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10 Tips for Life in Dakar

1.Walk Downtown on a Sunday. During the week, downtown Dakar (Plateau) can seem impossibly busy; it’s hard to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings when you’re dodging traffic. On a Sunday, it’s almost eerily quiet and you can wander to your heart’s content, discovering old colonial architecture (especially the roads around Rue Jules Ferry and Marché Kermel) and exploring the downtown Corniche (coast road) for spectacular views of Gorée Island and the beach at Anse Bernard.      

Looking at the Atlantic from Plateau
Looking at the Atlantic from Plateau (photo by Brenda Bethman)

2.Get to Know Your BBBs. This stands for Brochettes de Lotte, Beach and Bissap (or Beer!). If you’re wondering how to spend a free afternoon, this simple formula always works: find a place with a sea view, order some tasty fish kebabs, along with your refreshing beverage of choice and you’ll have a wonderfully restorative couple of hours. Try La Marée restaurant at Pointe des Almadies, Africa’s westernmost point.

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Brochettes at La Marée

3.Love Your Neighbour. Community is important here, and it’s worth taking the time to get to know your neighbours and all those you see on a daily basis. Smile, stop for a chat and be open. These are the folks you will count on in an emergency, who will brighten your day by offering you a cup of Attaya (traditional tea) or who will come round with some home-cooked food for absolutely no reason at all.

Pouring Attaya

4.Enjoy the Nightlife (during the day). Dakar is famous for its nightlife, but the best of the action doesn’t normally start before 1am. If you find it hard to stay up that late, doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Look on listings websites like Agendakar to see what’s on during the day. Places like Goethe Institute in Point E often have concerts and other cultural events in the afternoons or early evenings, and they’re usually free.

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5.Find Your Secret Spot. In the spirit of sharing, mine is Le Calao, next to the Ngor Dioarama. It’s a nondescript blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hotel which has a stunning surprise at the end of its long driveway; a beautiful natural rock pool which looks out to Ngor Island. Perfect for a quiet swims and peaceful sunsets. Never crowded.

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The Rock pool at Le Calao

6.Eat Communal. Something I’d never done before coming to Dakar but that now counts as one of my favourite activities is to eat around a communal food bowl. It’s a fun and relaxed way of eating that never fails to bring people closer together.

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7.Get Culturally Orientated. Gather a group of work colleagues or friends together and spend half a day having a fun, but in-depth workshop at the ACI Baobab Center on all aspects of Senegalese culture, including the etiquette for sharing a communal food bowl and the proper way to do greetings and goodbyes. You will feel instantly more confident in settling in when you know some of the cultural subtleties that might otherwise take years to discover.

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Photo by Angela Sevin

8.Try Something New. Sabar drumming, African dance, Batik dyeing, Kora lessons; there are plenty of unique activities on offer here that will challenge your body and mind, and keep you entertained. Take advantage of your surroundings and try something different!

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9.Find Your Hole in the Wall. For tasty and inexpensive home-cooked food, look for places, however small and unassuming, that get packed out at lunchtimes and join the queue. Le Prestige in Ouakam does a great Yassa Poulet (find it at the top of the road that goes from the Monument to the Brioche Dorée) and I have it on good authority that Mme Fatou Mbengue’s roadside stand is the go-to place for some of the tastiest Thieboudienne in Mermoz at 700 CFA per plate.

Le Prestige
Le Prestige

10.Get out often! Dakar is a big, busy and bustling city. It can sometimes feel overwhelming, so make sure to take a break when you can. Head up the coast to a lovely spot like this, or if you’re pressed for time Ngor and Goree Islands provide the perfect quick escapes. Rest, re-charge and come back with a new appreciation for what this fantastic city has to offer.

View of Dakar from Ngor Island
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Storks, Sardines and Street Art : The Quirky Charm of Portimão

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This post delves into new territory by exploring Portimão in the Algarve region of Southern Portugal, a place that has captured my heart with its easy-going atmosphere and off-beat charm.

Portimão is very much a working town. It has its postcard pretty parts, its grittier parts, and a fiercely strong sense of identity linked to its industrial past, making it feel different from other more tourist-orientated parts of this highly popular region.

