Restaurant weeks have been a part of foodie culture for as long as anyone can remember. Even so, these highly anticipated annual events are generally only thought of as something that happens in the world’s more well-known food-centric cities: New York, London, San Francisco, Paris…
The truth is, there are food lovers everywhere. Afua Hirsch wrote for The Guardian about foodies in Ghana, and this week, Senegal joined the ranks of foodie cities with the first ever Dakar Restaurant Week.
Dakar Restaurant Week (DRW) founders Shruti and Diarra met during college in Minnesota, but they couldn’t have come from more diverse backgrounds. Diarra, Senegalese by birth, moved to Norway as a teenager to attend school, and Shruti is originally from India, but grew up in the Philippines. They both quit their high-flying jobs in Los Angeles and New York to follow what makes them truly happy, and much of their joy is centered around food. For Diarra, Senegalese culture is all about eating out and dressing up. “You’ll go broke,” she says, “but it’s our culture.” At the same time, Senegalese people have reservations about eating out. “Saying that you’re going to a restaurant is like saying that you’re taking a trip to Vegas. It’s seen as something that’s for the very rich,” Shruti explains, adding that DRW is a way of showing that food at high-quality restaurants is accessible for Dakar’s middle class.
I caught up with Babette Tamarel, owner of Toukouleur, one of the participating restaurants. Tamarel describes the clientele as being “very cosmopolitan.” She relies on word of mouth recommendations for customers instead of launching a typical publicity campaign or hosting a website. Even Toukouleur’s location is unassuming. “There’s a small door and you can only discover it if you’re really looking,” says Tamarel. She finds customer feedback to be more reliable than “official” reviews because people are speaking about their own authentic experiences.
One DRW patron, Ndeye Gueye, describes Toukouleur’s cuisine as being “Senegalese food with a twist. The presentation is Western-influenced, but the food is local; it’s our culture.”
Tamarel calls DRW a “beautiful, brave initiative,” because while restaurant week is extremely well-known in more cosmopolitan cities, it’s very different from what Senegal is used to.
DRW is happening now through February 7th at restaurants all across Dakar.