I had a wonderful weekend revisiting Senegal, a country I had traveled through extensively while conducting graduate research. This time, I got to see Senegal through a different lens, not as a foreigner in a foreign land, but as a local in a foreign land. Interesting twist, eh?
The Metropolitian Museum of Art was my first stop on the Culture Weekend Staycation to Senegal itinerary. While there, I viewed the exhibit: African Art, New York and the Avante-Garde. The first exhibit featured African art acquired by a small sect of NYC collectors. These collectors often showcased African sculpture during a time when doing so was not in vogue. I saw this exhibit as a nod to the trailblazers in the art world who brought African art to NY and subsequently, whether realized or not, helped to foster an appreciation for the African aesthetic.
Little Senegal, or Le Petit Senegal, in NYC is a Harlem neighborhood with a growing number of Senegalese immigrants and also boasts some of the best Senegalese food restaurants. So when our gastronomical curiosities signaled, insert tummy grumbles, we made our way over to Keur Sokhna Restaurant Plus which was the next stop on our Culture Weekend Staycation to Senegal. I started my order with Bissap, a drink aptly named as “the national drink of Senegal”. Bissap is like sweet tea, but made from the dried red flowers of the hibiscus plant, and has a subtle ginger taste. The restaurant also offers up the standard beverage options such as sodas, bottled water and the like. One slight disappointment, however, was that the Baobab drink was not available along with a few other key Senegalese menu items. When in Senegal, I would have the Baobab drink every day it was that delicious so I was filled with excitement when I saw it on the menu, but saddened to learn it wasn’t available. Next, we ordered our main dishes. I had the Lamb Dibbi, my hubby the grilled tilapia. Both dishes tasted great. One major highlight were the sauteed onions that accompanied each dish; they were on the meats and the side dish of vermicelli, adding a unique flavor to the food. Lastly, we ordered a side of fried plantains and they were made perfectly: not too oily and not too mushy, just right.
The last stop of the day was to Symphony Space for a viewing of The Pirogue at the African Film Festival. This film was truly the jewel of the evening. Imagine traveling across the Atlantic in a boat roughly twice the size of a canoe with 29 other souls in search of a better life abroad……and you’re the captain. The responsibility of leading a group of Senegalese immigrants who are desperately seeking opportunity in Spain is much to bear for the protagonist of the movie, Baye Laye, but he stands strong throughout as he deals with the loss of lives at sea, taking this perilous journey with his brother in tow and leaving behind his wife and young son in Senegal. In search of dreams, some are forced to risk it all and as an American while watching this film, I couldn’t help but note how I’ve taken many things for granted. Between 2005-2010, 30,000 West Africans have tried to cross the Atlantic in sole boats called pirogues and 5,000 have perished. This is a serious movie, not about immigration, but about plight.
For the at-home portion of our Culture Weekend Staycation to Senegal, we enjoyed a fabulous dish of Chicken Yassa (recipe below) and watched Little Senegal. One thing that I have so throughly enjoyed about my Culture Weekends are the movies and Little Senegal, like the other movie suggestions, did not disappoint. This movie follows Alloune, a Sengalese Goree Island tour guide, who researches his own ancestry to discover he has relatives in America. This movie takes you on his journey of self-discovery and the drama that comes with it. It also is a great commentary on African culture versus African-American culture.
- 1/2 cup squeezed lemon juice
- 4 large onions, thinly sliced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 bouillon chicken flavored cubes
- 1/8 tsp minced fresh habanero chile
- 5 tbsp peanut oil
- 1 frying chicken (2 1/2 to 3 1/2 lbs), cut into serving pieces
- 1 habanero chile, pricked with a fork
- 1/2 cup pimento-stuffed olives
- 4 carrots, scraped and thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp mustard
- 1/2 cup water
- Prepare marinade by mixing the lemon juice, onions, salt, pepper, minced chile, crumbled bouillon cubes and 4 tbsp of peanut oil. Place chicken in the marinade and cover. Marinate for at least 3 hours. I prepared the marinade a day ahead and let it sit in the frig over night.
- After chicken is done marinating, preheat the broiler on high. Remove chicken from marinade, reserving the marinade, and place on a shallow pan. Broil chicken until lightly browned on both sides. Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven or 5 qt pan with 1 tbsp of peanut oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and saute until they are soft and translucent. Add the reserved marinade and let it heat up. Next, add the chicken, pricked chile, olives, carrots, mustard and water. When the dish reaches the desired level of hotness, the chile can be removed.
- Stir to mix ingredients well, then bring the yassa slowly to a boil. Lower the heat and let simmer for 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve over rice.
I hope that you enjoyed your Culture Weekend Staycation to Senegal as much as I. Please feel free to share your experience!