Food & Drinks

Fish dish with exotic Senegal flavour

Food1-online

Piebu Dien, a Senegalese fish and rice dish at Le Palanka restaurant in Nairobi. PHOTO| POOL

Summary

  • The authenticity of this dish results from using yet (dried fish) and guedj (salty dried fish) from Senegal.
  • The marination and tamarind sauce gave this fish a unique flavour that I enjoyed.
  • Fufu, Egosi soup and meat was the other dish we tried.
  • Fufu, a soft version of ugali has a tangy taste from the fermented cassava flour.

An intimate ambiance, RnB music, open bandas and cozy couches welcomes me to Le Palanka, an African restaurant in Nairobi on a weekday evening. Seems like the outside seating area is a favourite spot for many. It is full.

I’m here to try a Senegalese dish that is only available at this restaurant in Kenya. The fish and rice dish goes by the local name Tiebu Dien (pronounced Tiebu Jen).

“This is my favourite dish to make. It takes four hours to prepare because you have to cook everything individually with specific different spices and herbs. The sauce is the major ingredient of this dish and making it takes 45 minutes. The fish must be marinated for one hour and rice takes 45 minutes to prepare,” says Chef Rita Torome.

The distinct taste of the dish comes from a special kind of fish sourced from Senegal.

“The fish used has a strong smell even after being cooked. We usually serve the original dish from Senegal to our West African clientele. The Kenyan palate will not find this to be a delicacy so we substitute the fish with local tilapia,” she adds.

On my plate is the unique meal-rice that has attained this deep brown colour, vegetable chunks of carrot, eggplant, okra, cassava, cabbage and sweet potatoes and fish.

The authenticity of this dish results from using yet (dried fish) and guedj (salty dried fish) from Senegal.

“These are the only ingredients used in this dish that we import. I didn’t add the dried fish to your dish because as a Kenyan you wouldn’t have liked it for its strong smell. I added a small amount and removed it just before the dish absorbed the smell,” the chef says.

“If I cook the yet and guedj, even the neighbours will know,” she adds. The smell, she elaborates, may be mistaken for fish that has gone bad but that is the natural smell of the fish that is from the Atlantic Ocean.

The marination and tamarind sauce gave this fish a unique flavour that I enjoyed.

Fufu, Egosi soup and meat was the other dish we tried. Fufu, a soft version of ugali has a tangy taste from the fermented cassava flour. Egosi soup and meat looked like scrambled eggs served in a bowl. I could taste the fish and the goat meat in the meal.

“You know we are used to soup having a liquidy or pasty texture, however to the Senegalese they call this meal a soup,” adds Chef Rita. The soup and meat dish contained ground melon seeds, dry fish, goat meat, spinach and chilli.

Fufu is made with water and fermented cassava flour. “To cook fufu, I boil water, remove the pot from the heat and cook the fermented cassava flour. I prefer cooking the West African dishes because they require more preparation than our Kenyan dishes and their natural ingredients have numerous health benefits,” the chef reveals.

West African food do not allow for shortcuts. Chef Rita further shares that West African food is not like continental cuisine where a meal can be prepared in five minutes. Recipes have to be followed to the latter.

The texture of the scrambled egg of the Egusi soup is a result of the grounded melon seeds and palm oil which also gives the dish a yellow colour.

“To eat fufu like a pro, just swallow it, it is soft enough and doesn’t need chewing and that’s how the Nigerians have it,” Chef Rita advises as I take another bite.