It’s an intriguing jumble of architectural styles; striking modern buildings such as the silver armadillo shaped arena sit alongside whitewashed 19th century factory worker’s cottages, all the while enveloped by the natural beauty of the rolling green mountains of the Algarve.

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The Portimonense are proud of their heritage as an important centre for sardine canning and fishing, and have carefully preserved the distinctive red-brick smokestacks from the old factories, which have been incorporated into the fabric of the town as it has grown and developed.

With the factories long closed down, the smokestacks have now developed another important use; they provide the perfect place for Storks to make their nests and every single one is now inhabited by a family of these elegant, long-limbed birds.

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Storks, sardines, fishing and fado (the traditional music of Portugal) are all motifs that can be found in the vivid graffiti and street-art dotted around the town.

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The seafood in Portimão is almost indescribably flavoursome. More than just tasting freshly caught, it tastes like it’s still in the sea. The trick, says a local chef, is using sea water to prepare the fish before cooking it, which means it absorbs all the intense sea flavours and doesn’t need much seasoning beyond garlic, olive oil and lemon.

Locally caught Sardines, grilled the traditional way on charcoal and served with a tasty Algarvian salad (chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onions, oregano) make a mouth-wateringly simple and inexpensive meal.

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As well as long, languorous seafood meals, another good use of time is to pause for a coffee (called a Bica) and a flaky and delicious Portuguese custard tart (Pastel de Nata) to watch the procession of tourists, fishermen, and other assorted local characters as you while away an afternoon in one of the town’s shaded squares.

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Portimão is a great destination for those looking for a calm and fuss-free getaway. Come here to eat home-cooked food, for simple pleasures like strolling along the harbour or people watching over coffee and pastries, to use the town as a base for exploring the many fishing villages and beaches dotted along the Algarve coast and of course, to eat the best sardines of your life.

It’s a low-key and laidback place where you can enjoy the famously relaxed and friendly hospitality of the Portuguese. Throw in the affordability factor (travelling here, staying here and eating here) and you have the perfect ingredients for a restorative break that won’t break the bank.

Where to eat

Peixarada – The best seafood and friendliest service in town – Largo da Barca, Tel: 282 484 175.

Pastelaria Arade – A historic tearoom serving Algarvian sweets and pastries – Largo 1º de Dezembro, Tel: 282 422 087.

Look out for

The award-winning museum, Museu de Portimão, is housed in what was one of the main sardine factories and is a fascinating glimpse into the importance of the fishing industry for the Algarve region.

Beautiful Azulejos (traditional Portuguese tilework) found on the interiors and exteriors of many buildings.

Characterful graffiti and street art.

Take home

Top quality and inexpensive cheese, olive oil, traditional lacework, leather goods, wine and, of course, sardines!

Where to stay

There are a number of accommodation options available in Portimão and the surrounding areas ranging from Pousadas (small guesthouses) to self-catering apartments and larger hotels. Try:

City Stork Hostel

Rio Arade Algarve Manor House

Getting here

Portugal is easy to get to from many countries, including Senegal. TAP, the Portuguese national carrier, has a direct flight from Dakar every day which takes 3.5 hours. From Lisbon airport you can hire a car, take a bus or a train approximately 2.5 hours south to the Algarve.

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A Senegalese Surf Story

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Surfing seems to encompass many of life’s most important feelings and states; you can find yourself being thrashed around, not quite sure where you’ll end up, or on the crest of a wave, perfectly in-sync with the sea. Then there is the downtime of waiting, almost meditatively, for the next wave to come. A delicate balancing act in which you can feel elated or defeated from one fleeting moment to the next.

One of the most surprising things I found when I moved to Dakar was that there was an active local surfing community – local, foreign, male, female, young and old – regularly out riding the crashing waves of the Atlantic, which hugs the city on all sides.

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I have friends who’ve become devotees of the sport, coming back from their mornings or afternoons at the beach sandy, sun-kissed and thoroughly blissed-out at having spent a couple of hours being tossed around by the sea. This made me curious to discover more about this unlikely community, and how the sport has come to find a home in Senegal.

