Gambian food

I am adding this section mainly for my sister Jane, a real 'foodie'.
The photo shows Sana, one of my compound neighbours giving me a cookery lesson...

Most Gambians eat plenty of rice!...Every lunch/dinner it is the main staple. In the poorer areas the people really do almost live on it. In more wealthy areas there is far more variety and plenty of other dishes available. Gambian food is often terrifingly high in calories. I guess many of the local population are happy to consume high fat/carbohydrate food but for visitors it can be problematic. Groundnuts/Peanuts and the nut oil features in many dishes as they are grown here.

Most Gambians share food from a common 'foodbowl' in their compound. All the family will eat together, from the same bowl using their hands (extended family and anyone that lives in the compound). It is a messy, if fun, experience! Some volunteers, especially those up country, often eat like this everyday. It's really important to remember which hand you should be using to eat the food from the bowl, (your right hand, the left is used for other things!).

As this is Muslim country you generally can't get pork. Fish and chicken are very common and beef is also readily available. Most food is bought at local markets so you have to be somewhat carefree about how your food is presented and stored. There are 'western' supermarkets in the Kombos but they are expensive and not as much fun as bartering with the locals!

One of the nice things about Gambian food is that for breakfast (and lunch/dinner if you like) you can get 'Tapalapa'. A locally baked bread (similar to french bread but a bit heavier) which is then filled with your choice of a number of fillings - boiled eggs, corned beef (which is more like Spam), nyebi (spicy beans in a sauce), livers, mined meat....all of these come with mayonaise which the Gambians eat by the bucket full! A filled Tapalapa costs about 25- 45p

Eating out is cheap when compared to at home. You can get a reasonable meal (Chicken dish and rice or Pasta etc) for less than £3.00. Beer is about 50-70p per local bottle but any remotely decent wine is quite expensive. On the volunteer allowance you can't eat out all the time, but some do try! I've cooked a few times at home and so long as you are creative with ingredients and equipment (or lack of!) you are fine.

Generally I think the food is quite good and I'm enjoying it. Marney, my friend and a fellow volunteer, is finding it much tougher (she has foodbowl most days) and is almost tearful now at mealtimes. Earlier this week she was threatening to kill anyone that offered her rice or fishheads again! I guess she'll just have to get used to it!

If anyone wants to try some Gambian recepies I've added a few below...Yassa is probably my favorite so far!

Benechin – Chicken or Beef
(Benechin literally translates as one pot)

500g Chicken or beef pieces (can have fat running through as it cooks quite slowly but remove and gristle)
2 large onions
1 red or green pepper (pounded in pestle and mortar)
2 red or green peppers chopped
2 large tomatoes
2 dessertspoons of tomato puree
3 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 aubergine
Pumpkin (about the same size as aubergine) or use carrots but they will take longer to cook
½ small cabbage
1 bitter tomato (if you like and can get hold of it)
½ cup vinegar
1 cup ground nut oil
6 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste


  • Cut the meat/chicken into equal portions (bite sized or larger if you prefer). Wash is required

  • Season and marinade meat/chicken with vinegar, salt and black pepper, pounded garlic. Marinade for at least 30 mins

  • Cut vegetables into bite sized or larger pieces

  • Peel and slice onions thinly

  • Fry meat or chicken in oil until browned well, then remove from the pan. Add sliced onions to pan and fry

  • Add the pounded peppers and tomato puree and cook gently for 15 mins

  • Add the measured water and bring to the boil

  • Add the vegetables , meat/chicken , bay leaves and salt (to taste)

  • Remove meat/chicken and vegetables when cooked and keep warm

  • Add rice and peppers to sauce and cook until most of the liquid is reduced and rice is cooked.

  • Replace the meat/chicken and vegetables and then serve

Chicken (or Fish) Yassa
This is a very easy recipe. It's great for guests because you do most of the work the night before.

4-5 skinless chicken breasts (or their equivalent)
Onions to taste (but usually about 8)
For the marinade:
1 c. red wine vinegar
2/3 cup oil 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
6 chicken-bouillon cubes,
crushed 8 small garlic cloves
6 tsp. fresh ginger grated
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
3 tsp. coarse black pepper
2 tsp. red pepper (ground or flakes)

The night before

  • Make the marinade by combining all the ingredients (except the chicken and onions)

  • Clean the chicken breasts and place the chicken in a large glass baking dish. Pour about 1/3 to 1/2 of the marinade over the chicken, and let it marinate overnight

  • Reserve the rest of the marinade
    At some point during marinading, turn the chicken over

The Big Feast

  • Grill or shallow fry the chicken on each side until crisp but not burned (you can baste with marinade during process if you have time!)

  • At the same time sauté the thinly sliced onions over a low/medium heat until soft and golden brown

  • Heat the remaining marinade (in microwave, on stove or in grilling dish) but do this lightly so that the sauce does not reduce too much

  • Serve the dish with the sauté onions heaped over the chicken and with green salad and bread to mop up juices

(Can be served with chicken or meat or even chickpeas etc)

6 tablespoons peanut butter
small amount of chilli pepper (about 1/6th or small pepper)
2 cups water
1 cup tomato puree
1 chopped onion
1 or 2 Maggi cubes
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
2 cloves garlic
Other vegetables to taste (peppers, bitter tomatoes, cassava, cabbage, carrots)
Salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper can all be added to taste
(In some more traditional recipes, further ground nut oil is also added)


  • Boil water and then add an blend the Maggi cube(s). Mix in peanut butter until smooth

  • Then add and blend the tomato puree

  • Add garlic, pepper, onions and any other vegetables and cook gently

  • It is ready to serve when the vegetables are cooked through and the oil begins to separate on the top of the sauce (usually about 20-30mins)

  • Add the lemon or lime juice in the last 5 mins of cooking

  • If meat of chicken is to be added this should be lightly browned in groundnut oil and then added with the vegetables (you may need to increase quantity of sauce if you have a large amount of meat).
    Some people also like to soften the onions first as well before adding to the Domada.

  • Serve the Domada with rice

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