exotic fruits of Senegal

A roundup of some of the delicious and new-to-me fruits I’ve sampled since being in Senegal:

Madd is a seasonal fruit, available during the summer months, that seems to be most popular simmered with sugar and pepper down to a compote of small chunks of flesh in a sweet, sour, and spicy syrup.

You suck on the mouth-puckering pulp until you get to the stone-like seed.

I knew the baobab tree was important to Senegal symbolically but I didn’t realize it is also important nutritionally. Baobab fruit (also known here as bouye) is a superfood, packed with vitamins and nutrients.

When I tasted it fresh from the tree, it was powdery yet sticky, and like madd, both sweet and sour. I’ve also had it in biscuit, jelly, and juice/smoothie form.

I find the biscuit form rather weird, but the latter two are delicious – though sometimes far too sweet depending on how much sugar is added. It’s a strange paradox to me: Rather than gorge on all the French pastries available to them, the Senegalese usually opt for fruit as their go-to dessert. This would seem to indicate a rather weak sweet tooth… And yet they pour sugar into their juice. Perhaps this is like the middle way?

Bissap, known as hibiscus in English, is ubiquitous here. It’s made into jelly and into juice that tastes so much better than the hibiscus tea I’ve had in the States. To make the juice, the dried leaves are boiled and strained, and sugar – and sometimes fresh mint leaves – are added.

Also, since discovering orange blossom water a few months ago at a Lebanese cafe where they added it to my limeade and BLEW MY MIND, we’ve been putting it into bissap juice, which similarly takes it to next-level wonderful.

I’ve also had bissap in ice cream form. Above, a scoop of bissap and a scoop of ginger, both quite tasty.

Ditakh is a kiwi-like fruit that is made into fresh juice. I forgot to take a picture of the homemade version I tried, but here it is in bottled form. (Zena Exotic Fruits is a Lebanese-Senegalese business that turns all of these West-Africa-only fruits into delicious juices and jellies.)

And my favorite local juice that I suppose is not actually from a fruit but whatever: jus de gingembre. Consisting of nothing but fresh ginger and water sometimes mixed with pineapple juice, it’s a potent and delightful drink that burns your throat all the way down.

This post has left me thirsty…

Oh, and I wrote before about the only fruit I’ve tried here that I found absolutely abhorrent: the sour unripe mango.

Sweet and sour seems to be a thing here, but in this case the sour goes way, way too far.

Joyeuses Pâques

millet_and_raisins_and_nutmeg.jpgWhile 95% of Senegalese are Muslim, my host family is Catholic. For Easter, they went all out making a traditional treat called ngalax.

On Friday morning I came downstairs to find this woman sifting vats of baobab fruit into a fine powder. baobab_for_ngalaxOn Friday night I was pressed into service opening packet after packet of vanilla sugar and dumping it into a bucket. (Why they do not sell non-packeted vanilla sugar, I could not get an explanation.)

On Saturday morning the kitchen and courtyard downstairs were overflowing with women I had never seen before, all playing their special parts in the assembly line of ngalax mass-production.

Here are some of the ingredients waiting to be incorporated: millet, raisins and nutmeg (which was freshly grated along with orange rind).millet_and_raisinsThey lightly toasted the millet. miles_of_milletAnd then they added it to these vats of baobab powder mixed with the Senegalese version of peanut butter and the other fixings. (That’s my host mom below.)baobab_fruit_bitesThe resulting concoction looked highly unappetizing but tasted highly delicious. (Although I have no idea how my host sister’s boyfriend ate four bowlfuls in a row – after one both my stomach and mind were in a stupor.) ngalaxThey made 60 buckets of this stuff (!!!) and, as is the tradition, gave it out all over town in visits to family, friends, and neighbors throughout the day and into the night.

vat_of_ngalax.jpgThen they all went to midnight mass, which I was originally interested in checking out until I heard that Orchestra Baobab was playing a show at Just4U. Priorities!

Kaolack et Latmingué redux


Two-day filming trip, back to the city and the 4,000-person town where I spent some time two weeks ago. Non-filmic highlights:


First shared meal, in Kaolack. Everyone creates little de facto plate borders for themselves out of the food itself, so it’s not really as shared (read: germ-swappy) as you would think.


I tasted baobab fruit fresh from the tree (the pod-thing it comes in is the top picture). It had the melt-in-your-mouth, chalky texture of astronaut ice cream and was sweet and tart at the same time.


Also, baby goats.


I just realized that most of what strikes me as notable and shareable during my travels is food-related. It is such a huge part of culture, no?

On that note, if the Internet cooperates, tomorrow I’ll post pictures of the delicious Senegalese Easter concoction I tried yesterday after it was mass-produced in my house (during a serious two days-long all-hands-on-deck operation).