November 2008 Archives

Nov 29, 2008 status: Buying soumbala in the market in Bamako

Nov 27, 2008 status: Making millet couscous with Fatimata in Diéma

To the land where things ferment

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We rolled over the Diama dam and got all of about three feet into Senegal before having to make our first payment: the bridge toll.  Although to give him credit, we did get a proper ticket and receipt - unlike the next person in line, the frontier policeman, who simply refused to stamp our passports until we gave him 10 euro each.  Receipt?  Of course not - everyone just pays up.  Here, I'll show you: look at my big drawer full of cash.

Smdindefeloboys0001.JPGBut as it turned out, he was the only person we came across in Senegal who wanted to do things that way.  Contrary to popular traveller misconception, every other traffic policeman, customs official and gendarme was friendly and correct (if sometimes a little busy on their mobile phone to do much more than wave our paperwork in the air for a bit).  And as in Morocco and Mauritania, pretty much everyone else we met was chatty and helpful too.

Smplastickettle0001.JPGOther things really did seem to change, though, as soon as we'd crossed the Senegal river.  The landscape was much greener, lusher; there were trees everywhere; and there were monkeys running across the road.  The kettles were made of stripy plastic now.  Smwomencarrying0001.jpgThe people were all properly black and looked seriously West African - women in incredibly bright patterned fabrics carrying everything on their heads, boys in football kit practising madly for their lucrative futures in the Premiership.  And the food was definitely different.  Here, it was all about the fruit juices.  The savoury condiments, the grains, the baguettes and the viennoiserie.  And above all, the joys of fermentation ...

Nov 26, 2008 status: Eating thiou with the Malian douaniers outside Kayes

Nov 24, 2008 status: Drinking palm wine with the Bédik in Iwol

Insects and waterfalls

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Smafiastream0001.JPGWhile staying in Dandé, a village up on the cliff a few kilometres from the Guinean border, we took a walk to the next-door village, Afia, and a bunch of the local boys took us to take a look at their waterfall.  This is the greenest, lushest part of Senegal, and the forest we walked through was full of the most intense, almost psychedelic, insect sounds I've heard.  This is the sound of us walking through the forest, crossing a stream and getting to the waterfall.

Click here to listen.

Click here for more audio samples.


Fonio in the morning

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You wake up in the dark and look at the time - it's only 5am! What could have woken you? You can hear insects chirping, and a cock crowing in the distance, but that's not it. Then you hear low women's voices, and the pounding - a deep, muffled, insistent sound. Drums? But why would people be drumming this early? Then you remember - it's just breakfast ...

Smdandegirls0001.JPGThis is Dandé, a little village up in the hills on the Senegalese side of the border with Guinea.  People here mostly eat fonio, a grain with little round seeds which looks a bit like couscous, and usually gets steamed in a similar way.  It was entirely wild until a few decades ago, and it's very nutritious - but to get the little skins off you have to pound it in a large wooden mortar, with a huge pestle, for a long time.  So the women and girls of the village get up very early every day to start pounding ...

I love this recording - the way the rhythm keeps changing and sounds almost musical.  But to listen to it, make sure you use headphones or proper speakers - on my laptop speakers it really doesn't work (you can't hear the deep bass sound of the pounding at all).

Click here to listen.

Click here to listen to more audio samples.

Nov 20, 2008 status: Taking our time over tea in Koussanar

Nov 14, 2008 status: Thiéboudienne - however you spell it, it's delicious

Nov 12, 2008 status: Drinking bissap, bouye and gingembre in Dakar

Nov 10, 2008 status: Making croissants with Babacar in Saint-Louis

Down through the desert

mauritania, morocco
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Smdesertsea0001.JPGNow that we'd come down from the Anti Atlas, we were looking at a thousand kilometres of very flat, very dry country between us and Senegal.  We were on the edge of the Sahara.  Only the edge, mind you - we're not stupid enough to drive through the middle.  And how dry can it really be when you're right next to the Atlantic?

Quite dry, as it turned out.  And quite flat, for most of it.  But that doesn't mean there was nothing interesting to eat, of course.  If you're in the desert, by the ocean, presumably people will be eating camel, and oysters.  Stands to reason.  The fermented sea slugs were more of a surprise ...

Nov 07, 2008 status: Baguette for breakfast in Nouakchott

Barnaby gets the hump

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Barnaby's not speaking to us. He's making a silent protest against our decision to eat camel brochettes today. (They were delicious, especially the chunks of hump fat.)

Normally he's quite keen to try new things. But back in Merzouga on the edge of the desert he met Leila, who carried him gracefully through the dunes. He rather liked Leila.


So when he saw huge hunks of camel meat hanging up outside the butchers' shops here in the Western Sahara, he was less than impressed.

Poor Barnaby. Maybe we'll try to cheer him up tonight with some local oysters. As far as we know he's never befriended any bivalves.

(Find out more about the popularity camel meat here.)

Nov 04, 2008 status: Eating brochettes de chameau in Dakhla

Nov 02, 2008 status: Drinking spiced coffee by the roadside in Western Sahara

Morocco part 2: muffins and cheddar

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Smriverburst0001.jpgBy the time we'd got over the highest part of the High Atlas, it had started to rain.  As we came down through the plains towards Marrakesh, we noticed some of the little streams were starting to overflow, and fields starting to look really quite damp.  Then we came round a corner and realised we weren't going any further - rivers here can overrun bridges at a moment's notice.  Sadly, after turning round, we realised we weren't going back either: the little overflowing streams of ten minutes ago had now become rivers overrunning bridges too.  We could sit and wait, or take the advice of the strangely animated man standing out in the rain, and take the little unmarked road out into the middle of nowhere ...

Smtaliouinekasbahdetail0001.JPGWe were trying to get to Marrakesh to stay with a Moroccan family: Jean-jacques Gérard had arranged for us to stay with his in-laws, and we were excited to see what real Moroccan home cooking was like.  They say that the best food here is in people's homes, and we'd started to suspect that there was something in this.  We'd realised that lots of the interesting stuff is done by women: this means it's usually done at home - so you don't come across it on the standard tourist trail.

For example, finding the women who know how to make couscous the old-fashioned way, rolling it by hand, had taken us quite a while (although we managed it in the end).  Our new mission was to find the women who make warka ...


Culinary Anthropologist