• Aissatou Ba's thieboudienne (ceebu jën) is a shared dish, often considered the national dish of Senegal. (Kismet Productions)
Sharing her love of Senegalese food is simply imprinted in Aissatou Ba's DNA.
By
Bron Maxabella

12 Nov 2018 - 12:48 PM  UPDATED 15 Nov 2018 - 9:49 AM

This season of Food Safari Water showcases its very first segment from Senegal with Aissatou Ba, owner and head cook at Melbourne’s Tastes of Senegal, who cooks up the much-loved one-pot wonder thieboudienne (or ceebu jën).

“Ceebu jën is the signature national dish of Senegal,” Ba tells SBS Food. “The variety of ingredients that come into its making gives you the feeling that every time you make it, you break new boundaries of taste and exquisite flavours."

“My kids love it and my customers always come back for more.”

Cook Aissatou Ba’s thieboudienne recipe.

"The art and love of cooking comes from the deep-rooted belief that women foster and perpetuate happiness in the family through cooking good food."

Cooking is community

Ba grew up in the city of Ziguinchor in the south of Senegal, at the confluence of Guinea Bissau, Gambia and the Atlantic Ocean. She was born into a big family, where cooking was a central part of family and community life.

“We believe in our community that a house from where the smell of good food being cooked comes, is a house of fulfilment and abundance,” Ba explains. “The art and love of cooking comes from the deep-rooted belief that women foster and perpetuate happiness in the family through cooking good food. This is how important cooking was for me and my sisters growing up.”

Aissatou Ba enjoyed cooking for Maeve O'Meara on Food Safari Water.

Ba’s mother taught her daughters how to cook from an early age. “She needed the extra hands to cook for the big family,” says Ba. “But it was also a way to pass on the art and love of cooking.”

“We believe in our community that a house from where smell of good food being cooked comes, is a house of fulfillment and abundance."

'Good, nice smelling food'

All Tastes of Senegal recipes are a legacy from the tradition of cooking with her mother and sisters for her family and community.

In Senegal, family comes together for a cooked meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with men generally eating separately to women. At each meal, the women serve what Ba describes as “good, nice smelling food, as a source of pleasure and pride.” 

Traditionally, men, women and children eat separately in Senegal, with the men served first.

Tastes of Senegal started in 2008 as a market food stall, active at festivals and council events across Sydney. Ba started the stall with her husband’s help as a family project to share her love of cooking and community. “Senegal was missing from the food landscape,” she remembers. “People would often ask me, ‘What do you guys eat in Senegal and Africa in general?’, and Tastes of Senegal was the best answer to that.”

The family relocated to Melbourne in 2012 and Tastes of Senegal started popping up at markets and festivals like St Kilda Festival, Globe to Globe and Geelong Night Markets. The business is still active at events across Victoria but has also found a permanent home in a small food court off Collins Street in Melbourne.

“We are very active and visible across all of Victoria with our Senegalese brand of cooking and Victorians just love our food!” says Ba.

“People would often ask me, ‘What do you guys eat in Senegal and Africa in general?’, and Tastes of Senegal was the best answer to that.”

Tastes of Senegal

Food for sharing

Senegalese cuisine is influenced by North African, French, Portuguese and Middle Eastern cultures. Traditionally, food is made for sharing, with guest gathering around a single dish and eating with their right hand.

“Senegalese women are known for their elegance and culinary talents, which they carry and transmit from generations to generations."

Rice or couscous, forms the basis of many Senegalese meals, with beef, lamb or fish added with an abundant amount of vegetables and spices. Chieb, or jollof rice, originated among Senegal’s Wolof people but is found all over West Africa.

“Senegalese and Gambian women are known to be the best cooks of jollof rice,” claims Ba. “But we have dozens of food recipes and jollof rice has at least half of dozen of sub-varieties, not necessarily known to the wider public.”

Try this recipe for jollof rice.

The answer is Tastes of Senegal 

It’s part of Ba’s plan for Tastes of Senegal to bring a wider variety of Senegalese dishes into the Australian public know-how. It’s simply in her DNA to share the food she grew up with. 

“Senegalese women are known for their elegance and culinary talents, which they carry and transmit from generations to generations,” she says. The many happy Tastes of Senegal customers are grateful that Ba expanded her sense of family and community to share her cooking and culture with them all.

You can watch Food Safari Water with Maeve O'Meara on SBS On Demand. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.

Tastes of West Africa
West African peanut stew (mafé)

Ubiquitous across West Africa in countries such as Senegal, Gambia and Mali, this stew takes on many guises. The meat, vegetable and spice components are all variable so feel free to experiment, using sweet potatoes, cabbage, beef, fish, eggplant or a dash of cayenne, as the mood strikes you – the dish can also be entirely meat-free. 

Caramel mango and banana tart (tarte caramélisée aux mangues et bananes)

The West African republic of Guinea’s food culture has been heavily influenced by its colonial past, and this dark, caramelised fruit tart – flavoured with rum and vanilla, and cousin to that French classic, tarte Tatin – is its embodiment.

Jollof rice with fish

Jollof rice is a staple across much of West Africa, with each country possessing its own interpretation. No matter which brand of jollof you come across, the main ingredient will always be rice. Other ingredients, such as fish, beef, pork, chicken, plantain, help to differentiate and dress up the dish. Like many African recipes, jollof rice can be served at all occasions – toned down for weeknight meal or adorned with seafood for a more lavish affair.

Ghanaian drop doughnuts

Coarser sanding sugar is reminiscent of the beaches of Ghana, where these doughnuts are commonly found, but you can use any sugar you like, or serve with tropical fruit jam.

Flatbread (farata)

These easy breads use just three ingredients. 

Nigerian meat pies

A flaky hand-pie for picnics or parties. 

Rich beef and vegetable stew (efo riro)

Efo Riro is a rich vegetable soup that is native to the Yorubas of Western Nigeria.