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Bissap
October 19, 2009  |  Ingredients

One thing that I found very interesting about walking through my local market on Yoff was how much of what was for sale was familiar from little Mexican grocery stores in California. Obviously tomatoes and mangoes and avocados are fairly universal, but manioc and tamarind seemed like coincidences worth noting. And you can imagine my surprise when I tasted the national drink of Senegal for the first time and realized it was also served at my favorite taquería in San Jose*.

Bissap is the dried outer leaves of the hibiscus flower, and when brewed into a tea it has a tart, almost cranberry-like flavor. (And like cranberry juice, a lot of sugar is added to make it palatable!) In both California and Dakar you can find the spidery, dark red flowers in big bins at most local markets, though the ones you get in Dakar are likely to have quite a bit more sand in them**, so be sure to rinse well.

In addition to brewing them into tea with mint and sugar (to be served cold), the Senegalese use fresh bissap flowers in thieboudienne. Other than that, I did not come across very many local preparations. There was a very nice bissap jam at the Shell Station, but it was pretty clearly an item for tourists.

So what do you do with a kilo of bissap? Well for starters, you can do like the Senegalese and most of Latin America and make yourself a great summer drink just by adding hot water and sugar. Experiment to find the proportions you like best. But you can also do almost anything you would do with cranberries: I had very good results mixing the hydrated flowers with cream cheese to make a savory pastry filling. I am sorry I never thought to make a bissap jelly for one of our Yoff thanksgivings.

Perhaps my favorite preparation of bissap was pancake syrup. I think I liked it even better than maple. Just fill a small pot with rinsed flowers and add enough water to fill the pot half way. Bring it all to a boil for about ten minutes, then remove the flowers and add sugar equal to the volume of remaining liquid. Cook again until the sugar is entirely dissolved and let it cool. Or if it is ten am on a Saturday and the pancakes are ready, just pour it on hot.

*Under the name agua de flor de Jamaica
**This is true of almost everything in Dakar.



4 Comments


  1. The bissap pancake syrup is brilliant.

    I just found your site and am loving it!

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  1. Whole wheat pancakes & bissap syrup « Toubab recipes

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