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Jesper Mouritzen has done much to put Senegal on the map as one of the world’s most unique surfing destinations. Jesper, originally from Denmark, first came here on a trip with some friends in 2006. He fell in love with the country, and the surfer’s ‘holy trinity’ of warm water, consistent waves and empty line-ups.

Seven years ago he came back and opened a surf camp on the tiny Island of Ngor, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. I spoke with him about what makes surfing in Senegal special, and about life on Ngor, which only has 25 full-time residents.

Jesper Mouritzen with his family

“I guess the biggest difference here is the local surfers” says Jesper. “They’re open, welcoming and very friendly to foreigners. This can be the dark side of surfing in most places; an aggressive local surf scene trying to scare tourists away so they can have the waves to themselves. The thing that’s most positive about surfing in Senegal are the amazing locals giving everyone a good experience. ”

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Another distinctive feature about surfing here is that the waves come in from the North Atlantic swell in winter, and the South Atlantic swell in the summer, making Senegal one of the only year-round surfing destinations in the world.

Ngor Island, five minutes by Pirogue from Dakar’s mainland, is home to Senegal’s most famous wave, Ngor Right, which was featured in the classic 1960’s surf movie The Endless Summer.

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There are no cars on the Island, just some beach restaurants, narrow cobbled streets, sandy pathways and, at almost every turn, stunning views back to the mainland.

The air is clean and pollution free, everything runs on solar power, and the waters are some of the cleanest you’ll find in Dakar. It’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and the ideal place to unwind after a long day out in the surf.

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Despite the welcoming locals and consistent, high-quality waves, Senegal remains an up-and-coming surf destination, rather than an established one. This is due in large part, explains Jesper, to preconceptions and unfounded fears about travelling in Africa.

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But as evidenced by the high return visitor rate at Jesper’s surf camp, those who do make it here are quick to fall in love with the laidback lifestyle of Ngor Island, and the magic of a never-ending surf season in this off-the-beaten-track surfer’s paradise.

 

To find out more about Ngor Island Surf Camp see their website here.

All photos courtesy of Ngor Island Surf Camp.

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Aissa Dione : The Grand Dame of the West African Textile Industry

Aissa Dione
Aissa Dione (photo provided by Aissa Dione Tissus)

Writing our first Palm Tree Tea and Afterblixen blogs collaboration on the eve of March 8th, International Women’s Day, it’s very fitting that our chosen subject is Aissa Dione, the grand dame of the West African textile industry.

Almost thirty years ago, Dione started her textile workshop with the last remaining master weavers of the Mandjaque peoples in Senegal. Since then, she has grown her business, Aissa Dione Tissus, into an internationally recognised luxury brand, provided over a hundred jobs, and preserved precious skills that were on the brink of being lost.

Her textiles have been used to produce home décor and fashion accessories by some of the finest design brands around the world such as Hermés, Fendi, Christian Lacroix and Peter Marino to name a few.

Dione, born to a Senegalese father and a French mother, spent the early part of her life in France, moving to Senegal in her twenties to pursue a career as an artist. After receiving commissions to decorate homes and offices around Dakar, news of her talents quickly spread and she grew a large local and international client base.

Textile weaving and dyeing in West Africa is an ancient tradition which dates back to the 15th Century. Dione used her background in fine art to create a product that respected this tradition, but was more commercially viable for the global market by adjusting the dimensions and colour palette of the textiles.

The results are rich and sumptuous, with her intricately woven designs providing an understated shimmer and luminosity to furniture upholstery, shoes, bags, wallets, pillowcases and an array of other elegant accessories.

A trip to her gallery and shop in Dakar is a feast for the eyes, and provides lots of home décor inspiration; all the furniture is designed and produced by Dione and the art on the walls is by local artists that she champions. Everything is available to purchase, or you can work with her directly for a customised design.

What we find truly appealing about Dione as an entrepreneur is not just her revival of the Senegalese woven textile industry, her job creation or beautiful products, but that her vision is one that encompasses the whole cotton supply chain; from production to processing through to manufacturing of the end product.

