An interview with Mina Fuhr (Berlin/Dakar), a Japanese shapeshifter who dances through a multiverse of disciplines and creative forms, while always returning to the body. In Dakar she teaches yoga and dance, while writing her cookbook: a mystic vegan and raw vegan guide to healing. More on her website: www.todress.org
Hi Mina. Thanks for talking with us.
Thank you for having me!
Adapting to food life in Dakar is a bit of a challenging process to all expats, some more than others. In your case, how have you found adapting to life as a vegan in Dakar?
I have been a vegan for almost 2 years now, but I am a less strict vegan when I am in Senegal. Not because of cravings or temptation but because of social reasons. I sometimes eat Thiebou dien without the dien (fish) even if all the fish broth is a no-go for vegan standards. You can’t be invited to a Senegalese family meal and sit around the family plate and not eat. In this case the act of communal eating is sacred and it is not up to me to school them but to respect that setting.
I think that’s a great perspective. Just to help us understand better, what’s in your grocery cart each week?
Tahini, local peaunut butter, bissap, cashews (to soak), coconut flakes, coconut oil, coconut milk, olive oil, ginger (powder and raw), loads of spices (in bulk at the hypermarche on the VDN), dates, whole grain rice, whole grain pasta, local millet, chick peas, mung beans, whatever dried legume I can find…
And what do you buy at the fruit and vegetable stand?
Everything! It is important to have variety and I tend to mix a lot of fruits and vegetables to get a depth of flavor going. It’s also great that you get your herbs in bulk here. My favorites are okra, butternut squash and mango of course in season.
Fortunately we do have a good produce selection here in Dakar. Which three food items would you like to find here more easily?
Especially the nuts/seeds and their butters: sunflower, pumpkin, almond butter… I could go on, but you said three…
Are there any that are available just way too expensive for regular use?
I have heard of some of those things being sold in Plateau and in the American store, but I am an artist, which makes me poor but also creative 😉 While I am here I substitute the seeds with mostly cashews and walnut and the almond butter with tahini and peanut butter. It’s not necessary to insist on the way vegan cooking looks in California.
Absolutely. What are the easy parts of being vegan in Dakar?
Vegetables are very cheap here, even the organic ones available from Marché ASD. Coconuts are flying around and thanks to Bégué Coco we even have local coconut oil. Being vegan is not only about living on a plant based diet I believe but about being humble and appreciating what you have while letting live. This sense of humbleness comes easy in Dakar I think, when you look at life here, even when most Senegalese don’t express that gratitude by refraining from eating meat.
Have you had to make compromises?
Yes, like I said before, sometimes fish broth is now part of my diet. Other vegan friends of mine turned vegetarian when they came here, they started to eat eggs and cheese. I try to stay away from animal products apart from the little bit of butter and fish oil I have probably been ingesting in restaurants, because no matter how much you explain what vegan is, it is kind of out of most people’s range of comprehension. The best reaction I have ever gotten to being vegetarian (most of the time, I don’t even bother explaining veganism) was: “What? So you only eat chicken?”
I can see getting that response. Do you have any tips to share, either for other vegans in Senegal or for those considering adopting a vegan lifestyle?
Senegal is not an easy place to stay vegan and definitely a tough one to transition in. All the mock meats, cheeses and mayos are not available here. These products are not neccarily good for you, but they tend to help you in making a vegan choice all the time so it becomes second nature to you. If you are not yet vegetarian, try cutting out meat and fish first without being so strict. It’s important to train your eye and your belly to perceive vegetables not as a side dish but as a main dish. Also getting used to saying “no” to something without feeling a sense of lack or emptiness is an important step. Remember that your “no” to animal products is allowing life and abundance on earth. Live by setting an example, without trying to convince anyone of anything. Be a happy vegan and forgive yourself.
Good advice. Any restaurants or dishes that you’d recommend as vegan-friendly?
The Ethiopian restaurant in Sacré Coeur 3 makes a veggie plate for two for only 5.000CFA! Indian Place in Ngor makes great veggie dishes as well. But most of the time if you eat outside you end up with a baguette with fries and onion sauce 😉 which is ridiculous but still food, and you have to say “Al-Hamdoulillah” while the others chew on barbeque. That’s why I am mostly busy culturing food at home, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, soaking and sprouting whatever I can find.
Hmm, sounds like we may need another post on that topic! Lastly, you’re working on a vegan cookbook. Can you share one of your favorite recipes that can be made here in Senegal?
Yes, it’s a vegan and raw vegan cookbook about healing your relationship to food. It’s my story of transitioning to veganism and overcoming eating disorders, told in 24 recipes. If I get into it, it’s going to be another interview, so for now I just would like to share the recipe I have created for the chapter on love, a twist on Senegalese Mafé with lots of ginger.
Mina’s Raw Vegan Mafé with Hibiscus Millet
½ c millet (or rice)
2 Tbsp dried hibiscus
1 c water
pinch of salt
1. Add all ingredients into a small saucepan, cover and let simmer under low heat until all the liquid has been absorbed.
2. Turn off the heat and let sit for another 10 min. Don’t open the lid.
Mafé (peanut) sauce
¼ c peanut butter
1,5 Tbsp grated ginger
1 Tbsp soy sauce
salt to taste
1. Peel the oranges and cut in halves
2. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
3. In a saucepan gently warm up the sauce while constantly stirring, until warm to the touch. Don’t cook, as we want to keep the sauce raw.
In a bowl (or in a orange peel!) serve the millet on the sauce. Garnish with the cooked hibiscus petals.
Thanks, Mina! Please let us know once your cookbook is out and where we can pick up a copy!
Sure! It should be out in the summer, enshallah 🙂 Thank you!