Roadside street food stalls in Dakar all have one menu item in common: Senegal’s national dish of thiebou dieune.
This spicy and flavourful dish is “comfort food with a kick”. Simply, rice (thieb) and fish (dieune) in a piquant tomato-based sauce, thiebou dieune is most commonly consumed from a big communal bowl. Diners scoop up handfuls (strictly with their right hand only) and squeeze the mixture into a tight small ball before popping it into the mouth.
The fish is typically mild, with the spiced flavours originating from the broth made with smoked fish and a miscellany of other seafood as it infuses the rice with rich and bold flavours.
In local folklore, thiebou dieune was created by Penda Mbaye, who worked for the governor of the former colonial capital of West Africa, Saint Louis in Senegal. Early incarnations of her recipe used barley but when there was a shortage of the grain Penda substituted rice and the national dish of Senegal was born.
Enjoying a tasty plate of thiebou dieune on the streets of Dakar is cheap, with most roadside stalls cooking up a generous plate for 500 Fcfa, or $1. Don’t be fooled by the fancy restaurants uptown, who charge up to 7500 Fcfa for the privilege – this dish tastes best when gleaned from the street.
Karri Masson’s Thiebou dieune recipe (serves four)
- Cloves from 1 garlic bulb
- Large bunch fresh parsley
- 2 cubes of Maggi or Jumbo bouillon
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp dried red pepper flakes
- 160-240ml oil
- Whole capitaine fish or red snapper, cleaned
- 2-3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1-2 onions, sliced
- 1 red pepper, roughly chopped
- 4 wedges of cabbage, about 2 inches at thickest point
- 4 carrots, peeled
- 2 potatoes, sweet potatoes or other tubers, peeled
- 1-2 small aubergines
- 3 cupfuls of broken or small round rice
- Scotch Bonnet hot sauce, to serve
- Lime wedges, to serve
- Crush together garlic, parsley, bouillon and black pepper and dried pepper flakes – it should make around 12 tbsp, and you will need to use a third of the mixture at a time.
- Score 4 holes in the fish and stuff each with 1 tbsp of the garlic mixture. Heat oil in large saucepan. Fry the fish until just lightly browned. Remove the fish and set aside.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste to the oil along with chopped onions and pepper. Fry just until tender. Remove and set aside.
- Add the remaining whole vegetables, 4 tbsps garlic mixture and water to cover. Cover the saucepan and let simmer about 15 minutes. Add the fish and continue simmering gently until the vegetables are done. Remove the fish and vegetables and set aside, keeping warm.
- Use the remaining liquid to cook the rice. Add the rice and 4 tbsp garlic mixture then cover. Reduce the heat and cook until all liquid is absorbed and you begin to smell the rice on the bottom of the pan toasting.
- Once cooked, spread the rice out on a large platter. Arrange the fish and veggies in the centre. Squeeze lime juice over the top and serve with hot sauce. Bisimilahi!
Image via T.K. Naliaka / cc