Saturday, September 6, 2014


This search for a bread recipe proved to be harder than I thought. And I thought Gabon was difficult (well, Bhutan was kind of difficult, too)! I searched, and I searched some more, but to no avail. There simply weren’t any Gambian bread recipes on the Internet. I found many references to local breads such as tapalapa and senfur, or even references to bakeries in Banjul, but no useful recipes. And of course, I found all sorts of articles about how tapalapa has a bad reputation now: a few years ago, local street vendors who were making tapalapa in The Gambia weren’t exactly clean about the way they were making the bread to sell in the mornings, and it was making a lot of people sick. They don’t quite have the same sanitation regulations that other countries have.  But you know what? The US has all sorts of regulations on food safety, and we still have items recalled all the time, and moderately upscale chain restaurants still have people who get sick from their food.

Regardless of whether it's authentic or not, it was still good. And you can't go wrong there. 
Since tapalapa bread is also commonly eaten in Senegal as well, I started doing Internet searches in French as well. I did come across some information describing how it’s made, albeit it wasn’t exactly a recipe. It was the closest thing I could find. So, I ran it through Google Translate, and then made up the amounts of the ingredients based on breads I have made in the past. I have no idea if it’s even close (I had to make some substitutions). But without further ado, here’s the recipe: 

Beth’s Faux Tapalapa

1 ¼ c wheat flour
½ c millet flour (I used quinoa flour)
1 ¼ c corn flour
½ c cowpea flour (I used yuca/tapioca flour)
1 yeast packet
1 tsp salt
1 ¾ c (plus a little more if needed) warm water

-- Mix the flours together. Add in the salt, yeast, and water. Mix and knead until it
       comes together as a flour. I added in a little oil into the bottom of the bowl and
       rolled the dough ball in the oil before covering it in plastic and letting it rest.
-- Let the dough sit for about 45 minutes. Then knead it for about 3-4 minutes,  
       putting it back in the bowl to rest for another 45 minutes.
-- Form the dough into moderately thin 12” sticks (the size of a standard ruler),
       molding it with your hands, similar to a baguette. Then I placed them on    
       parchment paper on a cookie sheet. I let it rest for another 5-7 minutes while the
       oven preheats to 450ºF.
-- Once the oven is ready, bake for about 15 minutes until they are firm when you
       tap on the top.

It was so good, although it had an earthy quality because of the quinoa and corn flours. It had a definite crust that wasn’t too hard but was soft on the inside. I could definitely taste the wheat but it almost had the aftertaste of rye. I can see why tourists keep coming back to the tapalapa. (And yes, my kids laughed at the word “cowpea” and were glad I didn’t put it in.)

It seems like texture issues were the biggest complain, but I didn't think it was that bad. 
The second dish I started was Gambian dessert couscous.  I normally serve couscous in place of rice, and I usually top it with some kind of savory stew of meat and vegetables on top.  So, this was different to put something sweet on top. And it was actually pretty easy to make: I mixed together vanilla yogurt, sour cream, evaporated milk, crushed pineapple, nutmeg, and vanilla extract in a bowl and beat it until it was smooth. (I realized later that I forgot to put in the evaporated milk, but it was fine without it.) I put this in the refrigerator to chill while I cooked the rest of the food. Just before it was time to serve the food, I made instant couscous according to the directions on the box. It’s meant to be served with the fruit-yogurt mix on top of the couscous (or it can be served separately). I really liked this, but the kids weren’t so sure about it. I think it was a texture thing. And I have to admit, the texture threw me, but if I concentrated on the taste, it almost tasted like a pastry or rice pudding, or something. 

Now THIS was awesome. I still think it would be better with some added shrimp.
The main meal for today is Gambian Benachin. This particular recipe calls for chicken, but there are many other recipes that call for different kinds of meat to be included. First I browned the chicken and then set it aside. In the same skillet, I sautéed onions, minced garlic, and chopped bell peppers, adding some chili powder and two cans of tomatoes (mine were the tomatoes with lime and cilantro) a few minutes later. After about five minutes, I added in a little bit of tomato paste with a little boiling water and stirred everything together. I threw in a bay leaf, left out the Maggi cube (since it contains MSG), added in a can of sliced carrots, a quarter of a cabbage (shredded), some diced eggplant (just to make my husband gag, even though you really can’t taste it once it cooks down with everything else), and some salt and pepper. I let it simmer for about 30-40 minutes covered until all of the vegetables were tender. I served this on a bed of rice. I liked this, but I wish it had more spices in it. (I did throw in a little ground cayenne pepper, but it wasn’t much.) I loved how all the flavors came to together. I wish I had some shrimp to throw in there as well.

The final product. 
I was really happy that I came up with this tapalapa recipe myself and that it turned out really good. It made me wonder why no one has put this recipe up on the Internet yet. Perhaps because tapalapa was considered a “bush bread,” made primarily by the people who lived in the rural areas who probably don’t have Internet access or even reliable electricity in some places. And this bread is also typically baked in a wood oven; I had to guess at the temperature since I was making this in a conventional oven. But it turned out pretty good, even if it may not be truly “authentic.” But what is? As long as it's tasty.

Up next: Georgia

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