Written by Pierre Thiam
Exploring Senegal’s markets with Chef Pierre
Pierre Thiam, Chef, Author of Yolele! Recipes From the Heart of Senegal and
Senegal: Modern Recipes From The Source to the Bowl (www.pierrethiam.com)
Visiting open markets in Senegal, or anywhere in Africa for that matter, is one of my favourite activities. There is no better way to immerse yourself in thepulse of the community and get a good insight into the culture, food, smells
and sounds of Senegal than inside its markets. Regardless of the region, Senegalese markets are exciting, vibrant, colourful, noisy and fun. Since cooking is still a gender-based activity in Senegal, markets are naturally full of women – beautiful women, elegantly dressed in fl owing, brightly coloured fabrics. Some sport architectural headscarves, while others
carry heavy loads precariously balanced on their heads – often with a baby wrapped up and sleeping comfortably on their backs. They move about graciously between the crowded and narrow alleys, which are overfl owing with food and other domestic items. The atmosphere feels like a carnival: the animated noises of bargain, laughter, haggling and
the occasional music seamlessly blend with the smells of thiouraye incense, dozens of spices, and of course food. Indeed, all sorts of foods are to be found: sweet mangoes, sour tamarinds, bitter eggplants, briny clam relish, spicy peppers, fermented conch, salted fi sh, smoked catfi sh, fresh fi sh, all kinds of green leaves, plantain, fried plantain, skinned lamb hanging on hooks, and a bountiful diversity of fresh ingredients. Senegalese markets are a feast for the senses! Depending on what you’re looking for, my personal favourites in Dakar are the historic Marché Kermel in Plateau and the perpetually busy Marché Tilène in Medina. If it’s fi sh you’re after and you’ve got the time, a trip to the Marché Aux Poissons up the peninsula in Kayar is absolutely unforgettable, but the fi sh market at Soumbédioune in Dakar typically has an excellent selection as well. For fashion plates rather than dinner plates, there’s nowhere better than Marché HLM, the ideal place to buy fabrics. Wherever you go, don’t be intimidated by the hassle – as anywhere, take good care of your personal belongings, but don’t be afraid to stop and chat! After nearly three decades of cooking professionally,I still pick up tips from the vendors every time I go.