I've complained about Chicago's long, brutal winters but when it really grows unbearable, I just take off to the warmest place I can think of. That would be Senegal, West Africa, by way of Chicago's only Senegalese restaurant, Yassa. Senegalese food mirrors the culture in general. It's warm, colorful and very spicy. Family run and oozing with welcome and graciousness, Yassa offers the perfect tropical escape.
With African tapestries and pictures on the wall and two rooms filled with wooden tables and chairs, Yassa feels like your favorite Senegalese aunt's living room, complete with music and tales of village exploits. I go to Yassa as much for the atmosphere as I do the flavorful food. Live bands play jazz or R&B and the expansive Gueye family floats about, waiting tables and supplying African anecdotes in free flowing French or Wolof.
And then there's the food. Hearty doesn't even come close to explaining it. Yassa's menu lists an authentic array of Senegalese specialties, from the eponymous yassa chicken cooked in lemon and mustard sauce, to the national dish of thiebu djeun (cheb u Jen), a mouth-watering display of a whole fried tilapia stuffed with parsley and spices, cooked in tomato sauce and served over jollof rice, also cooked in tomato sauce, pictured above. Carrots, cabbage and plantains accompany this tasty concoction. As you can see, the heaping portions are barely contained by the large platters. I wash it down with glasses of bissap, the Senegalese version of my favorite sorrel or hibiscus drink, or creamy baobab juice.
Awa Gueye, one of Yassa's owners pictured above, is always laughing and smiling, displaying the joyful Senegalese spirit which makes the restaurant such a memorable experience. This post is part of Wander Food Wednesdays. Go check out some of the other traveling cuisines.