I am blessed with an ability to move seamlessly between different groups of people. I can talk with homeless people and CEO's of Fortune 500 companies within the same hour and feel as if I connected with both crowds. So, when asked "What's it really like in Africa?" and "How is Senegalese food?" I thought this post might be the best example of both worlds. This all happened within an 18 hour span...
FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER: About once a month, several of the neighborhood guards get together in our garage for a dinner party consisting of the same exact meal: pork and wine. Let me start with the wine: I walked in last night and saw a 10-litre jug that formerly would have been occupying space in a typical office water cooler. The jug was filled with red wine that was purchased (discreetly) from someone in the military who somehow is able to obtain barrels of the stuff from Spain. It cost 10,000 CFA (about $20) for 10 liters of wine.
The first thing that hits you on these Friday night dinners is the funnel. Two guys are required to pour the wine from the 10-litre jug; one to hold the jug while the second balances the funnel into the mouth of a 1.5 liter bottle that formerly held the Kirene brand of water. Our guards save all the water bottles for just this type of occasion and they are careful to ensure that we are able to get nearly 7 complete bottles without spilling a drop.
Our guard is in charge of obtaining about 10 pounds of roasted pork. Another guard's wife arrives with a giant metal bowl filled with sliced red onions, some type of green pepper, herbs and chiles. She mixes the roast pork by hand with the vegetable blend and then places the completed dish on a very small table.
Seven men and one woman then gathered round in rickety chairs to proceed eating by hand (using only the right hand). The "President" of this secret society makes sure every glass is continously filled to the brim - and we drink out of 12 ounce water glasses! If you're doing the math, that works out to over one liter of wine per person. The ratio was 6 black guys, one white guy and one wife/server. Total cost for the entire meal (including wine) is 35,000 CFA (about $70). They would do this more often, but for two reasons:
1.) By only having this gathering once a month, it becomes a treat and not a normal dinner
2.) They don't earn enough money to do this every week.
Much of the pork is still "on the bone." If you get a bone - don't worry. Just toss the bone on the garage floor and one of the two stray cats that I adopted will come and munch on any leftover meat. French was the primary language, with some broken English thrown in for good measure, so I didn't understand much of the dinner conversation. However, I can tell you that I laughed endlessly at the antics of the group and even managed to take some compromising photos of people after they passed out from drinking the wine - much to the delight of the people who were able to remain awake. I hear the photos were posted on Facebook...
At some point in the night, one of the guards brought out some wrapping papers and carefully rolled up some loose tobacco. He shared his cigarette with a couple of other guards.
We started at 9:00pm and I didn't hit the pillow until after midnight. This simple recipe, coupled with excellent companionship, made for one of the best dinners I have ever had in Dakar. While I might have only known two people before the night began, I walked away with 7 friends.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON LUNCH: Every Saturday since the 1930's, the "Directors Generale" of the major companies in Senegal get together for a lunch party. Each week, a different member is responsible for hosting the event at one of the area's posh hotels.
I arrived a bit late and found almost 70 people milling about enjoying the open bar. I saw a friend who explained the whole purpose of the event and helped me make the connection of how I was invited. He mentioned that I could not have a drink until I had walked through the crowd and shaken hands with every person there.
The first thing that hits you on these Saturday lunches is the atmosphere. Linen napkins and 7 tables set for rounds of 10. There were 4 different forks, 3 different knives and an array of glasses for each patron. There were buckets on each table with a decent chilled white wine; these bottles were replaced as soon as they were depleted. Next, before the entree was served, each table was presented with a 1.5 liter bottle of a 2006 Rothschild Cru Bourgeois from the Haut Medoc region (essentially, the west bank of the Bordeaux region). The host of the afternoon must pick up the tab for the entire event and I'm pretty sure each bottle at the hotel cost more than 35,000 CFA.
The ratio of white men to black men at this event is about 6:1 and no women were invited (excluding, of course, the serving staff). The first course consisted of slices of homemade, spiced bread sealed together club sandwich style with just the perfect amount of fois gras. These tasty sandwiches were accentuated by a tri-fruit chutney (pineapple, orange and pear) as well as a small red pepper called baies rose.
The next course was a wonderfully broiled thiof (a grouper fish) served with a pistachio creme sauce and topped with both white and green asparagus. The rice was reminiscent of a nice risotto and I was looking forward to dessert when I realized the main course had yet to be served!
The main course was a beautiful medium rare lamb sirloin accompanied by whipped mash/baked potato that was garnished with baby corn and a julienned carrot. A balsamic dressing was drizzled along the side of the plate. One of the more amusing components of the lamb dish was that there were small cubes of rendered fat neatly arranged with bones from the meat on the edge of each plate. I wondered whether there were any stray cats in the kitchen...
The lamb sirloin was at least six ounces and went tremendously well with the red wine. So well, in fact, that our table was presented with a second 1.5 liter bottle of the 2006 Rothschild. Don't worry - every other table went through a second bottle, also.
After the lamb, we were served an array of cheeses including two types of brie and gouda. After all, we needed to finish that second bottle of wine. I was so full I couldn't even stick around for the dessert of that featured something drenched in spiced rum.
Many of the men were chomping fat cigars (you can still smoke in restaurants in Dakar) while a person at my table managed to light up a Marlboro after every single course was served.
We started at 1:00pm and lunch was still going strong at 3:45. Most of the conversation was in French, with some broken English thrown in to help me understand the jokes, but I still couldn't understand most of the conversation. This incredible gourmet meal was as good as the finest meals you might find in any country. It was one of the best lunches I have ever had.
While the similarities and the stunning difference between rich and poor are obvious, I think both meals actually represent "the real Africa." There is a tremendous amount of wealth in Dakar, as well as a tremendous amount of poverty. But for me, the biggest difference between the two meals was that I didn't really walk away from lunch with any new friends.