Street food-inspired dishes are the hottest new craze in the American dining industry. But this culinary phenomenon is nothing new. Outside of the U.S., there are regions around the world in Africa, Asian, Latin America and the Caribbean that have enjoyed long, thriving—and flavorful—street food cultures.
Senegal native Chef David Diop, who opened his West African-themed Pikine Grill Food Truck in 2015, is already a popular fixture in the Denver food truck scene (thepikinegrillfoodtruck.com). And Diop hopes his success continues to expand palates, spark new travel interest to Africa and further legitimize his country’s cuisine.
Q: For people who don’t know, what foods would you expect to find in a typical West African street food scene?
In West Africa, especially in my native county of Senegal, grilled meats are the most popular street food. Coffee (aka cafe touba) is another really popular street food item. Senegalese love this strong sweetened coffee and drink it almost every day.
Almost every African family raises animals to be used for food, so meat is easily accessible, more affordable and always fresh. On any given day in Senegal, you can find a street vendor grilling chicken, lamb and fresh seafood. In Senegal, grilled lamb (aka Dibi) is a very popular and very delicious street food, usually served with grilled onions a spicy mustard sauce. Grilled fish stuffed with spices (aka Thiof) is also a really popular street food as well as Fataya, which is an empanada-like pastry stuffed with beef or ground fish and spices.
With my food truck, I have taken traditional street food that I loved eating when I was growing up and elevated it.
Q: How popular is street food in Senegal?
Senegal has a hot climate and is close to the water. Senegalese people, especially in busy metropolitan cities Pikine, where I was born, are very active and spend a lot of time outside. And most cultural events like weddings, baby showers and other important events take place outside.
There are always outdoors concerts and other live events, and street vendors play a huge role in those events. People purchase food from street vendors on a daily basis.
Q: If street food is such a commonplace thing, then what makes it so popular?
Despite economic growth, Senegal is still a developing country and eating in a restaurant would not be affordable to many Senegalese because the prices are very comparable to the US and Europe. Many people still have very limited income. Street vendors are a better choice for many people because they can still eat good, have a nice away-from-home treat at a very affordable price. Because they really depend on their return customers, street vendors put a lot of love and passion into their food to make it taste good.
Everyone is Senegal is a hustler. It very much speaks to the culture of the people. It is shameful not to work to help out the family, so many people will set up street food stands to sell food that will bring in income for their family. They use the money to pay for housing, to feed their families, and to send the younger children to school to get a better education.
Q: What other reasons do you think contribute to the success of the street food culture?
Other reasons that contribute to street food culture in Senegal is having access to such a great variety of seafood. Senegal is surrounded by the ocean and there are so many different varieties of seafood that really help to inspire the creation of delicious West African cuisine. Also, West African food has been getting more attention in the media and more people are traveling there and trying the food and that is also helping to expand the street food scene.