The Abracadabra Blog
Forget quinoa: meet fonio, the ancient “miracle grain”. Renowned Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam recently gave an impassioned talk at TED Global in Tanzania, presenting his vision for the versatile grain native to Senegal — and what Léopold Sédar Senghor called “the rendezvous of giving and receiving.”
Pierre has been a friend and advisor to Abracadabra since the beginning, and you can find a number of fonio recipes on our menu, including our fonio-and-bissap stuffed tomatoes as well as fonio crackers, porridge, and salads.
Watch Pierre’s talk below and click through to the TED blog, where he also shares his recipe for vegetarian fonio sushi.
If you’ve been following the story of Abracadabra from the beginning, you know that our dream has always been to serve up meals, culture, and fun from a food truck. We love the idea of appearing all over Dakar and creating excitement, connection, and community around our moving restaurant.
That dream is alive and well. For the Parapolis Project, a group of architecture students from the University of Applied Sciences in Münster, Germany, is working together with students from the Institute Polytechnique Panafricain (IPP), Dakar, to develop a design concept.
We concluded the first phase of the project in the spring , when a group of German students visited Senegal to research mobile market structures in Dakar and conduct a workshop with the IPP students — followed by a study trip through Senegal. Students worked up initial designs for an earth-friendly truck. In the next phase, we are looking for funding to continue and implement the plans — and actually build the truck!
Succulence and Surprise at the Taaru Askan Farm in Senegal
The first time I met Nicole, she was giggling with delight as she waved packets of organics seeds in front me. Imported from the USA.
“You wouldn’t believe what will actually grow here!” she exclaimed, “we’re trying out all sorts of things!”
Some of those ‘things’ include vegetables like kale and swiss chard – two hot items that are highly sought-after by most Americans, Canadians and Western Europeans in Dakar.
Let’s face it, for long-termers in Dakar, there are only so many ways to get excited about the local vegetable options available in the city. Spinach is usually the only leafy green around, and unfortunately, I have never seen “boro-boro” outside of Casamance. (Boro-boro resembles something like a kale-spinach hybrid.)
As happy as Nicole’s kale was making me and a bunch of other drooling expats, I had to ask my puritan farmer self, who was this Vermonter? And what did she think she was doing – introducing non-native plant species to Senegal? I finally got to see for myself just what she, and her husband Mamadou, are up to. And it is enchanting, exciting and enticing!
Since it always important to me to know where my food comes from — and because we want to provide that peace of mind for our Abracadabra customers — off we went to Taaru Askan in the bliss of traffic-free roads at 6am. Two hours later we were there.
Even bugs are gorgeous
“We are visitors on this planet,” says the Dalai Lama.
Never have I felt this to be more true than while walking around the organic Taaru Askan farm. I was a warmly welcomed visitor, but one with selfish motives to get some kale and enjoy the fresh air. Every other animate or inanimate object at Taaru Askan had a real purpose.
Take all the pollinating insects I saw. The farm was abundant with them – most of which I cannot identify in Senegal beyond “grasshopper” or the more generic “bug.” But each one got me excited. I thought “go go go, little insect!” I thought of all the creepy crawlies under the soil, doing their thing. They’re epecially important if you want to run a farm organically.
Feed your soil not your plants is a line I’ve heard many times from organic farmers.
While I have not yet talked to Nicole, Mamadou or the farm workers about feeding the soil, they must be doing it – as all the plants looked so healthy (and everything tasted delicious!).
I smelled the fragrant yellow flowers of fennel, and thought about summer salads and winter soups. I saw the robust-looking green papaya and thought, mmh…spicy Som Tum. The sunflowers promised seeds to toast for crackers, salads and soups. I got hungry – so grabbed some basil leaves to chew on and a tomato still ripening. Yum!
The best part was when the young and energetic farm manager, Assane, uncovered the baby plants from their netting so I could get a better look at them. Wee little kale and swiss chard looked up at me. Quite a nursery. In just a month, I thought, shoppers at the Dakar farmer’s market are going to be grabbing wildly at you! Enjoy your peace here at the farm little ones…
I was there to grab some early kale for the Trio Toque dinner we were co-hosting, and to see what other ingredients Abracadabra might be able to incorporate into our lunch deliveries in the coming season.
« Retournons à la nature pour nous retrouver »
Once I saw how healthy those little plants looked, it was easy to forgive them for being non-native species. The seed snob in me thought: if it’s either this or watching chemical sprayers and Chinese monoculture take over Senegal, I’d rather the introduction of non-native species be managed organically and carefully by Taaru Askan.
The rich biodiversity of the farm and all its natural balance is already a promise that kale is not going to suddenly rampage through Senegal and take over. As for how kale and other non-native plants work with local insects and soils, after seeing, smelling and hearing the farm’s biodiversity, I have full confidence Nicole and her husband Mamadou have all that in mind and sight.
Taaru Askan’s tagline roughly translates into “we return to nature to find ourselves.” I would say the farm is helping people do that, even those not lucky enough to go for a visit!
Sure…kale may not be bringing Senegal back to its plant roots exactly. However, the way in which Nicole and Mamadou approach agriculture, and their customers, is surely helping Senegalese and expats alike to be more deeply connected to their food and to appreciate organic agriculture, and knowing your farmer and where your food comes from.
How does the farm balance tradition with innovation?
Beyond organic farming practices, Taaru Askan has got the whole solar power thing going. One of my favorite moments of harmony was when a small lizard popped up over the solar panels to take a better look at me. He certainly didn’t seem to mind these foreign structures on his terrain, and I am sure he and his distant cousins would mind more the pollution from other energy sources.
What’s next to drool over from Taaru Askan?
Though the farm is in its early stages, you can easily imagine the bounty it will produce.
