West African fare has exerted a profound influence on America’s food culture with such dishes as collard greens, fried chicken, gumbo, and hoppin’ john (black-eyed peas and rice). But a new wave of West African migration arrived more recently, beginning around 1980. Senegalese street vendors were the harbingers, and they set up kitchens in single-room-occupancy hotels around Times Square to meet their culinary needs. Nigerian immigrants arrived at about the same time, riding the crest of an oil boom that transformed the country’s economy.
Temporary restaurants soon became permanent ones, and West African restaurateurs attracted customers outside of their fellow immigrants. There are now at least 75 West African restaurants in the city by my estimate, mainly in the middle Bronx, Harlem, Jamaica, and Bedford-Stuyvesant. The countries represented include Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Togo, Mali, Nigeria, and Ghana. The food is distinctive and delicious, based on starches like rice and white yam fufu topped with meat, fish, and poultry sauces often referred to as soups.Read More