Then Africa was a young woman, / Wearing golden beads on her neck / Ivory bangles on her hands / And a diamond smile on her lips / But strangers came, and marauded / The dreams of Africa, prostituted her body, / Left her children speaking in tongues, / The tongues of foreign lands.
– an excerpt of poem When Africa Was a Young Woman,
by Gambian poet Tijan Sallah
The Gambia: A sliver of land that holds, in its center, The River. Boundaries defining the country’s shape are influenced by the Gambia River, its curves following the waterway’s twists and turns, and were, of course, strategically conceptualized by the French and British in the late 1800s. This is one of the rivers that carried slaves out of their homeland in Western Africa, and onto deadly ships of disease, starvation, and suicide. Gambia is the smallest country of mainland Africa, but for so small a place, it has created a significant impression on me through its cuisine. On the eve of Spencer and I’s California road trip, I made Domoda. I ate it up with relish, and not just because I was going to be eating beef jerky, Clif bars, and peanut butter sandwiches for the next week.
The first that comes to mind when I think about the dish is the color. It strikes me. It is attractive. And I cannot recall anything in my cuisine history with a similar hue. Some curry dishes have been close, yes, but this dish doesn’t have the complicated set of spices that create colorful curries. It is much simpler than that. The roasted, rust orange feels uncommon and special, and makes me desire the dish that much more. It is also the first time I ponder upon the ways in which color, cuisine, and culture are connected.
Since living in the Southwest, I have begun to think about color more often. The desert itself is dusty and pale, composed of browns, sage greens, and golds. The occasional desert bloom, so often magenta in color, strikes the landscape and takes your breath away. Tucson’s culture – a mixture of Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and European origins – compensates the muted landscape with unapologetic color. Stucco buildings of my neighborhood are painted in every color of the spectrum, like purple, lime green, red, bright blue, and a cheeky pink. Turquoise stones adorn fingers and necks in thick silver settings. Even the clothes worn are more bright and bold. It reflects the easy-going, laid back culture of the town, one which doesn’t take itself too seriously. If any of these colorful items were transplanted to the Midwest, it would look so out of place, so lost and exotic.
I don’t know how color is used or thought of in the Gambia’s culture, other than this photo I found, expressing that boats are often colorfully painted:
But what I can say is this dish inspired such thoughts. Moving forward, I’ll hold onto these ideas. And if you have any thoughts on the matter, I’d love to hear.
But I digress. As I mentioned, it was delicious. The color is created through generous portions of tomato paste, peanut butter, and a base of deeply cooked onions. If you’re like me, peanut butter in savory dishes is something I’m getting use to, so I cut the peanut butter in half. It was enough to taste the nutty flavor in every spoonful without overwhelming my palette. It also included generous cuts of sweet potato (or pumpkin), chicken, onions, and peppers.
If you read my last post, you know I am slowly becoming more informed about spicy peppers. This recipe asks for a Scotch Bonnet pepper, a very spicy pepper with a rating of 100,00-350,00 heat units. Jalapeños have about an average of 5,000 heat units. You do the math. Don’t forget the sprinkling of salt, pepper and cilantro – it truly polishes the dish. The best part: This dish is one of those one-pot wonders. Throw everything in one pot in a certain order, and it’ll work out for you.
Spencer: “I’m love eatin’ sweet potaetahs cooked by my sweet potaetah.”
Teresa: “Really enjoyed this stew, new and delicious. Happy with the balance I had with the peanut butter, even though not totally authentic.”
- beef steak or chicken breast
- onion, diced
- olive oil
- garlic, minced
- Roma tomatoes, diced
- tomato paste
- natural, unsweetened peanut butter
- tomato bouillon cubes (I substituted with some leftover vegetable stock I had)
- Scotch bonnet chilies (I used jalapeños)
- pumpkin or sweet potato, diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- The capital of the Gambia is Banjul
- The official language is English, but other languages spoken include Mandinka, Fula, Wolof, Serer, & Jola
- The most popular sport in the Gambia is wrestling
- Alex Haley (1921-1992) was an American writer known for his 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The book was written from Haley’s own search of his ancestry, tracing his roots back to the Gambia, where his ancestors were taken and sold into slavery. The book unfolds through seven generations of Americans that descended from one man, Kunta Kinte, sold into slavery at the age of 17. The book has become two successful TV series, premiering in 1977 and 2016
- The majority of individuals in the Gambia identify as Muslim. The former president, Yahya Jammeh (1996-2017) wanted to identify the Gambia as an Islamic state, i.e. the Islamic Republic of the Gambia. The current president, Adama Barrow, has said the Gambia’s official name will be changed back to its original, the Republic of the Gambia
- Here’s an article I stumbled upon if you’re interested in the present political atmosphere of the Gambia
- Here’s a video/conversation with Gambian poet, economist, and activist, Tijan Sallah, from the Library of Congress
- Blue: the Gambian River, running through the center of the flag like the river itself
- Red: the Sun
- Green: Forest and agricultural goods
- White: Unity and peace
- Green, red, and blue also represent the three major political parties of the Gambia: Red for the Luxembourg Socialist Worker’s Party, Blue for the Democratic Party, and Green for The Greens