Feb 182014


Today is Independence day in The Gambia (officially the Republic of the Gambia), a nation in West Africa. It is surrounded by Senegal, apart from a short strip of Atlantic coastline at its western end. It is the smallest country on mainland Africa.  The country is situated either side of the Gambia River, which flows through the country’s center and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Banjul is the capital, but the largest cities are Serekunda and Brikama.

The Gambia shares historical roots with many other West African nations in the slave trade, which was the key factor in the placing and keeping of a colony on the Gambia River, first by the Portuguese and later by the British. On 18 February 1965, the Gambia gained independence from the United Kingdom and joined the Commonwealth of Nations, from which it withdrew in October 2013. Since gaining independence, the Gambia has enjoyed relative political stability, with the exception of a brief period of military rule in 1994.

Gambian cuisine resembles West African cuisine in general, with its own twists. The staple is rice served communally with a stew of fish, chicken, beef, lamb, or goat.  Most Gambians are Muslim, so pork is not on the menu.  Fufu – mashed and fluffed yams – is also popular.  And we are talking about yams, not sweet potatoes.

It is normal to eat with the right hand. It takes a little practice, but I’ve been doing it a long time.

Here’s a fish ball stew.  Maggi cubes are very much part of West African cooking.  Chicken bouillon cubes are a fair substitute.  You can also add a chopped hot red pepper in addition to the chilli powder.  Gambian food tends to be hot.


Gambian Fish Balls


1 lb fresh fish
2 large bell peppers
5 large onions
1 fresh bay leaf
2 Maggi © cubes (or chicken bouillon cubes)
1 egg
2 ozs bread
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon of hot chilli powder
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsps tomato paste


Cut the fish into small pieces.

Peel and chop into very fine pieces 1 onion, 1 bell pepper, and crush 1 cube of Maggi ©.

Pound and mix them with the fish.

Soak the bread in water, squeeze, then mix and pound it with the fish mixture.

Add the egg and parsley, and mix. Be sure that the whole mix is completely homogenous.

Make the mixture into small balls.

Heat a little oil in a skillet and sauté the fish balls in batches until they are golden.

Dice the remaining 4 onions and sauté until brown.

When the onions are browned add the tomato paste, and the other Maggi © cube along with 2 tablespoons of water and stir until the sauce becomes thick.

Transfer the contents of the frying pan into a cooking pot and add 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil.

Add the fish balls, bay leaf, lemon juice and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the remaining bell pepper, sliced, and chilli powder, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Can be served with rice or fufu.

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