Wining and Dining in Dakar
Dakar, the capital city of Senegal is teeming with life and energy. Sophisticated and cosmopolitan, she captures the Francophone appeal of the colonial period, as well as the opulent tradition of the Old World. Dakar sits on the westernmost tip of the African mainland and is a coastal city that has been transformed by the cultural influences of Lebanon, Portugal, France and Vietnam. Today, Senegal is known for her strongly distinct restaurants, bars and outdoor markets. The exuberance of the flavours in the West African city are derived from traditional recipes spiked with hot spices. However, these flavours do not wander too far from the distinctive gastronomic repertoire she is known for. Popular for her kani (a hot and spicy sauce) and fonio (a grain-based dish), the city is a hotbed of spicy food, smoked dishes, and fun. While there may be culinary establishments that would fit into the streets and alleys of major Western cities in Europe and North America, the gems of Dakar lie in its traditional restaurants, local bars, and beachside night markets. To indulge in the ambience of this lively cultural hub, below is a guide to wining and dining in the city.
Soumbedione is a nightly fish market that pops up on the beach when the sun is setting over the Atlantic Ocean. With rough-and-ready plastic tables and chairs set in front of the wood-fired grills of vendors, and offering fresh fish and seafood at low prices, Soumbedione offers typical Dakar seafood fare such as red snapper, seabream, lobsters, shrimp, oysters, mullet, crab, grouper, porgy, sailfish and hogfish. A busy throng of a traditional market, crowds flock to the market to peruse endless stalls of freshly caught seafood in search of a rich and satisfying dinner. A true gourmet experience, Soumbedione is a social experience that allows tourists, fishermen, food lovers and locals come together in a festal environment to relax and socialize.
Le Seoul II
Le Seoul II received its name during the 1988 Summer Olympics in South Korea; since the games aired on the owner’s television, people began saying “Let’s go to Seoul”. So, in reality, Le Seoul II is not a Korean restaurant. It offers an alfresco respite from Dakar’s frenetic inner-city neighbourhoods. Located in a quiet back alley, it is a part makeshift sports bar that airs never-ending football games and traditional Senegalese wrestling matches. It is also a part wood-fired barbecue destination offering everything from goat, to lamb hearts and pigeons. For the ideal place to settle back and discuss sports, Le Seoul II is the place to be.
Located in the central part of Dakar, Chez Loutcha is a lively Senegalese and Cape Verdean restaurant that caters to expatriates, tourists and locals. Touted as a local favourite, the restaurant is adorned with black-and-white mosaic tiles and kept cool by languid ceiling fans that twirl above busy tables packed with visitors. Dishes served in Chez Loutcha are served family-style, which makes it easy to linger around for a few hours in the inviting company of traditionally dressed and welcoming servers.
With so many outdoor food and flea markets in Dakar, it should be hard to find one that stands out. Indeed, only a few match the diversity found in the expansive passageways of Marche Sandaga. It is a topsy-turvy building where tourists and locals alike can find stalls that sell traditional fabrics, woven baskets and giant bags filled with millet, rice, hibiscus leaves and fonio. Located on the corner of Avenues Pompidou and Lamine Gueye Sandaga, Marche Sandaga is the right venue for those seeking a culinary adventure. Although the daily chaos inside the building crushes and puts nerves on end, it is still the most popular market in Dakar.
Just 4 U
To experience the joy of live night music in Dakar, Just 4 U is the perfect location. With extraordinary musicians like Bouba Kirikpu, Baaba Maal, Didier Awadi and Youssou N’Dour, it is not surprising to see that music is one of the things that fuel the city. In Just 4 U, tourists can also find local and upcoming talent, as well as people to mingle with.
It is said that only a few other restaurants rival the view of Hotel Sokhamon’s restaurant. This outdoor restaurant and hotel is balanced above the Atlantic Ocean. A sculptor’s dream with its sandstone sculptures, gently curved surfaces and floors glazed in rich and earthy colours, guests are led to a breezy restaurant with a bar and infinity pool that looks like it’s constantly pouring into the ocean below. Hotel Sokhamon’s menu offers grilled fish and ceviches, as well as Senegalese favourites yasa (chicken and rice) and thieboudienne (the national seafood dish).
This stylish establishment prides itself on upholding the opulent cultural history of Dakar. La Fourchette offers a sophisticated European and Asian menu that reminds one of dining in a restaurant on Paris’ Left Bank. However, the live music and entertainment help to keep visitors grounded in the reality of West Africa.
What Chateau Marmont is to Los Angeles is what Le Patio is to Dakar. A place to see and be seen in, it is highly frequented by high- profile socialites in Senegal. A rustic outdoor space adorned with twinkling lights and palm trees, Le Patio serves a sophisticated menu and an extensive list of cocktails in its bar. Both food and drink menus are best enjoyed in the evenings when the patio is transformed into a bustling nightclub that stays open until the early hours of the morning.
Le Djembe is a breezy and bright restaurant that caters to the large expatriate Lebanese community and other visitors in Dakar. Owned by a Lebanese man who was born in Dakar, the restaurant has a strictly Senegalese menu with fresh juices such as bouye (baobab juice), ruby red bissop (hibiscus), to accompany the traditional meals.
This restaurant, with its wooden interior and pastel-coloured tables, can easily pass for a French beach resort. Noflaye’s seaside location assures that fresh fish and desserts are on its menu. While Dakar’s beaches have being a closely guarded secret for a long while, the establishment of restaurants and cafés around them like Noflaye are gradually changing that.
Enough said, for the best experience of Dakar, visit these places and enjoy a city brimming with life and energy.
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