Last year, the Thieboudienne entered into the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Anybody invited to a Senegalese home, or country, cannot leave without a taste of Senegal national dish: the Thieboudienne. In the Wolof language, Thieboudienne or Ceebu Jën in Wolof literally translates to ‘the rice of fish’, ceeb (rice) and jën (fish).
Thieboudienne is a dish that originated in the fishing communities on the Island of Saint-Louis in Senegal in the 19th century. The story has it that a cook by the name of Penda Mbaye who was working in the colonial governor’s mansion (Saint Louis was the capital of the French colony of Senegal from 1673 to 1902) substituted broken rice for barley; barley was more prominent and local but in short supply at the time, while the broken rice was an introduction from Vietnam by French merchants in Senegal (side note: do you see how breaking the local market is done?).
Although recipes vary from one region to the next, the dish is typically made with fresh fish (grouper or snapper usually), broken rice, dried fish, mollusc and seasonal vegetables such as onions, parsley, garlic, chilli pepper, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, white cabbage, cassava, sweet potato, okra and bay leaf. As one can imagine, the quality of the fish and the choice of vegetables are determined by the importance of the event or the degree of affection one has for the guest. Like many traditional dishes, the recipe and techniques are passed down from mother to daughter, from generation to generation. Senegalese are known to eat together, so the ceebu jën is served on a large platter, and eaten with hands. It is associated with the Senegalese teranga or hospitality. Today, there are variations thieb ganaar (thieb with chicken) or thieb yappa (thieb with meat). It is said that the Gullah red rice dish from the Gullah people of the south of the United States may actually have derived from the thieboudienne, suggesting that enslaved Africans took their culinary expertise to the Americas, which is a no-brainer.
If you visit Senegal, or if you ever go to a Senegalese restaurant, try the national dish Thieboudienne, which is now on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Enjoy!