When I was reading up on Senegal and perusing other volunteers’ blogs, I read quite a bit about breakfast. Specifically, breakfasts that involved beans. I was intrigued because beans and lentils were already something I ate a lot of, and loved – shoutout to Kosher-Halal Co-op! But I was a curious how they would fit into breakfast.
To obtain your morning meal you first have to go out to your favorite breakfast lady. In every neighborhood, at least here in Tamba, there are multiple women who set up shop outside their houses and sell breakfast to their neighbors and schoolchildren. These stands are surrounded by big sheets of fabric hung around a few benches and a table upon which the jaaykat u ndekki, breakfast seller, has her sauces and bread. Breakfast ladies are also located in the big market in the city, nestled in alongside vegetable stands and bucket stores.
In Senegal, standard breakfast fare is a (large) piece of ‘baguette’ slathered with some kind of sauce and various other toppings you might desire. First there is the choice of bread. “Machine bread” is the name for 2-ft-long loaves of white, air-filled bread made in factories somewhere. Tapalapa is, in my opinion, a superior bread that is made by hand into smaller baguettes and is chewier, more substantial, and just plain tastier than “machine bread”. One drawback to the tapalapa is the smaller surface area for stuffing your favorite combination of toppings. Both of these breads are delivered around to boutiques and breakfast stands every morning.
The next step is to decide what you’re hungry for that morning. Probably the most typical breakfast sandwich topping is mayonnaise and niebe – beans. While each woman makes her niebe differently, the basic idea is a soupy, tomato-y sauce of beans, onions, and spices. The jaaykat u ndekki will deftly slice open your baguette, smear on the niebe, and wrap it in a square of foreign newspaper. (As a side-note, these little snippets of newspaper – I’ve seen British, Swedish, and Italian – are great fun to read or decipher as you chow down. However, it can be slightly frustrating when you’ve only got about a quarter of an article, the rest probably walking off with someone else’s sandwich.)
Other options include: a sauce of petit pois – peas, soos pombiteer (“sauce pombitehr”) – a sauce of onions and potatoes, spaghetti noodles with spices, ton – tuna sauce, and hard-boiled eggs. There is also mayonnaise which is usually mixed with some spices and chopped raw onions. While the combo might seem odd, it is really quite delicious!
In Tamba we volunteers have a favorite breakfast lady, Mami. She works just down the street from our regional house and makes the most delicious sandwiches! She has a multitude of options, including lettuce and a tomato-cucumber salad that I haven’t experienced at any other breakfast stand.
Many jaaykat u ndekki also sell coffee or tea at their stands. The large pot of hot liquid sits on a small charcoal stove to stay warm throughout the morning. When an order comes along, she scoops out the coffee or tea, adds sugar, and pours the drink back and forth from cup to cup to evenly distribute the sugar and to create a little bit of foam.
Breakfast is quite a cheap meal. One loaf of tapalapa, or an equal amount of machine bread, is 100 CFA (West African Franc), equal to approximately 16 cents USD. At most breakfast stands, each topping is also 100 CFA. Every morning my grandmother or aunt gives me 200 CFA – 32 cents USD to go and get breakfast. When I buy a sandwich for breakfast, I get a half tapalapa – 50 CFA, niebe – 100 CFA, and mayonnaise – 0 CFA (the free mayo due to the kindness of my local breakfast lady). Other days I’ll buy a little bag of yogurt, for 100 CFA, and eat it with cereal bought from the Western grocery store.
When it comes to “the most important meal of the day”, as my Mom always says, Senegal does it right! It would be hard to walk away hungry from a jaaykat u ndekki!