Cuisine in Senegal has been influenced by nations like France, Portugal, and those of North Africa, and also by many ethnic groups, the largest being the Wolof; Islam, which first penetrated the region in the 11th century; and various European cultures, especially the French, who held the country as a colony until 1960.
Because Senegal borders the Atlantic Ocean, fish is an important staple. Chicken, lamb, pea, eggs and beef are also used in Senegalese cooking, but not pork, due to the nation’s largely Muslim population. Peanuts, the primary crop, as well as couscous, white rice, sweet potatoes, lentils, black-eyed peas and various vegetables, are also incorporated into many recipes. Meats and vegetables are typically stewed or marinated in herbs and spices, and then poured over rice or couscous or simply eaten with bread.
Rice with fish, sorghum porridge, or grits with milk constitute most of the Senegalese midday meals. For dinner traditional homes prefer stewed meat in a sauce over sorghum couscous or fried fish. Breakfast is reserved for tea, milk and butter. In rural areas, breakfast still consists of leftovers from the previous night's dinner, or porridge with milk. Cooked rice is one of the most widespread dishes in Senegal, accompanied by fish and vegetables and different sauce types.
The official dish of Senegal is ceebu jen (or thebou diene) – rice and fish. It comes in two varieties (red and white). The Senegalese love ceebu jen and will often ask a foreigner whether he/she has ever tried it, and it is definitely part of the experience. There is also the elusive ceebu jen diagga, which is served with extra sauce and fish balls. Other common dishes are maafe, which is a rich, oily peanut-based sauce with meat that is served over white rice. Yassa is a delicious onion sauce that is often served over rice and chicken or with deep fried fish.
Popular fresh juices are made from bissap, ginger, buy (pronounced "bouy") which is the fruit of the baobab tree also known as "monkey bread fruit", mango, or other fruit or wild trees. Desserts are very rich and sweet, combining native ingredients with the extravagance and style characteristic of the French impact on Senegal’s culinary methods. They are often served with fresh fruit and are traditionally followed by coffee or tea.