Since most of you reading this know how much I love food, I’ve decided to do a weekly (inshallah) post on Fridays to highlight a Senegalese dish or other interesting part of the food culture here.
For this inaugural post let’s look at “ceb u jenn”, (pronounced cheb oo jenn), the Senegalese national dish.
A much beloved dish, ceb u jenn – rice and fish – is a lunch staple around the country. It is also the dish that everyone wants us toubabs to know how to make. (And are very impressed and happy when they come by your house and see you in the midst of peeling veggies or pounding pepper and garlic – “You’re cooking!”. Sort of, hah)
There are two kinds of ceb u jenn, red and white. This different refers to the color of the rice signaling the presence or absence of tomato.
- Pound in a mortar and pestle: peppercorns, dried red chiles, garlic, salt, and green onions. This will be stuffed into slits in the fish. (Called roff in Wolof)
- Stuff the fish and fry in hot oil for a few minutes. Remove from the pot.
- Pound in a mortar and pestle: peppercorns, dried red peppers, garlic, onion, green sweet pepper, and a vegetable bouillon cube or two.
- Fry this mixture as well as tomato paste, if making the red version. Then add lots of water.
- Add the fish and all the veggies you want to the pot. Usually found in ceb u jenn: cabbage, eggplant, squash, something starchy like cassava, potato, carrot, and bitter tomato (actually an eggplant). Cook until soft.
- Remove the veggies and fish and set aside. Steam rice briefly in a strainer-like bowl on top of the cooking liquid. Then add the rice to the liquid and cook until done. If cooked correctly there will be a layer of brown, crispy, delicious rice on the bottom of the pot.
- Lunchtime! Meals here are eaten communally from a large bowl or platter. First rice is spooned out in the bowl and spread out evenly. Then the veggies and fish are placed on top, along with the crispy rice.
Ceb u jenn is also often served with bissap sauce. This is a viscous sauce made out of bissap leaves (also known as hibiscus) which are pounded to a pulp with garlic and spices to form a wonderfully tangy condiment.
I eat ceb u jenn multiple times per week and it has become one of my favorite dishes here in Senegal.