Assane toured me around even the unsown areas, laying out before my imagination which crops will go where. His enthusiasm was unbounded.
“Rows of broccoli here, an entire area for kale and swiss chard there, more hot pepper bushes, and some corn and watermelon,” he says, looking out over the empty field. Indeed, all of these and more are coming up in the next months!
“And where will the goats go?” I teased.
“Ooooh, me, too, I want goats,” says Assane, “we are trying to convince Nicole.” He smiles. Nicole?
What charismatic mega-vertebrates are there? Well, there’s the guard dog, SySy. Whose bark and girth give no hint to his cuddly core. There are mosaic murals of elephants who once tread this ground. And just beyond the farm gates is a nature preserve, meaning troops of small monkeys are there watching your every movement from across the path. Adorable.
As I pulled out of the farm’s gates, with our cooler full of fresh goodies, I thought about how lucky I was to be a visitor to the Taaru Askan farm. How lucky are we all that Nicole and Mamadou are visitors to this planet as well!
Vision, care, curiosity and excitement. What more can you ask for in your farmers?
Since I am not lucky enough to be a steward of Taaru Askan or even of a terrace garden right now, I can contribute to the farm’s great work by sharing it here. I got my kale and a few hours reprieve out of sultry, polluted Dakar. Most importantly, I got the deep satisfaction of knowing where my food comes from. From a good, good place.
You can enjoy the delicious farm goods from Taaru Askan every month at the Dakar Farmer’s Market, or get a taste of just how fresh and scrumptious their crops are in our Abracadabra lunches.
Nicole Dewing, a former lobbyist and director of cultural exchange programs come farmer, is half of the Taaru Askan duo. The other half of this heartfelt endeavor is Mamadou a long time hobby farmer and currently director of Corps Africa Senegal, a version of the US Peace Corps but embodies “Africans helping Africans.”
Now available in most Dakar neighborhoods: delicious, healthy, local, vegetarian food, delivered straight to your office or home!
Here’s how it works:
- Every Friday, we send out a menu for the coming week.
- Place your order through our online form, via email, or text by Monday, 5pm.
- Receive exciting Abracadabra meals on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays between noon and 1pm.
- To reduce waste, we’re offering an option to “go green” and get your food in reusable containers!
Abracadabra is back from summer vacation, and we’ve brought a cool surprise back with us: sno cones, the refreshing treat from the American South, otherwise known as Hawaiian Shaved Ice, Kakigōri, and granité glacé.
With a beautiful, imported manual cast-iron machine, we’re now shaving ice made from 100% mineral water and flavoring it with delicious local syrups, including bouye, ditakh, pineapple, and of course everyone’s favorite, bissap. It’s the perfect treat for the rainy-season mugginess.
“You’re selling ice in the desert!”
Stundents and parents of the International School Dakar are already well acquainted with the delights of Abracadabra sno cones, and you can find us outside their gates several times a week, as well as in other selected locations throughout the city. We’re still exploring new locations and working out a long-term schedule, so let us know where you’d like to see us pop up — and make sure to check Twitter, Instagram or Facebook page for our whereabouts.
We’re also available to shave fresh sno cones at your kid’s birthday party or event, and we’re working on new flavors. These include alcoholic flavors for adult-only events. (May make your office party more interesting than usual!) Mark your calendar: we’ll be preparing deluxe gourmet sno cones at the DKFRM farmer’s market (formerly Lou Bess) on October 1. Coffee lovers, get ready!
The ASD organic market, an initiative of the Sell-Sellal cooperative of local, organic producers in partnership with Enda Pronat, has been a Dakar mainstay since 2013, serving three locations each week.
We’re proud to announce that we’ll be serving lunch at the ASD market in Almadies tomorrow from 11am to 3pm. The market is located across from LAYU Cafe and the Citydia supermarket.
— Thai Vegetable Bowl with coconut peanut sauce — 2,000 CFA (vegan & mostly organic.)
— Carrot & Coconut Soup with a slice of bread + butter/jam — 500 CFA (vegan & mostly organic; not for take-away.)
More on the ASD Market and their delivery options at Dakar Eats.
We’ve been on a roll, catering and hosting events all over Dakar and teaming up with wonderful new local partners — and we thought the least we can do is share some photos!
Melo Patisserie just opened in Ngor, offering an amazing variety of authentic European breads, German rolls, and even New York style cronuts! Proprietress Anna Gueyre invited us to host a Magic Brunch in her beautiful space, and we were thrilled to serve Abracadabra’s savory food along with Melo’s sumptuous breakfast spread. Kids made cookies and falafel burgers while their parents enjoyed Melo’s European ambiente and live guitar music for a perfect Sunday morning brunch.
Make sure to check out Melo and Maam Samba when you’re in Ngor — or make them a reason to stop by the neighborhood! We’ll announce new collaborations and events soon, so sign up for our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, or like our Facebook page.
Hope to see & serve you soon!
For our second-ever Reel Repas movie and food event, we’re proud to present the Dakar premiere of Christopher Kirkley’s Tamashek Purple-Rain homage Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, which translates as “Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red In It.” The first feature film ever shot in Tamashek, the movie stars Tuareg guitar prodigy Mdou Moctar.
The Atlantic says:
Gorgeously shot and, despite the largely amateur cast, surprisingly well-acted. Moctar’s performance might be more muted than the notoriously flamboyant Purple One’s, but he is nonetheless a commanding presence on screen, particularly when he has a guitar in hand. Still, there is a charming, ragtag quality to the film, an impression that’s crystallized in its fumbling, long-winded title.
On Tuesday, April 17, we’ll be serving our magic assortment of appetizers and desserts to complement the movie, along with a themed cocktail. Space is limited, so RSVP now to reserve your spot! See the flier for details.