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Summer recipes: Jambalaya or Ceebujen? Gumbo or Gombo?

As the temperatures rise, the humidity takes over, and adolescents are no longer in class, things get cookin' in New Orleans. We want to help you add to that heat with a little history, a little spice, and some recipes for the summer season. Some dishes will singe the taste buds while others will freshen up your life. First up, let's go back to some root dishes. Jambalaya or Ceebujen? Gumbo or Gombo? We may know one more than the other, but these dishes are linked even though their geography and language have waters between them.

It’s not just the physical rice that New Orleans received from Senegal. The actual rice dishes created in Senegalese society are very similar to modern New Orleans rice dishes. Modern day Senegal’s national dish, ceebujën (also spelt thieboudienne) consists of rice and fish. Chiep, the Wolof (the predominant language spoken in Senegal) word for rice and jën, the Wolof word for fish, are combined in the name of this meal. The fish is usually stuffed with a mixture of spices and herbs including parsley, peppers, and garlic. In addition to rice and fish, the meal always includes vegetables, ranging from carrots and potatoes to eggplant.

This meal is usually served at lunchtime and it is not uncommon to have a varying form of this national dish at lunch every day of the week in Senegal. This meal has also evolved into different forms of Senegalese jambalaya, consisting of rice and seafood and vegetables, very similar to jambalaya found in New Orleans. In New Orleans, rice is used most notably in meals such as red beans and rice, jambalaya, and even added on a side or in addition to seafood gumbo.

The word gumbo, although not entirely rice-related, actually originates from the Wolof word gombo, meaning okra. The Senegambian gombo was already integrated into a Senegalese dish also called gombo, and although it tastes different from the gumbo found in New Orleans due to the presence of different oils and spices, both rely on a key ingredient-- the okra vegetable.

As we look to the approaching 300th year anniversary of France's founding of New Orleans in May 2018, we should also look to the founders of this city that are not always included in history books, like the Senegambian slaves that made growing rice possible in New Orleans and helped spread this knowledge all over the South.

Perhaps the next time we eat jambalaya or gumbo, though, we can think about this great contribution to New Orleans culture and spread the word to whoever is sharing a meal with us.

Want to see it for yourself?

  • To hear from a renowned Senegalese chef currently living in New York City about the connections between Senegal and New Orleans cuisine, visit his website here.
  • For a Senegalese thieboudienne recipe, click here.
  • For a Senegalese-inspired gumbo recipe, click here.
  • To hear a historian and New Orleans chefs discuss this topic, watch this video.
  • Have an Instagram? Check out this account that features African dishes, including so many from Senegal. The account's handle, LekkRek, means "eat only" in the Senegalese language Wolof, lekk meaning "eat" and rek meaning "only."

Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at kelley@nolavie.com.