At Saint-Louisienne in Dakar, the dish of the day is thiéboudiène. This Wednesday, December 15 is a day a priori ordinary, and the owner did not know before starting to prepare this dish that Unesco had just consecrated the tradition by inscribing it in the heritage of humanity.
Thiané Ngom, 53, the owner of this small restaurant located in a popular district of the capital of Senegal, got up early to get supplies at the local market. The clock reads 10 o’clock and already, in its weathered kitchen, carrots, eggplants, white cabbages, onions, garlic, fish, sweet potatoes, turnips and peppers are cleaned and prepared in various utensils. The list of components of thieboudiene – Ceebu Jën, according to the Wolof spelling, a name which literally means “rice with fish” – is as long as the cooking time: three hours.
Thiané Ngom, who learned the secrets of the dish from her late mother’s petticoats, has the patience of a seasoned cook. In the twenty-five years that his restaurant has been open, thiéboudiène has never disappeared from the menu. Sometimes another dish competes with him for the favors of customers, many of the workers in the neighborhood. This morning, her daughter Naboussarr, 10, and her friend Aguette, 13, are playing assistants when they’re not scrolling through music videos on TikTok. The sound of the mbalax mixes with the crackling of the onions in the oil.
In the hubbub, in the middle of ladles, mortar and pestle, Thiané Ngom learns that Unesco has just inscribed thieboudiene in the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. His face lights up. “It is a source of pride for me, for us Senegalese, that he is thus recognized worldwide, she says in Wolof. From now on, people will come here to taste our dish and especially to learn how to cook it. “
The recipe varies by region
The dish meets the criteria required by Unesco, in that it is “A living thing, which breathes, transmitted from generation to generation”, and who has “A meaning in people’s lives”.
The thieboudiene registration application file was introduced in October 2020 by the Senegalese Ministry of Culture. In his pitch, he lists the basic ingredients of the dish, although the recipe varies by region. He notes that this is traditionally passed on from mother to daughter, as well as preparation techniques, but that men are starting to get started. “We eat the Ceebu Jan. with the fingers in most families, but in restaurants the spoon or fork is generally used. This dish, considered as an affirmation of Senegalese identity, has become the national dish of Senegal ”.
A pride, therefore, for the common Senegalese. Many Internet users shared the joy of Thiané Ngom. “Alhamdoullillah, it is Penda Mbaye who must be proud”, wrote one of them, alluding to the one that would be at the origin of the traditional recipe.
This subject is sometimes debated, like the Senegalese paternity of the dish. Nigeriens and Ghanaians claim to have put their two cents in there. But Unesco has decided, just like Fatima Fall Niang and Alpha Amadou Sy, the authors of the book The Ceebu Jën, a very Senegalese heritage, published in 2020. ” The Ceebu Jën, whose birth certificate was signed in Saint-Louis, the old colonial city, is today, like the lion, the baobab and the Téranga [“hospitalité” en wolof], one of the most emblematic symbols of Senegal ”, notes the work.
Beyond the original controversies, the “thiéb” makes everyone agree once served, that it costs 500 CFA francs (0.76 euros) at Thiané Ngom’s table, or 9,000 CFA francs ( 13.72 euros) in one of the capital’s luxury hotels.
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“With the fingers or with a spoon”, Senegalese thieboudiene on the culinary map of humanity