I’d been wanting to go downtown for a pastry excursion for weeks but the timing had never worked out for me. Today, after visiting the West African Research Center, Greg and I finally got to ride an ultra-luxurious pastry train all the way to Pretend Europe.
In some ways, Dakarois public transportation is easy to navigate because all you do is wave at the frequent “buses” and shout your destination neighborhood at the apprenti clinging off the back. He’ll nod if you’re lucky, or shake your head and you’re off to wave another one down. On the other hand, there are no schedules or routes, so it’s always trial-and-error, and you have to know on which roads the ndiaga ndiayes or car rapides run. Sometimes there are none going where you want to go. At least if you mess up, your fare only cost you $.20 – that’s about $5 savings roundtrip compared to a taxi!
Fortunately, our destination of Marché Sandaga is right in the middle of centre-ville. After an especially crammed ride, we hopped off right in front of N’ice Cream and our first destination, Aux Fins Palais. Greg got a huge caramelized cream puff filled with a light cream, and I got a 64% dark chocolate brownie-mousse carré. They were about $3 each, and unbelievably rich. We got slightly scolded for ordering pastries at the counter and then sitting down – we were apparently supposed to take out our pastries if we’d ordered at the counter. Silly Americans.
Next we tried to find Eric Kayser. After half an hour of being perdus, we decided to instead first go to La Royaltine for more pastries, and to ask for directions. The people at La Royaltine were so nice and inside smelled even better than Aux Fins Palais. They had an even larger and finer pastry and truffle selection, and this time we knew to sit down in the adjacent “tearoom” to order pastries.
Greg ordered a cappuccino ($3.60) and a palmier($1.20). I usually don’t like palmiers because they’re too crumby, but this one was a perfect blend of buttery richness and caramelized sweetness. I ordered… well, I didn’t know its name so I attempted to sketch from memory the viennoiserie-wrapped apricot pastry I’d seen next door. I have terrible drawing skills and only mediocre vocabulary when it comes to French pastries. Our waiter was so amused that when we got our bill, the pastry was comped!
I also met an African Italian in the bathroom. He taught me how to say goodbye in Italian! Yes, he – there was one bathroom with a sink, and a toilet in another room, and we’d awkwardly bumped into each other when he was washing his hands as I was leaving the toilet. It’s true what they say about Americans being a smiley bunch, and I’m glad that I’ve taken that with me on my travels. People are so much more friendly and talkative when you greet them with a beaming smile.
Greg and I were determined to find Eric Kayser and La Piazza, the latter which is supposed to have phenomenal pizzas, so we set off again for La Rue/Boulevard de la République.
It is very difficult to find buildings when they don’t exist on Google maps, street signs are few, and addresses aren’t used. That’s why Greg and I walked up, down, and all around La Rue for an hour, not lost, but struggling to find Eric Kayser and La Piazza. None of the passersby nor guards had heard of it, but I was sure that it existed!
Our persistence finally paid off and we entered Eric Kayser after a double high-five. We ordered a pain monge ($.80) because all the baguettes rustiques had already sold out. Everyone has been having bread multiple times a day every day but this was bread. The inside was dense and moist. The top was floured and crackly. I was in European bakery heaven.
We expertly made our way back through downtown to a car rapide/ndiaga ndiaye hub and got off at the orphanage at which Greg volunteers. I wanted to volunteer with him but they had nothing for me to do, so for the first time I “caught” and rode a Ndiaga Ndiaye alone! Pressed against the side of the bus, I stared out of my sliver of window, feeling every bump of the road through my seat. In this moment I felt so connected to Dakar. I had been able to fulfill my pastry dreams here – no need to fly to Europe – and now I was coming home to my Senegalese host family. Yes.