She believes that through targeted investments in the whole supply chain it’s possible to build an economically viable local cotton industry based on small production units, like the one she has successfully created. A vision where quality and local craftsmanship, rather than quantity are the essence, even if it means ‘swimming against the tide’ of how mainstream manufacturing and import/export models work in Africa.

Dione is discreet and unassuming in her manner, but her achievements speak volumes about her tenacity and vision, and celebrate the exceptional talent of Senegal’s traditional weavers, and its fine materials (the country’s cotton is among the world’s finest).

Her story is one of passion, dedication and determination. She has persevered, against the odds, to almost single-handedly keep the ancient art of Senegalese Mandjaque weaving alive, created luxury fabrics using home-grown cotton and successfully exported this unique cultural heritage to the rest of the world.

Dione should be an inspiration to a whole new generation of entrepreneurs to start turning the riches of this continent into tangible products that can be shared with the world. She proves it can be done, and that it can be done in style.

 

Watch a short interview with Aissa here, and see the master weavers at work here.

For more information including contact details for the gallery and shop, please see the Aissa Dione Tissus website or facebook page.

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Dakar’s Islands : Île de Gorée

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Dakar is surrounded by three beautiful islands; to the west of the city is the Îles des Madeleines nature reserve, to the north lies Ngor, a go-to spot for surfers, and finally to the east is Gorée, a Unesco World Heritage Site which houses the Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves), a museum and memorial to the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Gorée wasn’t one of the principal centres for the slave trade in West Africa, but the Maison des Esclaves has become the most famous symbol of this time.

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It’s a truly emotive experience to see the place where thousands of people torn from their communities and families waited – in unimaginable conditions – to face a perilous journey across the ocean into a life of servitude, and one which no trip to Dakar is complete without.

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The ‘Door of No Return’ which was the final exit point of slaves from Africa to the Americas. (Photo by The Wandering Angel)

But after this dark period in it’s history, Gorée has become a centre for architectural beauty, artistic endeavour and educational excellence.

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Away from the main tourist area, you can wander Gorée’s streets in relative solitude, and discover hidden alleyways, striking colonial architecture, and bougainvillea-clad buildings.

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Wide baobab-lined avenues are given over to impromptu art displays, and artisans produce beautiful objects in the numerous studios and workshops dotted around the island.

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A calm and sheltered bay provides an excellent swimming spot, or just a place to dip your toes in the water while you wait for the ferry back to the mainland.

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The Island is also home to the Maison d’Education Mariama Ba, a top boarding school for girls which was founded in the 1970’s by Leopold Senghor, the first president of Senegal.

Each year, it admits twenty-five girls from across the country on the basis of outstanding achievement in their national secondary school exams, and puts them on a path to a bright future – surely the best tribute to all those who were denied their freedoms in times gone by.

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Gorée is small, but each time I go there I discover something new – an artist’s studio, a secret courtyard, an intriguing doorway into an ancient mariner’s drinking spot. There’s always a new story waiting around every corner of this island’s cobbled streets; a whisper from the past, or a glimpse into a promising future.

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Papaya and Hibiscus Tea Smoothie

Inspired by my recent visit to the Lou Bess? Dakar Farmers Market and the wonderful array of local products I found there such as moringa and baobab powders, and lemongrass, hibiscus and kinkeliba teas, I thought about how I could combine some of these flavours to create a uniquely West African drink.

The result is a Papaya and Hibiscus Tea Smoothie, with a baobab powder boost. Adding tea to a smoothie is a great way of introducing an extra depth of flavour and added nutrients without adding calories. The sweetness of the papaya balances out the naturally tart flavours of the baobab and hibiscus, and the overall result is a zingy and refreshing antioxidant-infused treat.

Dried hibiscus flowers and baobab fruit

Here’s a closer look at some of the ingredients:

Hibiscus tea or Bissap, is a popular drink across West Africa. It helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol, supports a healthy immune system, and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

Baobab fruit has received a lot of attention in recent years as an African superfood, and deservedly so. It contains more vitamin c than oranges, more calcium than milk and a host of minerals like iron and magnesium.

