Located in West Africa, Gambia is famous for its wildlife and national parks. Incredibly popular as a safari destination, Gambia is home to hundreds of different species of animals and birds encouraging tens of thousands of tourists to visit its wildlife reserves each year.
Gambia also has a rich history, with a number of historical sites to visit, such as UNESCO World Heritage site, The Senegambian Stone Circles, which are thought to have been built as early as the 16th Century.
Most Popular Gambian Dishes
Common ingredients in Gambian cuisine are peanuts, lemon, chilli, fish and tomatoes. Many of Gambia’s most popular dishes included one or more of these elements. Rice is served as a side with most dishes.
It is traditional in Gambia for meals to be social occasions. Many meals are served from a large bowl, with each person gathering around the food and eating directly from the part of the bowl that is in front of them, usually with their right hand.
Generally, breakfast consists of bread and jam in Gambia and dinners tend to be light meals of fish or meat. Whereas lunch is usually the main meal of the day, with large stews being particularly popular.
Vegetarian meals are common in Gambia, due to the price of meat. Many dishes can be made without the meat/fish ingredients while still achieving rich flavors.
Gambia is home to the Bakau Fish Market, where one can buy fresh fish caught each day in the Atlantic via the Gambia River. The abundance of fresh fish means that many popular Gambian dishes are seafood based.
Gambian cooking has been influenced by nearby West African countries over the years. Some other significant influences of Gambian cuisine includes Portuguese, Arabic and English cuisines.
Domoda (Peanut Stew)
Domoda is the national dish of Gambia. Rice and peanut sauce are mixed together with a range of vegetables, potatoes and chicken or beef to form a rich peanut stew.
The dish’s name comes from the Mandinka language, directly translating to ‘peanut sauce’. Domoda is usually served over rice, or occasionally over findi, a couscous-like grain popular in Gambia.
Chewi kong (Catfish Stew)
Chewi kong is a Gambian stew made from catfish, onions, tomatoes and other vegetables, served with rice. This is a traditional Gambian stew, commonly served at dinner time.
Catfish are a popular fish to eat in Gambia because they are abundant all year round and at all tide levels. Other fish stews are also very popular dishes, such as fish ball stew or Chu Dewtirr.
Benachin (Gambian Jollof Rice)
Benachin directly translates to “one pot” in Gambian, referring to the cooking style. There are many variations of this dish across Gambia, with vegetarian versions and fish versions often being available.
This is a one-pot rice dish, consisting of rice, vegetables and meat that are all cooked together. Benachin is known as the Gambian jollof rice and is very popular to serve for lunch or dinner.
Mbahal (Salted Fish)
Mbahal is a smoked, salted fish dish in a spicy, tomato sauce containing peanuts, okra and black-eyed peas. This dish’s name comes from the word “boiling” and has a similar texture to risotto.
Family recipes for Mbahal tend to vary slightly, with different spice mixes and vegetables being used for the dish in different regions of Gambia.
Superkanja (Okra Stew)
Superkanja is a traditional stew made with okra, beef, onions and catfish, often served over rice, or with bread. Much of the stew’s taste can be attributed to the catfish which gives the dish a strong, rich flavor.
There are many variations to the superkanja recipe, with some including other ingredients like crab or prawns to the stew.
Akara (Bean Fritters)
Akara are made by peeling and grinding black beans into a paste, seasoning them and frying them in oil to make fritters. They may be served as a snack or an appetizer, either on their own or with a side of bread or spicy dipping sauce.
This dish is thought to have originated in Yoruba culture in Nigeria, today akara is very popular throughout West Africa. Similar dishes can be found across the world, such as Brazilian Acarajé.
Fish Yassa (Curried Fish)
Fish yassa is believed to have originated in Gambia; for this dish white fish is flavored with mustard, chili peppers, lemon juice and garlic, and grilled with onions.
This curry-like fish dish is often served with rice or potatoes. Alternatively, chicken yassa is also popular in Gambia; this contains the same ingredients as fish yassa, but replaces the fish with chicken.
This Gambian bread has a similar appearance to a French baguette, but inside its texture is much more dense and has a pretzel-like flavor.
Tapalapa is commonly eaten for breakfast in Gambia, it is usually served with butter, eggs or spreads like jam. Tapalapa is made with a combination of wheat and millet flour which gives it a slightly nutty taste.
Palm wine is made by collecting palm tree sap and naturally fermenting it until it becomes a cloudy, alcoholic drink. The age of the tree can affect the sweetness or sourness of the palm wine, with younger, untapped trees producing sweeter sap.
The alcohol content of palm wine will increase with its fermentation time, eventually turning into a vinegar-like taste if left for too long.
Thiakry is a Gambian dessert, made from rice, yogurt, cinnamon and sugar. This dish is creamy and sweet, it is a popular snack or breakfast food in Gambia.
Thiakry is made in most homes, and can be purchased at street food stalls or restaurants.