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Local seafood

A plate of filet de carpe rouge, a local fish, in Dakar, Senegal.

What: Surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, Dakar is awash in fresh seafood. Hardly a day goes by that you don’t want to be sitting within view of the sea, dining on local fish caught that morning. Common hauls include prawns, lobster, sea urchin, tilapia, thiof (a type of grouper), giant barracuda, tuna, lotte (monkfish), snapper, swordfish, mackerel, and yaboy (sardinella), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. At the daily fish market/spectacle on the beach at Soumbédioune, you’ll see all of these and more being carried off the pirogues (handcarved, brightly painted canoes) and put to immediate sale in the fading afternoon light.

Good to know: Despite the apparent bounty you’ll glimpse at Soumbédioune, fishermen will still tell you how small the daily catch is nowadays, and how they have to fish deeper waters farther from shore in order to find anything, blaming the giant Chinese, Russian, and Korean trawlers that have illegally invaded the locals’ space. We heard similar complaints from artisanal fishermen further south in Sierra Leone, and indeed, illegal, unregulated “pirate fishing” off West Africa poses a huge risk to locals’ livelihoods.

Where: Although eating at Soumbédioune is an absolute must (see below), a more refined way to sample local seafood is at a nice beachfront restaurant such as the nautically themed La Cabane du Pêcheur (Plage de N’Gor), in N’Gor. It makes for a great lunch stop before heading across to explore Île de N’Gor. Bonus: There’s wi-fi and, upstairs, affordable, sea-breezy accommodation.

When: Daily, 11am-3pm; 7pm-11pm

Order: Pictured is a perfectly cooked, locally caught filet de carpe rouge (5,800 CFA), or red snapper, served with rice and vegetables. We also loved the carpaccio de poisson (3,500; a daily special), a generous serving of mild but meaty capitaine (Nile perch) “cooked” in olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper. Paired with a beach view and a cold Gazelle beer, there’s no better lunch on those days you crave a break from ceebu jën.

Alternatively: Also on the restaurant front, the ginger shrimp at open-air Restaurant Le N’Gor (Corniche des Almadies, N’Gor, map)—shell on, succulent and flavorful—are not to be missed, and the seaside, west-facing location means the place is ideal for a sundowner. Much, much cheaper, and culturally relevant, is the fish market at Soumbédioune (map). Arrive to that beach in the late afternoon any day of the week to witness countless colorful pirogues being dragged ashore, wandering vendors selling fish hanging from their fingertips, and locals gathered on the beach, peddling both seafood and café Touba for the fishermen. Just beyond the beach are wooden tables laid with more fresh seafood for the taking, and along the far right side (when facing the ocean) are the cooking stations, where you can bring your fish purchase to be grilled for a small fee (we visited a woman named Mbou who is there daily, weather permitting, from approximately 4pm-11pm). For about $2, we dined on a whole fish known locally as poulet de mer (“chicken of the sea”), served with a mustard-onion slaw, and then bought a pile of prawns (3,000 CFA for a half kilo) and had them grilled up for 1,000 CFA. While the seafood cooked, we bought cold drinks from a nearby store (it’s OK to bring beer here). All told, we had plenty of food to go around for both us and all of our companions at the makeshift “dining” table.

Good to know: There’s also a (far less interesting) souvenir market at Soumbédioune, should you feel like shopping for nonedibles.

VIDEO: Get a glimpse of the impromptu celebration we encountered on the beach at Soumbédioune. It turns out that a nearby traditional fishing village was celebrating the annual sacrificial slaughter of a sheep in the hopes for a good fishing season.


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