Dakar, Senegal is a city buzzing with energy. The restaurants, bars and outdoor markets of the West African capital overflow with the exuberant flavors of a coastal city informed by the cultural influences of France, Lebanon, Portugal and Vietnam — but defined by a voice that is distinctly Senegalese. Its culinary repertoire never strays too far from traditional recipes spiked with heat and complex flavor. Fresh seafood, rich red palm oil hand harvested in small batches, gravies and sauces laced with the scorching condiment known as kani and an ancient grain called fonio are all mainstays on the tables of a city that never really seems to shut down. And though there are establishments that would fit on the streets of London or Paris, the real culinary treasures are found in traditional restaurants, beachside night markets and local bars. Here’s a guide to get you started.
1. Le Djembe
Dakar has a large expat Lebanese community and although breezy and bright Le Djembe is owned by a Lebanese man, he was proudly born in Dakar and his menu is strictly Senegalese. Fresh juices like ruby red bissop (hibiscus) and bouye (baobab) are refreshing elixirs to jumpstart a meal comprised of traditional Senegalese dishes like yasa (chicken and rice) and the national seafood dish known as thieboudienne. 56 Rue Saint-Michel
2. Chez Loutcha
Black and white mosaic tiles adorn every inch of this lively Senegalese and Cape Verdean restaurant kept cool by lazy ceiling fans swirling above bustling tables packed with an equal combination of expats, tourists and locals. Order the maffe, a rich tomato-based stew comprised of chicken, lamb or beef with a generous base of thick peanut or groundnut sauce. Dishes are served family style and it’s easy to linger for hours in the inviting company of Chez Loutcha’s cheerful, traditionally dressed servers. 101 Rue Mousse Diop
3. Le Seoul II
In a quiet back alley is an inviting open-air respite from Dakar’s frenetic inner city neighborhoods. Part makeshift sports bar airing endless soccer games and traditional Senegalese wrestling matches, part wood-fired barbecue serving everything from pigeon to goat to lamb hearts, this hidden gem is the ideal place to settle back and relax with a predominantly local clientele of sports fanatics. The kani at Le Seoul will set your mouth on fire but is tempered by their foufou, a nubby side dish of boiled yams, plantains and cassava. And note, Seoul is not a Korean restaurant. It received its name when the owner opened during the 1988 Summer Olympics in South Korea. Because the Olympics were airing on her television, people started saying, "Let's go to Seoul." The name stuck. Rue Amadou Assane Ndoye
This nightly fish market pops up on the beach just as the sun is setting over the Atlantic Ocean. Makeshift plastic tables and chairs are arranged in front of the wood-fired grills of vendors offering the day’s catch at extremely affordable prices. There are usually around 20 different vendors, with typical Dakar seafood including mullet, grouper, hogfish, red snapper, porgysailfish, seabream, sea urchins, lobsters, oysters, shrimp and crab. Beer is not technically allowed, but let your server know if you would like one and he’ll happily oblige by running to the liquor store across the street. Generous portions include a tossed salad and side of sharp, tangy mustard onions. Located in a cove next to Magic Land in the heart of Dakar
5. Hotel Sokhamon
Few other restaurants in Dakar rival the view of the one at Hotel Sokhamon. Perched high above the Atlantic Ocean, this open-air restaurant and hotel feel like a sculptor’s fever dream. The hotel’s sandstone sculptures, glazed floors in rich, earthy colors and gently curved surfaces lead to a breezy restaurant with an inviting bar and an infinity pool that looks like it's pouring into the ocean far below. The menu is primarily comprised of grilled fish and ceviches rounded out by traditional Senegalese favorites like yassa and maffe. Service can be slow, but you won’t mind lingering with a cool gin and tonic in hand at this hidden oasis on the edge of the sea. Rooms here are beautifully designed and make for a perfect refuge at the end of the meal. Blvd Roosevelt at Ave Nelson Mandela
6. Marche Sandaga
Dakar offers many outdoor flea/food markets, but few compare to the scope and variety found in the sprawling corridors of Marche Sandaga. Seemingly endless stalls of traditional fabrics and woven baskets jostle for space with gargantuan bags overflowing with staples like fonio, rice, millet and hibiscus leaves. The topsy turvy building and the daily chaos ensuing inside rattles nerves and crushes earlobes, but for those on the hunt for a culinary adventure, Marche Sandaga shouldn’t be missed. Located at the corner of Avenues Pompidou and Lamine Gueye Sandaga
7. Just 4 U
No trip to Dakar would be complete without a night of live music. Music is what fuels this city and keeps it ticking, and with extraordinary musicians like Didier Awadi, Bouba Kirikou, Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour, it’s easy to see why. Spacious and laid back Just 4 U is the ideal place to experience local talent. But be sure to take a nap before heading out into the electrified Dakar night; most shows don’t get started until well after midnight. The drinks are strong and include standards like gin and tonics, margaritas and the local beer Gazelle. Avenue Cheikh Ante Diop Point E
Jody Eddy is currently co-writing a cookbook with Senegalese native and New York–based chef Pierre Thiam and photographer Evan Sung.
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