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Senegalese Cooking with Chef Compton

When I was with my home stay family in Thies, I was given select opportunities to be reluctantly shown how to cook traditional Senegalese dishes. Being a man in the kitchen isn’t the most common thing in Senegal, so the first time, my sister in law was cooking, I could watch but not touch anything. She showed me how to make a rice and fish dish that was similar to ceebujen. She started by pounding spicy peppers, black pepper, chives, bullion cubes, and a little bit of onion to be stuffed in the fish. Next she heated up a large pot with a whole bottle of Chef Aida (canola oil), then placed the fish in the pot. She added a second spice mix of bullion cubes, black pepper, spicy pepper, and a little bit of onion, to the oil and let the fish cook until the skin got crispy. She pulled the fish out and then added more of the spice mix, tomato paste, and 4 cups of water to the oil. She let it simmer for 10-15 minutes and then added the fish along with carrots, cabbage, and some eggplant. After around 5 minutes she took out the fish and vegetables and cooked the rice over the broth while it simmered.

This is all she would show me that day and after washing the dishes my brother insisted that I take a break and watch soccer. Cooking is very free-form and fast-paced which is hard when your trying to cut onions without a cutting board while keeping all your fingers intact at the same time. They still gave an undeserved round of applause and exclaimed loudly that I cooked the whole thing by myself. After dinner I was in the living room with my brother and I asked why was everyone so hesitant to let me cook, or at least help them a little more. He explained to me that culturally women cook to show their love and affection to her family, friends, or anyone eating the food. He continued to explain that when men cook they are taking away one of the primary connections between the women and the rest of the family. They can express their love in many other ways, but cooking is one of the most common. I hope I can embody that mentality (without taking away from the women of the house) when I come home and cook traditional Senegalese dishes for my family. I want to show my family that I love them through cooking and I’ve learned that I should be more appreciative for the amount of cooking that my mother does to keep me happy, healthy, and to show that she loves me.