Let’s face it, being on a specialty diet is never really easy, but it is definitely manageable if you know what you need to avoid, and where to find those specialty items to make it a little easier. Thankfully, Dakar provides a pretty good variety of items to accommodate a variety of needs.
The American Food Store is probably your best bet for a few reasons. First and foremost, you can read labels and ingredients easily since everything is imported directly from the US. Also, American import products must follow strict food, drug, and safety regulations, so they have to include all ingredients (this is not true for locally produced food). Lastly, they have a good selection of healthy options right alongside all the junk comfort foods! You can almost always find soy and almond milk, a variety of gluten-free grains and carbs such as quinoa, buckwheat, certified GF rice, and GF pasta, and several options for gluten-free flours like GF baking flour, coconut flour, chickpea flour, and cassava flour. They often have different cereals and snacks that are also gluten-free or dairy-free, and things like liquid aminos, coconut oil, avocado oil and more.
If you’re a meat-eater, you’ll find a good selection of Beer Sheba and SENSA AGRI meats in the frozen section (the closest thing to organic meat in Dakar, but definitely not grass-fed) at the American Food Store. If you’re a veggie-lover, you’ll find fresh greens from Taaru Askan Farm (seasonally). If you really love your veggies, you can subscribe to Taaru Askan Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture membership to receive bags full of greens during their harvest season. If you are a fish and seafood lover, you are golden. Dakar is a paradise for fresh seafood!
Dakar has a few big shopping markets/grocery stores – such as Casino, Auchan, and Hypermarché – that also carry a variety of go-to items; soy, almond, oat, or goat milk, gluten-free pasta, gluten-free crackers and snack, lactose-free cheeses, and even veggie burgers. Casino’s BIO brand is the closest thing we have to “organic” and offers a big selection of snacks, spices, sauces, honey, agave, chocolate, and small meals. It is also easy to find things like tofu, beans and plenty of naturally GF grains! If you are a strict vegan, you may find the selection of vegetables to be a bit underwhelming. Produce is plentiful (and cheap) for locally grown veggies like peppers, squash, eggplant, carrot, cucumbers, etc., but variety can be a challenge! Imported vegetables (like broccoli) are quite expensive, and not always available… sometimes we will go an entire year without seeing a vegetable that was readily available last year (this year, it is sweet potatoes), and seasonal harvest definitely affects the price and availability. As mentioned above, Taaru Askan Farms has a CSA program for their organic greens (kale, chard, collards, etc.). Harvest is after the first of the year, and usually lasts right up until the summer! Supplementing frozen vegetables is helpful in getting a little more variety, and they can be found anywhere (broccoli, spinach, blueberries).
While finding ingredients in grocery stores to prepare meals at home is pretty reliable, eating out at restaurants is not. Allergies are uncommon so many restaurants do not take them very seriously (i.e. let me just pick the shrimp off the top of this salad since you have a shrimp allergy). Most restaurants will have one or two vegetarian or vegan options and maybe even a GF-friendly salad or entrée, but there will not be much variety. Furthermore, you have to be careful about hidden ingredients and food preparation that causes cross-contamination. Senegalese dishes are all filled with Maggie seasoning. It is like a bouillon cube, loaded with MSG, gluten, and meat, of course. It is often used in restaurants to season meats and veggies.
There are a few good resources for foodies in Dakar! Be sure to follow Dakar Eats, Dakar Vegan Group, Taaru Askan Farm, and Natura Bio Dakar. Definitely make sure to attend the Dakar Farmers Markets, monthly from November – June, for tons of locally made products.