Posts Tagged ‘Figo’

Bread – a (not so) simple tale

January 30, 2013

It happens sometimes that a friend asks me: is there anything you miss about Holland? And as a matter of fact, there is: brown bread and decent cheese. You can get cheese at fiendishly inflated prices in an upmarket shopping space like the unspeakably dreadful Dakar City; full of folks full of themselves. It is, mercifully, located many miles from were I live.

But OK – cheese is sort of doable. It’s the bread that’s the real story here.

You see, this used to be a French colony. Food-wise, this is not a catastrophe, you add French cuisine to the magnificent Senegalese national thieboudiën (rice, fish, spice, vegetables), and all is well.

Except for breakfast.

Alright, we agree on the coffee. But that is where me and the French part company. Croissants, confiture, you must be joking. And the worst of all: baguettes. Yes, I like them, freshly baked and crisp.

But not everyday.

And this is where I accidentally made a discovery. I went to a small bakery down the road and pointed at something that did not look like a baguette. The young man at the counter asked : ‘But…do you know what that is? It’s mburu duggub. Millet bread.’ ‘It’s not baguette,’ I replied. ‘I want to try this.’

I took it home…

From a small corner in my modest kitchen

From a small corner in my modest kitchen

…and it turned out to taste a million times better than those wretched…anyway: I don’t want to alienate my French friends too much.

Now, millet is grown in Senegal. Wheat is imported, to the tune of millions of euros, every year. My simple economic mind thinks that here is a golden opportunity to kill three, nope, four birds with one stone.

1. Buy duggub, save a Senegalese farmer who would otherwise close business and come to town.

2. Save huge amounts of money on wheat imports.

3. Create more rural employment and build a healthy section of your very own economy.

4. Improve the quality of breakfast.

Oh and, er, educate the mills that produce flour. I remember a debate in the press here, last year, about this very issue and why the moulins were refusing to process local produce. Technically difficult, they claimed. Even when the bakers, as we speak, are threatening to go on strike because the price of flour has gone up – again.

Technical difficulties? Balls, I’d say. In the words of a famous TV series character: make it so. But only when the consumer wants it. And that’s another bottleneck: the obsession with price. Understandable but in this case, quite wrong. What you spend on better bread, you’ll probably save on the doctor.


Same story about shoes. Why buy cheap Chinese stuff when a village called Ngaye, in your very own backyard produces some of the finest shoes anywhere on the planet? Yes, they are more expensive but they last five years instead of three weeks. And why not restore the cloth manufacturing industry, as this entrepreneur wants to do, and serve the market with quality material – made here?

The possibilities are endless. The riddle is why it’s not happening. Consumer habits? Yes. Entrenched interests, especially among traders and importers? Certainly. Outdated (French!) legal frameworks that put massive obstructions in place for anyone who wants to start a business? Part of the picture too. There’s probably more.

A lot of big business started in the proverbial garage. Why not a bakery? The address: La Villageoise, Autoroute de l’Aéroport, Yoff Mbenguene, Dakar. Spread the word.



April 1, 2010

Interesting moment for a bit of Dakar orientation – just before leaving for a few months, but there you have it. That big blob sitting in the middle of the map you have clicked above, is the airport. And I live pretty much next door to it. Here’s a little more detail:

Small blob in the bottom right-hand corner: that's my corner

Ouest Foire, that’s the name. It’s an upcoming, hesitantly middle-class part of town. Far away from the expatriate exuberance of Mermoz or the lunatic decadence of Almadies. My place is on the street at the top end of the oval mark. And the best place in my area, is restaurant Figo. It sits near the bottom of the mark, close to the Pont CICES. And it looks like this:

Figo, Route de l'Aéroport, Ouest Foire, Dakar (photo: Martin Waalboer)

You’d swear you’re in Southern Europe, somewhere, with that exterior. And you’re not far off the mark, because the owners and managers of the place have spent quite a bit of time – in Italy. Atoumane Diagne and Fatoumata Bathily got the idea in Italy, were they met seven years ago. They were both working in a restaurant and said to themselves: ‘This should be possible in Senegal.’

‘I did a survey,’ Fatoumata recalls, ‘and found this part of town ideal. It’s new, it’s close to the airport and there are very few restaurants.’

‘It was a house’ adds Atoumane, ‘we re-designed the entire place to make it look like a European restaurant and terrace.’ And Figo (nothing to do with the Portuguese football player, they assure me!) opened its doors on November 15th, 2008.

