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Not suitable for tourists

door Linda Terrizzi

In The Gambia it becomes clear to me how much our Antillean cuisine is still influenced by our West African heritage. 

It is the summer of 2013. I get off the plane with my wife and three small children and I feel the African warmth coming over me. That night, like every night, Banjul smells of a mixture of dust, incense and charcoal. Just outside the airport we are greeted by a friend whom we met on the internet a few months earlier.

This 'local' will show us the way outside the tourist areas, to the places where only real Mandinka's, Wolof and Fula's come together.

In Gambia with the locals

When I get behind the wheel of the ramshackle jeep, I do get a little anxious. I really didn't expect that the cars here would pass the Dutch MOT's, but a car with a broken fuel gauge, malfunctioning brakes and a spider web of cracks in the forward is a real challenge.

When we drive out of town towards the smaller villages along the River Gambia, I can't help thinking about my homeland. The climate, the people and the hand-painted houses and shops remind me a lot Curaçao.

It's Authentic Gambian food! Not suitable for tourists…

Our friend Yusupha, in his own words a 'proud Mandinka', decides that it is immediately time to let us taste some of the local cuisine. He leads us to a small diner where a female cook is stirring a large pot on the floor. “You must try this! – It's authentic Gambian food!” – real food from the Gambia, says Yusupha.

I'm curious to see what I will find in the pot… it is now pitch dark and lighting is very scarce, so what exactly it is is a mystery to me.

serrekunda gambia antillian food

Yusupha begins to explain that the dish in the large pot is an "acquired taste". Most foreigners don't like it. It is real African food… not suitable for tourists. When the cook finally scoops a large spoon of the dish into a plastic bowl and presents it to us, it is immediately clear to me: nothing 'authentic Gambian'.. this is Antillean Jambo! Slimy okra soup with all kinds of fish and shellfish.

It makes sense that the tourists shouldn't know anything about it – we'll tell them that Curaçao also! The only difference with 'our' soup is the colour. The soup in The Gambia has a beautiful, deep red color and ours… well… it looks a bit like a swamp. The red color is of course due to the large amount of red palm oil that passes through it. From what I've heard a whole teacup per litre!

During my stay in The Gambia I come across one cultural place after another. From the cell that Kunta Kinteh stayed in before being shipped to America to the borders of the former Kingdom of Mali.

    “This is where my culture began. This is where my roots lie. This is home.”

During this period it becomes clear to me how much our, Antillean cuisine is (still) influenced by the West African food culture.

'Our' pastechi are called 'meat pies' or 'fish pies' here and taste exactly the same as at home. Beef, goat and mutton are stewed here for hours - just like with us - to get it extra tender. And the sauce that goes over almost every dish? 'hopi pika!', or very, very hot!


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