I drink a version of bissap every Christmas season with my family and didn’t even know it. It was not until I went to a restaurant in Little Senegal, a Senegalese neighborhood in Harlem, where I had bissap and I found a connection between my Jamaican culture and African heritage. Bissap is the national drink of Senegal and can be enjoyed at every meal. It’s floral aroma has a slight tang with citrus undertones. Commonly known as sorrel in the Caribbean or flor de Jamaica in Mexico, bissap goes by a few different names depending on which tropical climate you have it in. The deep ruby colored drink comes from a hibiscus flower native to West Africa. If you drink hot hibiscus tea in the morning, bissap is its cooler counterpart that is traditionally served cold. Bissap is simply sweetened with sugar, but it easily transforms into a spiced drink with the addition if ginger, cloves, allspice seeds, or orange peels.
When I am in New York and Atlanta I know exactly where to find dried bissap or sorrel petals. I go to any Caribbean, Latin, or African food market and I know I’ll find it. Oddly (or not so oddly), I knew exactly (well not exactly, I did a little wandering) where to find bissap here in Paris where I currently live. I headed to Chateau Rouge, a district in Paris where shoppers can find speciality products and foods from North and Sub-Saharan Africa. I roamed a few narrow streets passing hair braiding shops and seamstress shops. I found a quaint grocery store where I spotted a bag of dried bissap almost immediately, along with a few other spices I was in need of. I roamed further to discover a full market of vendors on the street selling meats, fresh produce, and roasted chestnuts charing on an open flame.
I am very excited to have this post be included in a virtual Black History Month Potluck. This potluck feature recipes from black bloggers that have unique cultural inputs to the culinary world. Be sure to check out other bloggers of color from our Facebook page – We Love Black Food Bloggers.
- 2 cups dried bissap petals
- 8 cups boiling water
- 1 cup white sugar
- 5 cloves (optional)
- 10 allspice seeds (optional)
- 3 cinnamon sticks (optional)
- handful fresh crushed ginger (optional)
- 4 ounces overproof white rum (optional)
- When water is boiled remove from heat and add the dried bissap petals.
- Stir in sugar to dissolve.
- To make the Caribbean version add cloves, allspice seeds, cinnamon sticks, and ginger.
- Steep petals for 15 to 20 minutes and strain with a fine mesh strainer.
- Add overproof white rum to spike the drink!
- Chill in the refrigerator overnight and serve cold.
Check out the other bloggers in the Black History Month Virtual Potluck: