Maangi lekk cebb u jen!
That means ‘I eat ceebu jen’ in Wolof. Ceebu jen is a traditional Senegalese dish of rice and fish. This meal takes hours of simmering to perfect the mixture of flavors. Although it is a must try here in Senegal, it is not actually my favorite dish. We eat a lot of rice and fish here, so my favorite dish is one that branches out from this. Although the elements are similar, rice, meat and vegetables, my favorite meal is called mafe (pronounced mah-fey). This is a dish that is smothered in a delicious peanut sauce. Peanut, or ground nut, is one of Senegal’s biggest exports, so they show up everywhere in the cultures landscape and food.
Meals in Senegal are eaten in a very different way from the way I eat meals at home. Like many African countries, we, mu family, eat from a communal plate. Rice fills this large dish and meat and veggies are placed in the middle for everyone to share. Some families eat with their hands, and we were taught to do so in a cultural lesson. My family uses spoons, but everyone takes from the center with their hands and from time to time, my mother uses her hands fully. In America, this would be seen as unappealing, everyone sharing one plate and all of their germs- our antiseptic ways would not tolerate it! Here, however, it brings the family closer and puts every member on the same level. The culture of sharing is also a very important attribute of many African societies, and this certainly holds true in Senegal. Separate plates imply separate entities and sole property, but as food belongs to all, no one should have their own personal bit, so we share everything there is. This contrasts to the American ideal that everyone has their own of something, whether it be land, money, or food. Although things like land and money are still possessed and kept within families, food is a gift for all who come during mealtimes. Sometimes we chat as we eat, and others we are content with the silence.
Another example of this hospitality and notion of sharing is in the tradition of ataya. Ataya is a potent West African tea that is made in a small tea pot and is drunk from small clear glasses, similar to shot glasses. There are two glasses to a set, so when one person finishes, the cup is refilled and passed to another. These tea parties sometimes take hours, for there are three stages or courses to ataya. People sit outside in small groups talking and enjoying each others’ company while also enjoying this sweet minty tea. I, myself, have been invited to take tea with people whom I hardly know and it brings us together instantly through their hospitality and my willingness to accept. This is just another way in which the sharing culture of Senegal is displayed, and it is a fantastic sentiment to their way of life!