Fataya in St. Louis, Senegal
It was my plan from the minute we booked our tickets: I was going to find and eat accara, a popular street food, in Senegal. I had already begun to imagine what the black-eyed pea fritters tasted like and how fresh the baguette would be. Would it be served with any sauce? And would it be spicy? Would the fritters be soft and squishy like a beignet, or firm and dense like a falafel? I’m unashamed to admit that I spent a lot of time contemplating these fritters.
One evening in St. Louis, we set out to find the sandwich. Admittedly, I had heard it was more of a breakfast food, but knew there must be vendors at all hours. I must have looked like I was on a treasure hunt, all giddy with anticipation. We arrived at a stand belonging to two old women, aglow under a street light with a growing line of people. “Accara?” The vendors shook their heads in unison and pointed vaguely down the street.
We walked another block and arrived at another vendor’s set-up. It was day nine of our trip, and I felt I had finally mastered the sing-song lilt of Senegalese French. “AH-ccara?”
“Non. Fataya!” Her little boy, all wide-eyed and shy in our presence, stared up at me. They both waited for a response. I didn’t want fataya; I didn’t know what fataya was. I was in denial about not being able to find the weird pea-fritters I was lusting after. “D’accord, fataya.” I admitted defeat and prayed that I would receive something delicious.
She brusquely handed over a baguette wrapped in newspaper. Inside were pillowy, spicy fish fritters slathered with a vibrant, salty tomato-onion paste, like nothing I had ever tasted. We walked in silence and passed the sandwich back and forth, devouring it despite a lack of appetite at this point, and eventually found ourselves in the town’s square.
Surrounding us were hundreds of people, eagerly watching a large stage where women slowly came on, one by one, brilliant silk dresses in gold and purple and red, elaborate head wraps that seemed to add four, five inches to their height. I had no clue what exactly we were witnessing, had not planned for this at all—and that was totally okay.