HARTWELL, Ohio - Hartwell is home to Teranga Restaurant, where the big flavors of West African cuisine are dished up every day. The food of countries like Mali, Gambia, Mauritania, and Senegal are represented here. The owner, Mor Diallo, who is from Senegal, puts dishes from his childhood on the menu.
Where: 8438 Vine Street, Cincinnati
Food: West African cuisine, specializing in Senegalese food
Prices: Main dishes $5.00 - $10.00Signature dishes
The menu is mostly in English, but the dishes are listed in Wolof, the native language of Senegal. The Grilled Lamb (dibi) and Grilled Fish (tilapia, pictured below) seasoned with the chef’s secret spices are dependable crowd pleasers. You should know that dishes that use the "chef's special spices" are bound to include mustard with a kick of habanero pepper.
Maffé, a West African specialty, is a meat stew of creamy peanut butter and tomato sauce. Potatoes and carrot are served with the Lamb maffé, and okra and tomatoes complement the fish version. You'll find peanuts appearing in a number of places on the menu. They are a mainstay ingredient in Senegalese cooking, reflecting its importance as a crop in Senegal.
The national dish of Senegal, Thiebou Djeun (Senegalese Rice and Fish Stew), is proudly served here. The fish is stuffed with parsley and other herbs, and cooked in a tomato-based sauce. Rice and vegetables complete this festive dish.
Rice is a staple here, with brown rice leading the charge. It does not, however, refer to unmilled whole grain rice. The “brown rice” here is, in fact, white rice, but because of the way it's cooked, it turns brown, thus earning its name. (Pictured below)
Other starches that commonly accompany the main dishes include attiéké (made with cassava), plantain, and couscous.
Millet, a small cereal grain, appears as Tiakri, a dessert. Cooked millet is blended with sour cream, sweetened with sugar, and served with pineapple for a Senegalese sweet finish.
Meet the owner
Mor Diallo is the owner of Teranga Restaurant, and its sister business, Teranga World Market. In the mid-1990s, he worked for Sysco as an assistant network administrator when he felt his lunch routine was missing something: Food he grew up with.
"I got tired of eating the same thing, and I missed home cooking," he said. Diallo decided to solve the problem by opening his own restaurant.
"When I told my colleagues at Sysco, they said, ‘You’re crazy. Why are you going into the restaurant business?'"
Diallo was born and raised in the town of Guéoul, Senegal. He left home for Canada in 1994 to pursue a college degree in geology. After a couple of months, Diallo decided to move to New York. He found his way to Cincinnati, and attended Kentucky Career Institute (KCI) by day, and worked at the Sysco warehouse by night. Diallo ultimately earned an Associates degree, specializing in computer work.
When Sysco had an opening in the computer room, he jumped at the opportunity and became the assistant network administrator.
With food from his childhood in mind, Diallo opened Teranga Restaurant in 2002. Teranga World Market opened some months later.
"I opened the market to provide the ingredients for people to do home cooking," he said, referring to West African cooking.
Teranga Restaurant is a family business. Diallo's brother-in-law runs the kitchen floor, while his other relatives pitch in with the other aspects of the restaurant.
"When we first opened, mostly African people came. Now, the customers are more diverse," Diallo said.
Senegal is a land of many languages, with French as the official language. Diallo speaks four of them: French, Spanish, English, and Wolof.
"The everyday language in Senegal is a mix of French, Wolof and English," he said.
West African cuisine leans on the use of peppers, from mild bell pepper, to cayenne, to habanero. Diallo added that it's also common to use bouillon cubes to flavor foods like rice, soup and other dishes.
"We also use a lot of oil in our cooking," he noted.
It's customary for people to eat together like a big family. According to Diallo, the meal is served in one big bowl, which is placed at the center of the table. The bowl almost always contains rice, and other dishes like lamb or fish.
Everyone takes food from the communal bowl with the right hand. Although it’s traditional to eat with the hand, Diallo noted that more and more people are using spoons. He thinks the togetherness at the dinner table fosters kinship among the people.
What you won't find at the dinner table is pork. Senegal is predominantly a nation of Muslims, and the food is accordingly, halal. People make time to pray five times a day, as is customary in Islam.
Although Diallo doesn't drink or smoke, he indicated it's perfectly acceptable to consume alcohol in Senegal, and party in the many bars that line the streets in Dakar.
"If you go to a nightclub in Dakar, you'd think it was in the United States,"
he said. "We're very open and tolerant."
By the way...
In order to accommodate its increasingly diverse customer base, Teranga Restaurant is making Jamaican food a staple on its menu. You'll find selections like curry goat, oxtail with rice and peas, and jerk chicken for under $10.
(All photos by G. Yek, except as indicated)
Grace Yek is a faculty member at the Midwest Culinary Institute, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.