Papaya is a rich source of antioxidants such as carotenes, and contains vitamin c and fibre.

I’ve been drinking this tasty concoction as a caffeine-free boost when my energy levels start to flag, and as a nutritious alternative to a cup of coffee or sugary snack mid-afternoon.

Recipe:

One tablespoon of dried hibiscus flowers (or a hibiscus tea bag)

A quarter of a medium sized papaya cut into chunks

One tablespoon of baobab fruit powder

One cup of milk (your choice of soy, almond, cow’s etc.)

A couple of teaspoons of honey

Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon (optional)

Steep the hibiscus flowers (or tea bag) in a cup of boiling water for 3-5 minutes then strain.

Place the liquid from the hibiscus and all the rest of the ingredients into a blender.

Blend until a creamy consistency is achieved.

And enjoy your Papaya and Hibiscus Tea Smoothie; packed with West African flavours and bursting with vitamins and antioxidants. Your body will thank you for it!

 

You can easily make substitutions to this recipe to add variety. For a Southern African twist why not try rooibos instead of hibiscus tea, or mango instead of papaya?

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Lou Bess? Dakar Farmers Market

 

Lou Bess? founders Raquel Wilson and Caamo Kane
Lou Bess? Dakar Farmers Market founders Raquel Wilson and Caamo Kane

There is no shortage of small, local producers doing amazing and innovative things with food, health and beauty products here in Senegal. But until recently it was hard to find out about the full range of artisanal goods on offer, and be able to purchase them easily and conveniently in one place. Step in Raquel Wilson and Caamo Kane, who came up with the inspired idea to bring all the producers together and create the Lou Bess? Dakar Farmers Market.

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Wilson, a communications consultant and brand development specialist, and Kane, a doctor-in-training, share a strong personal interest in food, wellness and supporting local economies. Lou Bess? (meaning ‘What’s New?’ in Wolof) is their way of combining all these interests.

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Nyara, founded by Dr. Aisha Conte (centre) offers natural beauty products and food supplements including baobab oil, liquid black soap, powdered ginger and custom-blended teas.
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A selection of products from Nyara
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Virgin coconut oil from Bégué Coco
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Savonnerie Francisco’s luxurious organic soaps are made with shea butter, neem oil and olive oil and are gentle enough to use on babies due to their all-natural ingredients.

The market is a buzzing social event where people come not just to stock up on groceries, but to meet old friends and make new ones, eat tasty food, and talk to the independent farmers, bakers, chefs, and health and wellness entrepreneurs who are eager to share their knowledge and their passion.

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Community spirit at Lou Bess?
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Fun for all the family (Imagination Afrika provides a dedicated play area for kids)

The vendors at Lou Bess? benefit from Wilson’s background in branding and receive advice and help with their business development plans. They are encouraged to share and spread knowledge amongst each other to create new networks, and develop a mutually supportive environment.

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A selection of the products available include: fruits and vegetables, hot pepper sauces, smoked cheeses, chutneys, fresh juices, teas, spices, and an assortment of delicious baked goods. Everything is 100% made in Senegal and often has a distinctly local flavour. Bissap ice-cream anyone?

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Organic produce from Taru Askan Farms
Taaru Askan Farms sell a variety of seasonal and organic  fruits and vegetables including produce not commonly grown in Senegal such as Fennel and Bok Choy, at competitive prices.

Lou Bess? Dakar Farmers Market is much more than simply a platform for selling; it’s an exciting new community that brings together local food-lovers, nurtures a diverse and growing collection of vendors and provides the chance to support local agricultural producers and entrepreneurs while having a fun day out. What’s not to love?

 

Lou Bess? Dakar Farmers Market takes place on the first Saturday of every month. The next market is on Saturday 6th February from 9 – 15h in front of the Ngor Restaurant on the Corniche des Almadies. See their website for more details.

Images courtesy of Lou Bess? Dakar Farmers Market.

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The Ultimate West African Comfort Food

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Fondé, a West African dish made from millet and yoghurt, is a lovely combination of textures and flavours; the sweetness and creaminess of the yoghurt combined with the grainy and nutty flavour of the millet make this simple, healthy and filling snack taste like a rich indulgence.

