner with American eyes, you might only see the French-style bakery across the street, where you can by pre-made ham and cheese (and LOTS of butter) sandwiches for $2.

If you look with Senegalese eyes, you'd know that the makeshift tent with a roughly-hewn wooden table and a bored-looking woman sprawled on one of the benches is a restaurant and the woman is the proprietor and chef. It'll be easier to see it at 1 pm when the food is ready and the benches are filled with people eating.

If you know to look for it, you'll see the small room with a roaring fire in the fireplace, with giant logs sticking out and a grill stretching across the flames. You'll see the man with the 14-inch knife hacking an animal leg into bite size chunks, throwing them on the grill, dousing them with mustard, and wrapping it up in brown paper for customers sitting outside.

But don't look for the stew-lady at 10 pm. And don't look for the barbecue guy at lunchtime. That's just not how it works.

There are no Golden Arches. Signs of any kind are just not a given. Sometimes they're there, sometimes not. Sometimes you just need to know that the private house down the street serves lunch. Someone will tell you if you ask. But you have to know to ask.

And so, even after nine months, Dakar still holds plenty of surprises.

Last night, it was ngalax: couscous served with a sweetened peanut butter sauce.

I hadn't had it since Easter, when all the Catholics I know cooked up huge vats of it to serve to family and give away to friends. I loved it, and looking at pictures from the holiday featuring some shots of its preparation, said so.

"Really?" my friend asked. "Well they sell it just behind there." He gestured vaguely.

And then a little later, he disappeared without telling me why, and came back with two pastic baggies filled with ngalax, and a third with Bissap juice.

So it's still a mystery. But now I know, somewhere around there, someone sells it nightly. Probably some woman or group of women, sitting around coolers, chatting with each other like that's the only reason they're there.

I'll have to look.


Blogger c said...

That is so very cool. it's always the things that you have to KNOW about in any city that make it so fascinating. things the tourists never get to see!

found you through the nablopomo randomizer and am intrigued. have bloglined you and am reading daily now! :)
Happy NaBloPoMo!
Colleen (

12:04 PM  

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