I’ve never been to Senegal, or to Togo, Ghana or Nigeria, but I know that I love the food that comes from these countries. My neighbourhood in South London is filled with the smells of African cooking: you can’t help wanting to try it, especially not once you've met the people who cook it. (My new fave is 805, a Nigerian restaurant on the Old Kent Road.) Although this has been my home for years now, living here feels like travelling – I’m always discovering new foods, new flavours, and new people to talk to.
All my life I’ve travelled vicariously through the people I’ve met. So when I went to New York earlier this year, it felt natural that I should bump into this fantastic Senegalese chef, Pierre Thiam, at the Food Book Fair in Brooklyn. The two of us had been attending an event run by the authors of Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste (a game-changing cookbook which I can’t recommend highly enough). We spent the rest of the evening talking about life and food, and when he said he'd written a book, I knew it was time to try cooking Senegalese food for myself.
Like London and New York, Dakar is a cosmopolitan capital, and like me, Pierre is inspired by the meeting of different cultures and cuisines. He writes: ‘We have a word heard all over Senegal, teranga, that is used to welcome people to our homes and table.’ I love how food can kindle this spirit of exchange. By the time we parted ways he’d invited me to Senegal – and if he’s ever in Peckham, he knows who to visit.
Until then, I’m slowly cooking my way through his book. I’m currently addicted to this easy snack:
Shrimp and Sweet Potato Fritters
I'm currently addicted to this easy snack from Pierre Thiam's Senegalese cookbook.
- 1 1/2 pounds small shrimp
- 1 large sweet potato, grated
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 2 scallions, finely sliced
- Black pepper
- 25g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with your hands or a spoon. Shape the batter into patties, using about 2 tbsp batter per fritter.
- Fill a deep pan with 2 inches of vegetable oil and gently fry the fritters until crisp and golden. Set on paper towels to drain as the next batch cooks. Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice; I like sriracha.