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Un-cooked, pre-rolled millet

Millet has in the past dismissively been thought of as the ‘poor man’s grain’ but this humble and hardy crop – staple food to many across Africa and Asia – deserves to be considered an African superfood. Here’s why:

  • It’s gluten-free and one of the most easily digested grains around
  • It contains B vitamins, Iron, Magnesium and Calcium
  • It helps lower cholesterol
  • It’s a great source of protein
  • It has high levels of Tryptophan

Tryptophan is the ‘magic ingredient’ which makes Fondé the ideal comfort food and evening snack as it produces Serotonin, the ‘happy’ hormone which calms your mood and helps you sleep. Here in Senegal, Fondé is usually eaten as a snack in place of dinner, most commonly on Sunday night before a long week of work begins.

Here’s how to make it:

Bring 3 cups of water to the boil

Add 1 cup of millet

Reduce the heat to medium and stir regularly

Turn off the heat once all the water has been absorbed into the millet (about 25 minutes cooking time)

Cooked millet alongside packet of 'Arraw' brand pre-rolled millet
Cooked millet next to a packet of ‘Arraw’ pre-rolled millet

Place a couple of tablespoons of the millet into a bowl

Add lait caillé, a special Senegalese yoghurt which is slightly curdled and runnier than normal (to make your own version of lait caillé use two cups of plain or vanilla yoghurt, one cup of sour cream)

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Add a tablespoon or two of condensed milk

Add 1-2 teaspoons of plain or vanilla sugar

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And there you have it, fabulous Fondé! An easy, nourishing snack that tastes like an extravagant treat. For an added nutritional punch, why not have your Fondé alongside a steaming cup of West African Kinkeliba Tea? See my post on how to make it here.

 

Fondé is made with millet flour rolled into cous-cous-like balls. While it’s possible to make this at home, most people buy it ready-made. If you’re outside West Africa, head to your nearest African shop or food market to find pre-rolled millet. Here is a directory of African supermarkets around the world.

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Fally Sene Sow : a Unique View of Dakar’s Busiest Market

Fally Sene Sow
Fally Sene Sow

Artist Fally Sene Sow takes us soaring high above the city streets to give us a bird’s eye view of the action in Colobane, one of Dakar’s most popular markets. With his use of urban motifs and assortment of found objects, Sow’s intricate multimedia collages provide a modern take on the ancient Senegalese art of Sous-verre (‘under glass’ painting).

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Mbaaru Colobane

Colobane – where Sow grew up and still lives – has become the city’s biggest flea market for clothing, books, electronics and a plethora of other new and second-hand items. The tonnes of used clothes from the West that find their way to Colobane each year have created a sector which employs over 24,000 people who work in the sorting, washing, repairing, trading and distribution of second hand garments and accessories.

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Louma Colobane
Louma Colobane

There is a popular saying that “You can find anything in the world at Colobane Market” and just like the real market, anything and everything can be found in Sow’s collages: cut outs from photos and magazines, tin foil, pieces of string, scraps of fabric, chewing gum wrappers, and even tufts of sheep’s hair.

Tabaski Dakar 2015
Tabaski Dakar 2015

The elevated perspective takes us away from the traffic, smog and noise and shows us a beautiful, multi-coloured patchwork created by the market stall awnings and glittering zinc roofs. But everything looks fragile and delicate, reminding us of the physical frailty and impermanence of these ‘shops’ and the precarious livelihoods of the stall-holders themselves.

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Nawétu Colobane 2015

Colobane, as with many other informal African markets, doesn’t have a legal basis for its existence; it could be forced to dismantle, move or close down at a moment’s notice. Sow’s portrayals of market life are not only visually striking but serve as documentation of an area, a community, and a way of life that although seemingly very rooted is, in reality, anything but.

 

If you’re in Senegal and interested in purchasing Sow’s work, email him at fally2009@live.fr

If you live in Europe contact Gallery 23 for information: galerie23@sbk.nl 

Watch a short video of Fally talking about his work here (in French).

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