Gambia holds a special place in my heart, so although I knew it was going to be a chicken and peanut dish, it didn’t fill me with the usual woe. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to The Gambia three times with students from my school to work in partnership with our sister school in Brikama and I can’t wait to travel back in December with my husband and spend a week on a road trip around the country without the (necessary) health and safety / risk assessment / logistical considerations and concerns you need when travelling with a large group of students. Usually we eat at the hotel buffet which, as nice as it is, doesn’t feel very authentic. ‘Gambian night’ is always my favourite hotel buffet, and a chance to eat dishes such as Benachin, Domoda and Yassa which are typical dishes of the many tribes found in The Gambia. In December I look forward to squeezing into some tiny authentic eateries which just aren’t possible with a group of 24 people and their various dietary requirements. I can’t wait to drink Julbrew and eat proper Gambian food rather than the toned-down meals produced for tourists.
So, what Gambian food have I managed to sample on my visits so far? The breakfast buffet served lovely bean fritters called Akara which are eaten with an onion and chilli sauce. Breakfast was also a good chance to sample Baobab Juice and Wonjo Juice. On the evening buffet we ate Domoda (peanut and chicken), Yassa (a sour lime-based stew), Benachin (a rice dish) and interesting new fish such as Captain Fish and Lady Fish. Out and about during the day I got to try Gambian soft-drinks such as Fruit Cocktail and those delicous African Fantas and Vimtos.
The hotel we stay in has a little gift shop where I managed to pick up a Gambian recipe book and some peanut paste and baobab jam on my last trip, and I also bought a massive jar of peanut brittle from a girl working in the snake farm (as with most of West Africa, peanuts are a big deal). Apart from that I didn’t really get chance to go anywhere selling food; we’re looking forward to the hustle and bustle of Brikama and Serrekunda markets in December.
So, what to make for my Gambian meal? It had to be chicken domoda with a bottle of cold Julbrew, but unfortunately Julbrew does not exist in the UK and I didn’t have the foresight to bring any back on my last visit. Instead, I decided to try and make some wonjo juice. It took me a bit of research to find out wonjo is the local name for hibiscus so eventually managed to order some online. The dried flowers are boiled up for about 10 minutes and then the juice is sweetened before drinking. So simple and so tasty. But be careful about spilling it – my kitchen looks like a frenzied murder has just occurred.
Domoda is a typical Mandinka dish (Mandinka is the largest tribe in The Gambia). My good friend Alagi who organised our school link is Mandinka and so it seemed fitting to choose one of ‘his’ dishes. According to my recipe book, in Mandinka, ‘Domo’ means to eat and ‘Da’ means mouth. I used the domoda recipe from the Gambian recipe book I picked up at the hotel. It’s chicken thigh, sweet potato, onion, peanut butter, tomato and stock all stewed up for a few hours. Tasty! But will be far nicer sat in the heat of the Gambian evening, listening to some traditional drumming….