It's their place: Fatima, Atou - and the fellow in the middle is Aziz (photo: Martin Waalboer)

It’s been good going so far. Fatoumata is pleased. ‘Expatriates, Senegalese, people from Ouest Foire – it’s a good landing spot for a lot of people.’ And it’s also proof of something else: you can make it right here, at home.

So that’s where I will definitely park you if you pass through Dakar. Senegalese and Italy-style food, drinks, music (Saturday night it’s live) and the nicest restaurant managers you can think of. But don’t take my word for it…

Migrant success

December 7, 2009

Here’s an idea if you want to get things done in Yoff: learn Italian. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but there’s a fair number of people here who have

–          been to Italy

–          learned the language (putting my poor attempts at the learning the local language Wolof to shame)

–          got a break…

…and then decided: naah, Europe’s not for me, I’m going home.

So they’re back home and running businesses. One of them is another one of my many namesakes, Ibrahim. He holds office behind a desk at the back of a very trendy furniture shop – along L’Autoroute of course. His own. As he was selling me a nice bright red designer sofa/bed, Ibrahim casually told me he’d gone to Italy just to try his luck, like so many before (and indeed after him). He had worked in a factory for a bit, decided that this was not quite what he had in kind for the rest of his life and found himself more lucrative employment. Like all migrants, he is pretty vague about what made him enough money to return and set up his furniture import business but ultimately: who cares? He makes his own money, employs a youngster who enjoys what he’s doing and things are looking fine. Sharp dresser Ibrahim and yours truly had, in the meantime settled on a price for the sofa/bed: just under 200 euros. Not bad. And would I be interested in a pair of very expensive Italian designer shoes? They’re just in…

No shoes, thanks. But the piece of designer furniture from Italy duly arrived at my flat – on a very old-fashioned horse-drawn cart.

 ‘You can breathe here.’ She’s very pretty, has just come off the flight from Paris and sits across from me on the outside terrace of Figo, easily the best mainstream restaurant/bar/meeting point in Yoff. In tune with the times, or “branché” as the French would put it. Yep, it sits on L’ Autoroute, where else. The recent arrival explains to me that she spends half the year in Europe. When she gets fed up with the place she takes the plane to Dakar. And vice versa. Works fine. Oh and by the way, she’s married. Dommage…

The young couple that run Figo had the Italian experience as well. And they decided to bring some of that here. Nice furniture, designer ashtrays (yes, you can still smoke here, a sign of sanity if you ask me) and of course WiFi (always a laptop or two on the premises). They have a lovely stack of MP3s that gets a regular run and includes a generous amount of Senegalese top stars (Youssou N’Dour, Thione Seck, Wasis Diop) plus pop music from the European Mediterranean. Mercifully, virtually no modern r&b, the perpetrators of which should be put on trial for audio crimes against humanity. There’s also an ice installation, very Italian but evidently out of order for the time being. And…. excellent coffee.

Figo seems to be doing quite alright for itself although Atou, the male half of the couple (he basically runs the place) did tell me after a very long night that things are not easy. Not for want of trying. The Senegalo-Italian kitchen is very good. The atmosphere is cool and pleasant. At the weekends you may find a band or a solo artist playing, to attract the clients. Things like these and plenty promotion are needed to keep a staff of at least 10 quite busy. So now you know where I’ll take you on your first visit…

Just two examples of what they call “circular migration”. But migration is a triple edged sword: it’s an uncertain investment, it plunges you between your own culture and the one you’re heading for and consequently it may seem that you don’t quite fit in anywhere.

For would-be migrants to Europe, it seems two messages are coming through. The first is visible along L’Autoroute – with a bit of luck you can actually make it and build up a pretty good life back home. The second is: Europe? Don’t bother. For traders, Africa’s richest and most powerful demographic, Europe is history. Too much hassle just to get into the bloody Fortress and then come back with overpriced stuff. Dubai, Hong Kong and Istanbul – that’s the ticket.

In the end, everyone makes up their own mind of course but I would hazard a guess: most Senegalese have no intention of leaving. Those who do would most likely fancy a life with two places to call home: one in say Italy, the Netherlands (I will one day tell you a story about a would-be Dutch citizen of Guinean origin) or even France if you can’t help it. And another one here in Senegal, because “you can breathe here”. Circular migration: why not? That’s precisely what I am doing.