One of the more appetizing parts of my research for The Talking Drum involved trying dishes I’d never heard of that were served at one of the toniest restaurants in the city of Boston.
A few years into my writing process I knew that I wanted to create the character, Uncle Mustapha, a Senegalese restaurant owner. Uncle Mustapha operates one of the most popular restaurants in his neighborhood, Petite Africa, and prepares dishes from his native country.
At the time, I was fortunate to come across Teranga, a Senegalese restaurant in the South End of Boston. As I was creating Uncle Mustapha, I made the supreme sacrifice of prying my fingers off of the keyboard every so often and zipping down the expressway with friends to Teranga to audition dishes for Uncle Mustapha’s menu.
The first meal I ordered at Teranga was Mafé, lamb stew with carrots, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and cabbage in a ground nut sauce and served with jasmine rice. I savored each tender morsel of lamb as I ate and included mafé in the manuscript.
In a scene in which Uncle Mustapha’s nephew, Omar, is walking through Petite Africa, the aroma of the herbs he sniffs in the air indicates to him that Uncle Mustapha is preparing Yassa Guinaar, herb marinated chicken cooked in a tomato stew with vegetables and also served with jasmine rice. The dish ended up in the manuscript largely because I tried it on a follow-up trip to Teranga and loved it.
My character, Della, is sipping on bouye juice at Uncle Mustapha’s restaurant as she is having a testy exchange with her boyfriend, Kwamé. Just about every time I went to Teranga, I had to have a cup of bouye juice. All I can say is that it reminded me of sunshine. It was a thick fruity drink that tasted like nothing I’d ever had before and left me with a smile on my face until the last drop.
It was an arduous task, getting this up close and personal research done, going to Teranga over and over again to make sure I got the details of each menu item just right. But, let’s face it. Sometimes you have no choice but to go the extra mile to create an authentic story. Or look for an excuse to go back for another delicious meal.
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