Strip Search: Owner Fatima Gueye showcases West African fare at Dabakh

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Dabakh owner Fatima Gueye holds a dish of ceebu jen.

West African cuisinesmay strike Westerners as a juxtaposition of the obscure and the familiar, and perhaps none demonstrate this more than Senegalese. With influences as varied as the Middle East, France and Portugal, as well as from neighboring countries and tribes, dishes such as ceebu jen, dibbe and maffe share space with more commonplace offerings like paella, couscous and French bread.

At Dabakh Restaurant, which resides in a repurposed fast food restaurant (Burger King perhaps?) on Morse Road, a broad selection of Senegalese favorites covers all the bases. The restaurant's regulars, however, are often set on one thing. "Ceebu jen, it's the national dish," says owner Fatima Gueye. "And it's definitely our most popular." Also known as jollof rice and fish, Dabakh's version is made with broken rice, carrots, yucca, cabbage and red snapper. The fish flavor is mild, the broken rice lends a couscous-like texture and overall the dish is harmoniously subtle and umami-forward.

Other popular dishes include dibbe and maffe. Dibbe is the lamb lover's choice, providing a generous portion of thinly sliced, bone-in chops dusted with an alluring creole rub and then grilled. Maffe, usually translated as peanut butter stew, is thick with large chunks of beef (sometimes lamb) in a peanut paste and tomato base. The bone-in meat is not without effort, but it's well worth it-the savory stew ladled atop rice amounts to a satisfyingly substantial meal.

Beverages include house-made ginger juice, bissap (hibiscus tea) and bouye (baobab fruit juice). Service is friendly and leisurely, and the environs are largely what you expect from a former fast food joint. But don't take the sometimes-empty dining room as a bad sign. West Africans, we're told, often prefer to eat at home; so it's not unusual to find yourself dining alone while you witness (and smell) a stream of takeout orders heading for the door.

Dabakh Restaurant

2225 Morse Rd., Northeast Side, 614-473-9105