Eating Culture in Senegal
Meals are generally served in Senegal communal style. What they'll do is they'll put a big platter out and the platter will have rice on it and then it'll have sort of a pile of either meat and fish and vegetables at the center. Etiquette-wise, what you should do is think of the platter as sort of a big pizza, and you only want to eat out of the slice that's in front of you. If you want something like the meat or the fish or the vegetables that [are] in the center, sort of reach in and grab a piece or a chunk and then pull it back to your slice. But you shouldn't pull a whole carrot or a whole piece of fish or something like that into your slice of the platter.
When you're invited to eat, you should always wait for the host or the woman who cooked the meal to say ‘bismillahi’ before you start eating. You should also really wait for them to sort of put their hand in first before you do, but generally if you get the bismillahi you're good to start eating. Also, you never want to reach directly into the center of the platter for the meat or the vegetables right at the get-go. You want to have at least a couple bites of just rice before you go for the good stuff.
Before you start eating, since people eat with their hands a lot, generally they’ll come around with either two little bowls, one with soapy water and one with just plain water, or they’ll come around with a little kettle and a bar of soap. And you should always wash your hands before you start eating.
When you do eat with your hand, you only eat with your right hand. It doesn’t matter if you’re left-handed, you should always eat with your right hand. And actually that holds true even if you’re eating with a utensil. To eat with the left hand is very rude, and it’s very off-putting for the Senegalese, so always eat with the right.
In this video, a Senegalese expert discusses food etiquette in Senegal.