This week Janine meets Chef Khadim Mbamba from Little Baobab, a pop-up restaurant that celebrates Senegalese food and culture. Khadim talks about his journey from learning to cook from necessity, to cheffing at festivals and finally heading up his own restaurant. We also learn why the music at Little Baobab is as important as the food and why cooking the traditional dishes of Senegal helps him stay connected to his roots.
Hear chef Khadim Mbamba discuss how he brought the cooking of his homeland to life.
How Khadim started out
“When I arrived in the UK in 2010, I didn’t cook. In Senegal, men didn’t help out in the kitchen, but things are changing now. I was getting tired of just eating takeaway and was really missing my hometown food. I started calling friends and family for advice. My sisters are really good cooks, and sent me traditional recipes. I tried making new dishes every day, inviting my friends over to taste what I was cooking. That was the start. Later on, I ran a night in London called Afro Jam, with Senegalese music and food. I cooked traditional dishes like chicken yassa and maafe. People came to experience my country through my cooking and the music played. That’s how my supper club, Little Baobab, began.”
Senegalese music at Little Baobab
“The music at Little Baobab is really important for me. I think the Senegalese music will help to tell you about the food you are eating. Listening to someone playing the kora, the music is telling you about the vibes of the meal. It tells you about the connection you’re having with someone you’ve never met before. You don’t reserve a table, you sit down anywhere you want. You’re going to be next to maybe two or four people you don’t know. You will share a starter with them and you will talk, and the music helps a lot, to connect people.”
“This is one of the signature dishes at Little Baobab. It’s a really, really simple dish from Senegal in the region of Casamance. The people there are called Jola. Normally it’s quite plain, though in the capital Dakar, people add more spice. I like doing it in a classic way, using fresh, simple ingredients. The chicken is tossed and marinated with sliced onion. Then you cook and caramelise the onion and add lemon. The chicken is roasted separately in the oven. Then you combine the chicken and onion to cook together, letting the flavour of the onion go inside the chicken so they mix together. Then you serve it with rice and green olives.”
Chef Khadim’s favourite Senegalese dishes
In Senegal, fataya (deep-fried pastries) are sold as street food. When I was young we were given money by our parents to buy them to snack on. They are usually filled with fish or lamb and served with a sauce to dip.
Maafe is a peanut-based stew, made with either lamb, beef or fish. There is a version in most West African countries, where peanuts are a very popular and widespread food source.
This is Senegal’s national dish of fish with veg and jollof rice. It’s created by the Wolof people, originating in Saint Louis and has spread far and wide. It has great importance, and is still made at all major ceremonies and events.
Listen to the full episode to hear more, and follow Khadim on Instagram @littlebaobabuk.