In 2007, Gourmet magazine ran a short piece on Vietnamese cooking in Senegal. I thought it interesting and novel and filed it the back of my brain. Last week, Amy Scattergood of the Los Angeles Times "Food" section reviewed a cookbook called Yolele! Recipes From the Heart of Senegal by Pierre Thiam, a Brooklyn-based chef. The article included a flavorful black-eye peas salad but what was more interesting was that Scattergood mentioned that Senegalese food is influenced by Vietnamese culinary concepts.
Her comment piqued my interest and with some research, I realized that both Senegal and Vietnam were French colonies. (Those European colonists couldn't stop!) Moreover, in the early part of the 20th century, Senegalese men were sent to Vietnam as soldiers . A number of them took Vietnamese wives and brought them back to Senegal. That's what I got from a July 2007 Voice of America story on a lau hot pot meal at the home of Jean Gomis, a Viet-Senegalese man. Gomis decribed himself as being "mixed, with red blood and black skin, but that his heart is gold, referring to one of the colors on Vietnam's national flag. " He was born in Vietnam and makes a Vietnamese food daily.
Here are some other facts I've gleaned on the Vietnamese community in Senegal:
- The Vietnamese population is concentrated mostly in Dakar, the capital.
- In the 1990s through a United Nations food and agricultural program, Vietnamese agricultural technicians arrived for a mutual assistance program.
- In 2001, some of those technicians started making nuoc mam fish sauce with local sardines.
- There are Vietnamese restaurants in Dakar. Le Dragon is the oldest one, and credited with starting the Asian food trend in the city.
Do any of you know additional information? Please add your knowledge.
2/18/09 Update: Morocco, also a French colony, absorbed some of the ideas from Vietnam. Simon Bao pointed me to a Moroccan recipe for baked phyllo rolls that are quite similar to cha gio — they're eaten with lettuce and cilantro. Here's a page for details and a recipe for Moroccan Briouats of Shrimp from Kitty Morse's Cooking at the Kasbah: Recipes from My Moroccan Kitchen (Chronicle Books).