Sunday 16 October is World Food Day.
To celebrate the efforts and achievements of farmers, suppliers, processors, distributors and retailers (from field to fork) as well as to highlight the ongoing challenges to meet demand, access and affordability, raise nutition content and reduce waste, we are pleased to bring you a guest blog from Victoria Crandall, who runs a research consultancy focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa's agriculture and soft commodites.
Here Victoria gives her personal story about a recent visit to Senegal, West Africa, discussing local food habits, the legacy and economics of imported food against home-grown, and the associated food security risks across much of the region.
"During a visit to Dakar, I was on a mission to eat one last tchep before dashing off to the airport. Thieboudienne, or tchep as it is commonly called, is the Senegalese national dish: a simple pairing of fish, rice, and vegetables.
I spotted a tiny hole-in-the wall where I ordered tchep rouge, called red for the tomato paste flavored rice.
I happily tucked into the dish between sips of spicy ginger juice. A fiery and tangy red sauce gave the dish an irresistible bite. But, as I fell into a refined carbohydrate-induced stupor, I regretted polishing off the compact mound of starchy rice. I staggered out of the restaurant, kicking myself for not accepting the complementary mint tea, which would have revived me for the airport.
Senegal is a glutton of the starchy grain
Like many West African dishes, the Senegalese tchep is an excuse to eat copious amounts of rice. Although West Africans are large rice consumers, Senegal is truly a glutton of the grain, with the region’s highest per capita consumption rate of an estimated 90 kg. The starchy grain is filling, relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare, making it a staple food of urban Senegalese.
Rice is the perfect sauce delivery vehicle and provider of calories for the majority of the population who cannot afford costly animal protein. The centrality of rice in the Senegalese diet is apparent in its most famous dishes – tchep, poulet yassa, and mafé – which all consist of a small portion of chicken or fish accompanied by large amounts of white rice. These dishes are renowned for their standout sauces, using local ingredients for truly unique flavors.
Watch out rice traders: Senegalese prefer broken rice
The white rice in Senegal is particular. The grain is finely broken, resembling couscous. According to an almost apocryphal story, the French introduced broken rice (riz brisé) to the Senegalese during the colonial period. French merchants struggled to sell large stocks of Vietnamese rice because the grains had been broken during the milling process. Considered to be of poor quality, the small grain rice was not even fit for human consumption, and was sold as animal feed.
But, enterprising French traders dumped the stocks in Senegal where it found a market due to its low cost. Over time, broken rice gained the favor of the local population. Rice traders that are new to the region struggle to sell long-grain white rice; the grain needs to have a large percentage of “brokens” or it will sit in the warehouse, untouched. Local wholesalers won’t buy it. Cautionary tales abound of clueless traders, stuck with cargos of gleaming polished long-grained rice since they were ignorant of local consumer preferences.