Top 10 Most Popular Foods in The Gambia
Just like everyone else, Gambians love their food. But before we talk about traditional Gambian foods, let’s find out a little about Gambian traditions.
In Gambia, food is mostly prepared by women, who share their culinary experience with their children. Gambians use their right hand to eat, and, usually, before eating, they say “Bismillah”, meaning “In the name of God”. These old traditions, like sharing recipes from grandma to mom to daughter, help people really love and remember where they come from. In a changing world, these customs are like strong pillars. They help Gambians remember their special history every time they cook and eat with care.
There are many traditional foods in The Gambia, but the following 10 are the most popular. Don’t forget to try them when you visit the country.
Benachin is the most famous Gambian food. Everyone is familiar with this dish, and no event is complete without Benachin. It is cooked for naming ceremonies, weddings, funerals, etc.
Benachin literally means one dish or one pot. It got the name because most of our dishes require two pots, one for the rice and the other for the soup, but with Benachin, everything is cooked in one pot.
Benachin is basically a simple dish of fish, beef, or chicken, cooked with oil, onions, garlic, pepper, tomato, seasoning, cassava, and bay leaves. You can also add carrots and shrimp, but they are not essential.
Tomato paste can also be added if preferred, and this determines the type of Benachin you are preparing: with tomato paste, it is called “red Benachin”, and without tomato paste, it is called “white Benachin“.
The dish is simple to prepare. Just fry the meat til browned, then take it out and put in the pounded or blended onions, garlic, pepper, and tomatoes and stir for 15 to 30 minutes. Add water, seasoning of your preference, bay leaves, salt, and cassava, and replace the meat, then let it boil for 30 to 40 minutes.
Then take out the meat and cassava, add a little water, and put in washed rice. This will soak up the water once it is properly cooked.
Your Benachin is now done and can be served in a bowl or plate, with the fish, beef, or chicken and sitting atop the rice.
Yassa is a very simple dish that can be cooked with either chicken or fish.
With chicken, it is called Yassa Ganarr (Ganarr being the chicken) and with fish, it is called Yassa Jenn (Jenn being the fish). Together with onions, pepper, black pepper, seasoning, salt, lime, mustard, and bell pepper, this makes a delicious dish.
For Yassa Ganarr, simply season the chicken and steam it. When tender, take it out and fry it. Take out the fried chicken and add the onion, mustard, all the peppers, seasoning, and salt, and stir fry for 7 minutes. Then add a little water and lime and replace the chicken. After 10 minutes simmering, serve with rice.
3. Nyambeh Nyebeh (Cassava and Beans)
Nyambeh Nyebeh literally means cassava and beans and is mostly eaten as dinner. Nyabeh Nyebeh needs three different pots: one pot for the cassava, another for the beans, and another for the stew.
First, the cassava is boiled and once cooked, a little salt is added. Then, the beans are boiled with a little salt. Finally, the stew is prepared.
To prepare this stew, spring onions, white onions, and pepper are pounded or put in a blender. This is then sautéed in palm oil for 15 minutes, then water and a little bit of jumbo are added before covering the pan and leaving it to simmer.
Now your Nyambeh Nyebeh is done, all you need do is plate the cassava cut into pieces, put the beans on top, and finally top that with the stew.
Note: if you want, you can fry up a fish to eat with your Nyambeh Nyebeh.
4. Naan Mburu
Naan Mburu is a Gambian dessert that can be prepared any day, but it is traditionally prepared on Good Friday. Almost all Christians in The Gambia prepare Naan Mburu at home to give to their Muslim friends and neighbors. It is also sold by street vendors and served in restaurants.
It is basically a rice pudding dessert made with baobab fruit. The key ingredients are rice and baobab, plus sugar, fruit (such as banana, apple, and grapes), milk, and essence of whichever flavor you fancy.
Domoda is basically a peanut soup that doesn’t require many ingredients, just meat, peanut butter, salt, tomato paste, pepper, onion, seasoning, tomatoes, and lime.
First, put the meat in a pot with a little salt and cover it with water. Pound or blend the onions, pepper, and tomato, add to the pot, and leave it to boil for a while. Then add the peanut butter and leave it to simmer. Put in the tomato paste, seasoning, and a little lime. Once you see oil in the soup, your Domoda is ready to be served.
Ebbeh can be found literally everywhere in The Gambia and is one of the highest-selling foods. It is so popular, it’s served in schools, restaurants, work canteens, street stalls, and markets. That way Gambians can always be sure of getting their fix of Ebbeh.
It is made with cassava, smoked fish, crab, tamarind, lime juice, palm oil, salt, pepper, jumbo, and shrimp, if that’s what you fancy. Simply clean and dice the cassava, and leave it to simmer for 20 minutes with the shrimp, crab, and salt.
Once tender, remove half of the cassava from the pot and pound it with a mortar and pestle until it’s a paste, and return it to the pot. Add the palm oil, lime juice, jumbo, pepper, and smoked fish, making sure you have removed all the bones. Stir for 15 mins and your Ebbeh is ready to enjoy.
7. Fish Cake and Sauce
Fish cakes are a simple Gambian food sold on the streets in the evening. They are made with a dough of just flour, fat, and salt.
Ironically, fish cakes contain no fish.
Roll out the dough, cut into circles, and fry. What makes these so special is the sauce they are served with. Onions, jumbo, pepper, and salt are blended, sautéed in hot oil for a while, then simmered with a little water.
All you do now is plate the fish cakes and dress them with a delicious sauce. Enjoy!
8. Super Kanja
Super Kanja is another traditional dish known by all Gambians. Kanja means okra and Super Kanja literally means okra soup.
The ingredients are simple, palm oil, smoked fish, onions, okra, pepper, and some crab if you choose. While it does take a while to cook, once you have a steaming bowl of super Kanja in front of you, you’ll know all the effort was worthwhile.
It tastes simply amazing and can be served with rice or fufu, cooked cassava, or yam powder (a type of flour often used in African and Caribbean cuisines to make porridge, soups, and other traditional foods).
Akara is also another well-loved food, this one is mostly eaten in the late morning from street stalls. Akara is made with black eye peas and salt, and it is served with a sauce of onions, habanero and chili peppers, salt, and jumbo or Maggi.
The key to perfect akara is the preparation of black-eye peas. They need to soak in water for 45 mins to 1 hour, and while you are waiting, you can get on with the sauce. Simply blend all the sauce ingredients and fry them in plenty of oil til it is rich, brown, and thick.
Now back to the peas. You need to remove the skins so that your Akara is white and beautiful and tastes great. So after soaking them, gently pound the peas in a mortar or on the pulse setting of a blender, adding a little water. Then put them in plenty of water and strain to separate the skins. Now put them in a blender with some salt and a little water, not too much as you want a good firm paste that you can fry. Blend and blend until you get a smooth and fluffy consistency.
Finally, fill a pan with plenty of oil and heat it til it’s nice and hot, but not too hot! Gently lower a spoonful of the pea paste into the oil, do this in batches, and deep fry til you see the edges turn brown. Now flip the Akara to brown the other side, and remove.
Pile the Akara on a plate and serve with a side dish of sauce. Ummm!
No article on the food of The Gambia would be complete without Afra. This is a dish that is mostly served at small cafes, street stalls, and restaurants in the late evening after a good night out.
You can choose between beef and chicken afra, the meat being grilled in front of you, with a seasoning of your choice, plus onions and mustard. Of course, you can ask for more seasoning and more onions to enhance the strong aroma.
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