As the doors of tourism open ever wider in sunny, rustic Gambia, more and more holidaymakers are taking a break there. There’s lots to see and experience, yet one aspect of Gambia’s charm that often pleasantly surprises people who holiday here is the food.
Rich rice dishes daubed in thick sauces form much of the menu in Gambia, yet there’s also plenty more to look into as you explore your culinary options. Take some of our pointers onboard before your holiday and you’ll know exactly how to get the most filling and delicious meals.
Rice and spice
Similar to much of the cuisine of the world, from Sri Lanka and Thailand to Portugal and Spain, they love their spices in Gambia.
Breakfast is a simple bread and jam affair for the most part, and dinner consists of light bites of the seafood and beef variety. But, much like the Mediterranean, it’s lunchtime that’s the major meal of the day for Gambians, and there are some signature rice dishes deserving your dining attention while you’re here.
One of the most common dishes of this kind you’ll experience is yassa. It’s similar to a curry, but with a local flair that you won’t find anywhere else.
Yassa uses white rice for its base, and adds a number of different ingredients to taste. As such, it can feature chicken or beef as its main ingredient, as well as diced vegetables, onions, a dash of chilli and a smattering of lemon or lime juice for a distinctive zing.
Peanut butter or peanut syrup also forms a big component in the rice dishes of Gambia.
A good example of that distinctive flavour can be found in domoda, where white rice and peanut sauce is mixed with fresh vegetables like carrots, cabbage and potatoes, as well as chicken or beef. The nutty flavouring entirely differs from the spice found in dishes like yassa.
Soups and stews
Peanuts are used in more than rice dishes in Gambia. In fact, a peanut butter stew has emerged from kitchens across the country that’s become a firm favourite for both locals and tourists, and that’s maafe.
There are pretty much as many varieties of the maafe recipe as families who have ever cooked it, but a few common ingredients tend to distinguish the dish. The base of the stew is a thick peanut butter sauce, with chicken and vegetables added during the simmering process.
Cinnamon or chilli powder are optional ingredients for an extra kick.
Moving away from grains and nuts, there are plenty of other soups on offer in Gambia. Oyster stew speaks of the country’s long love of seafood, which is also seen in pepeh soup. That dish uses fresh fish for its base, spiced up for extra impact and often incorporating some haunches of beef for extra flavour.
Succulent sweet treats
Neighbouring Senegal shares its love of sweet foods with Gambia, and that’s resulted in the two countries becoming well regarded for their simple yet succulent dessert, thiakry.
Much like the local love of rice, thiakry is a fantastic example of a homegrown grain being put to versatile use. In this instance, it’s millet that’s the base ingredient of thiakry, and it’s combined with creamy yoghurt, cinnamon and sugar to make for a truly tasty treat.
In fact, thiakry is loved by the local people so much that it’s often eaten as a snack on the go or for breakfast, so don’t limit yourself to dessert time for this dish. It’s found across Gambia, everywhere from street stalls to restaurants, meaning trying it for yourself is easily done, and definitely recommended.