Bissap Baobab has been an off-again-on-again stalwart in the Mission, once boasting two storefronts – not bad for the only Senegalese place in the neighborhood. The smaller locale was home to a popular performance space, with live music, dancing and dance lessons, a bar, and a restaurant, that fed and entertained multitudes for many years.
A multiculti community gathering spot, Bissap always felt like you were at a really great house party. Then, legal troubles beset owner Marco Senghor: immigration issues that took years to resolve, and on top of that, the pandemic, which I thought pretty much ended Bissap’s reign in San Francisco. (Senghor does have a Bissap Baobab in Oakland.)
However, in 2022, Bissap triumphantly reopened in the much bigger space left vacant by Lupulandia on Mission Street but was quickly forced again to do battle – this time, with its neighbors over noise. Neighborhood meetings ensued, and then Bissap had to fight the City to get its beer and wine license, which they finally received a few weeks ago (although it’s conditional on the neighbors not complaining anymore.)
We visited to support this beloved restaurant and in memory of the many nights I spent watching electrifying flamenco shows at the old space. In truth, I only ate dinner there once, eons ago, and wasn’t all that impressed with the food, but I’m happy to report that has changed.
First, we split two pastelles – fried Senegalese empanadas – one with spinach & cheese, the other marinated beef, with a tomato-y onion sauce on top.
I couldn’t really discern the spicing on the beef, and we preferred the spinach and cheese by just a hair, but both were ethereally light and crispy, and I could have eaten many more. The tart sauce enhanced the flavors of the pastelles, rather than drowning them out.
The BF ordered the Poulet DG…
A dish typically served to the “Director General” (or some other important official), apparently. This was stewed chicken in a tomato/curry sauce with plantains, carrots, and cassava, with a side of jollof. Jollof is a Senegalese rice (although there are many versions in Africa), typically made with tomatoes, garlic, ginger, chilies, onions, paprika, thyme, and curry powder. One of the most well-known dishes across West Africa, this version was particularly flavorful and better than many I’ve tried. As for the stew, the chicken was tender, and every bite of veggie tasted remarkably of itself, even through the sauce. A very comforting dish that I’d certainly get myself next time.
I had the Dibi combo, with lamb.
A pile of char-grilled, tender slices of lamb with a good amount of smokiness was napped with a fruity yasso sauce – an onion and citrus blend, which I read is usually made with dijon. Excellent. Again, the tartness of the sauce went so well with the smoky meat and the sweet plantains on the plate. Since the BF had already called dibs on the jollof, I opted for the fufu to try, and must shamefacedly admit I hadn’t read up about it ahead of time, and so didn’t know the procedure of scooping up the meat with it by hand. Known as a “swallow” food (don’t chew it!), fufu is used as an edible utensil (much like Ethiopia’s injera) to envelop morsels of meat, vegetables, etc. and form a small pocket, which you then pop into your mouth and swallow whole.
The fufu was the texture of a soft dough, elastic, and rather bland – meant to eat with vibrantly sauced meats and vegetables. It seems to me perhaps a dish that one appreciates better if one has grown up eating it, although I’m open to trying it again. The side salad was rather a throwaway – it had something akin to a honey mustard dressing on it, and though the little bits of mango were a nice touch, there was nothing inherently special (nor, as I far as I know, Senegalese) about it, except as a light, leafy foil to the meaty, starchy dish.
I’m eager to go back and try their other dishes – there’s a seafood coconut curry, and “Afro Tacos” – corn tortillas filled with your choice of meat or akara – black-eyed pea fritters. Both of the dishes we had come with tilapia or shrimp as well. Banana flambe and Tiacri – a quinoa, yogurt and fruit concoction – help end your meal on a sweet note. As for drinks, they’re still slinging their various refreshing han soju cocktails (hibiscus, ginger, tamarind) and also offer beer and wine.
Bissap already feels like a welcome back to the neighborhood, with homey food, jazz, dance lessons, French conversation nights, Afro-Latino Fridays, local art exhibits, etc. A multicultural community space for all, I’m glad they’re still around and thriving.
2243 Mission St.