Thieboudienne rouge by Ndongo Beye
The national dish of Senegal
In 2013, when I arrived in Italy, at the age of 35, I could not cook and I realized that I could not live there without finding the dishes of my country. As in Africa, we live with our mothers, sisters and cousins, we already know the sauces well. It didn’t mean that I knew how to prepare them; so I learned them from other Senegalese.
But it’s never quite the same, some ingredients can’t be found in Europe and others can be put off by their smell. This is the case with gejj (dried fish) which women cut out, then remove its bones, salt it and dry it in the sun in the public place. It is the key ingredient that gives a special flavor to ceebu jën (thieboudienne), the national dish. As its name suggests in Wolof, it is made up of fish and rice, but also different vegetables. The whole is cooked in a tomato sauce.
4 blocks of thiof (grouper)
a little dried fish
2 small eggplants
1 garlic clove
1 bunch of parsley
1 cube of vegetable broth
3 tablespoons of tomato puree
200ml peanut oil
- I start by preparing a rof (paste) by crushing in a mortar, onion, garlic, parsley, pepper or chilli and a cube of broth.
- Then, I dig with the finger the flesh of each fish steak and I stuff them with this dough. From which the name rof, which originally meant to plug the hole.
- To give to this dish the beautiful bright red color and differentiate it from a white Thieboudienne, I dilute the tomato puree in a pan of water, over high heat, with onion and peanut oil. Traditionally, we use the concentrate of the brand Dieg Bou Diar, especially as it means the woman everyone wants!
- Then I dip the vegetables and the dried fish to bring the whole to boil.
- Two thirds of the cooking, I add the grouper steaks.
- When the vegetables and the fish are ready, I remove and reserve them with a few ladles of the cooking juice, to keep them warm.
- After rinsing the rice, I cook it in the rest of the broth, covered and over low heat, until the liquid is completely absorbed. If there’s not enough, you can always use the fish and vegetable’s juice. Little advice from my mom not to break the rice: do not mix it more than twice, first in the pan, than by putting it in the dish.
- I put the fish on the rice with the vegetables as decoration.
Then come the moments of sharing and tasting. Out of politeness, I am supposed to give the food in front of me to the other person so he doesn’t have to come to seek it.
In Senegal, we use to form a ball of food in the palm of our hand, then bringing it close to our mouth and sending it. We sometimes make fun of other Africans who put their fingers in their mouths. They better take a spoon, even if I remember a text saying that it reduces the taste of the dishes.
It’s not like in Europe, you cook with charcoal or gas, but the fire is not very strong, it does not risk burning the preparation. The other difference is that an electric cooker (stove) would blow the pellets for sure!
You have to manage your consumption. Shops only open during the day, they are not always close by and gas is expensive. So the merchants also start selling coal. Sometimes we call out to the little boy who is on the street (hangs out): “Hey Ndongo, here’s a coin, go buy some coal for me!”.
Wood is more used in the villages and the houses are very smoky. The women are used to it, but not the men.
Dakar people only cook with wood on special occasions. We will borrow the money we need for the event and buy the wood we need for a bigger fireplace.