The pandemic appears to have dealt a softer blow to West African restaurants than to many others, mainly because a wide swath of them always depended on carryout for a substantial part of their business, while the dining rooms often functioned as clubhouses for homesick immigrants. Yes, we’ve lost some important places in the last nine months, including Medina (Senegalese in downtown Brooklyn), Ebe Ye Yie (Ghanaian in Fordham Heights), and Chez Adja (Nigerian and Senegalese in Staten Island). But new places have popped up to replace them, making our collection of West African restaurants better than ever — a hopeful light in a dark time.
West African fare has exerted a profound influence on America’s food culture. Such dishes as collard greens, fried chicken, stewed okra, and hoppin’ john (black-eyed peas and rice) came from West Africa with unwilling immigrants on slave ships. But a new wave of West African migration arrived more recently, beginning around 1980. Senegalese street vendors were the harbingers, and they soon 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 that country’s economy.
Temporary restaurants soon became permanent ones, and West African restaurateurs gradually became more savvy in attracting customers not limited to their countrymen and -women. There are now around 60 West African restaurants in the city by my estimate, mainly in the middle Bronx, Harlem, Jamaica, and Bedford-Stuyvesant. The countries represented include Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Togo, Nigeria, Chad, and Ghana (we once had ones from Sierra Leone, Mali, and Liberia, too). 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. Sometimes sauces contain all the proteins at hand; they are then called mixed meat.
Here are some of my favorite West African eateries.Read More