My childhood was organized around meals, games and small chores, usually my family's errands. Rice with fish, sorghum porridge, or grits with milk constituted most of our midday meals. For dinner, I usually had stewed meat in a sauce over sorghum couscous, or fried fish. At breakfast, I usually had herbal tea, milk, and butter on French bread.

In the rural areas, breakfast still consists of leftovers from the previous night's dinner, or porridge (or grits) with milk. Villagers tend to eat more locally grown cereals while city dwellers are accustomed to rice imported from Indochina. The most common dish today in the cities, especially at lunchtime, is cooked rice accompanied by fish and vegetables stewed in a tomato sauce. It is considered to be a national dish, along with chicken marinated in lemon juice over steamed rice, and peanut butter sauce over steamed rice. Peanut and palm oils serve widely for the cooking.

After meals, plain water is the main way to quench one's thirst. But for visitors, there are always soft drinks made out of fruits such as mango, the fruit of a rubber tree, the fruit of the baobab tree, etc., or the industrially made pop drinks. The most common local soft drink is extracted from red sorrel leaves: its appearance explains its nickname, 'Senegalese Red Vine'. After meals, the guests often share kola nuts. Imported from as far as Liberia or Ivory Coast, they have a digestive and stimulant action. Kolas also have some sacred value, as they are usually shared to seal deals, to celebrate weddings or baptisms, to perform divinations, etc.

My preferred time used to be the tea session after most meals. Gathered around a small charcoal burner and a tea pot, the whole family and guests would spend an hour and half to two hours, drinking slowly three small glasses of a sweet hot decoction of Chinese green tea and peppermint leaves, eating salted roasted peanuts, fresh bread, or dried meat. These were precious moments to discuss, to make decisions, to laugh, to share warmth.

 

Contributed by: Mohamed Mbodj
Associate Professor History Department Columbia University New York NY 10027
Tel.: 212-854-2423
Fax: 212-854-4639

 
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