Food of Ghana in NYC (long)
- JH Jill
I have been meaning to post about Ghanaian food in New York for some time. This is a cuisine found in few restaurants in the city but there are many Ghanaians living in places such as LeFrak City in Queens and different parts of the Bronx.
I do not pretend to know the cuisine through and though, and don't particularly like many of the items, but I have been buying, eating and helping cook it for several years so can help you get an idea what to order in a restaurant because they have no menus and are a mystery to the uninitiated. The restaurants are open late because there are many Ghanaian taxi drivers and others who pop in late. The two restaurants my husband approves of (because at least some of the food tastes like home and they are clean) are:
Ebe Ye Yie (718) 220-1300, 2364 Jerome Ave., Bronx (a block or two south of Fordham Road stop on the 4 train)/ This has bullet-proof glass but is a cheery, well-lighted spot.
Kowus (718) 401-6232, 3396 Third Ave, Bronx (at 165 St, there is a up 3rd from Manhattan but no train near). Here there's no glass and it's easier to communicate with the staff, but the eating area is drearier.
Both restaurants will serve you the staple soups, usually light soup (spicy) and groundnut soup. You can often choose fish, or goat (at Kowus) or beef or chicken (at Ebe), or a combination thereof, for your soup. Then you can eat it with your right hand along with fufu (plaintain, yam or cassava paste), banku (fermented plaintain paste) or, my favorite from Kowus, ball of rice. At Kowus, they put the starchy mound or ball into the bowl and pour the soup over it. You can also add other things to the mix: okro-spinach (adds a slimy texture), waatchie (spicy rice-bean mixture), gari (sautéed cassava meal). They also sometimes have egusi (melon seed soup).
At Kowus, I like the soup with goat meat and ball of rice. At Ebe Ye Yie (where you might get special help if you speak to Rama, the owner, and tell her Jill sent you), I like the fish dishes, sometimes tilapia or other fried fish with rice or waatchie and some of her tomato gravy and a little gari. You can also add a hard-boiled egg or some friend sweet plaintains. I find her chicken and beef to be hard, not tough but actually hard. However, her jollof rice (rice with tomotoes and spices, and here with dried fish) very tasty, when she makes it.
Another dish you can ask for is kenke, a very popular Ashanti meal but not for the faint hearted. It is a boiled, fermented corn tamale-like ball wrapped in corn husk, quite fragrant, served with fish, or sardines from the can, some fresh shito (very hot sauce) and, at Kowus some puréed ginger. This is all eaten with the hand, right one only please.
Before eating with your hand, you can request a bowl of water for washing up. Liguid dishwashing detergent is available on a table.
Ebe might have homemade ginger beer, or bottled. Rama also sometimes has a sour-cream desert with pineapple pieces in the cooler. I find it very tasty. She also sometimes has koko, a sweet porridge (in the British sense of the word).
On the internet, there are various places to find recipes from Ghana (try www.ghana.co.uk), and if you want to make your own, you can also try boiled African yam or green plaintains. They don't serve these in restaurants because it doesn't keep well on the steam table. We eat these at home, boiled with a little salt and accompanied by a sauce made from spicy palm oil (dzomi) shito (either fresh from Rama, or canned), Goya black beans, fresh spinach, and some kind of flaked fish (fresh or canned sardines, mackerel or tuna) and perhaps some onion or fresh ginger or maybe tomato. We also just add the shito to black beans for a nice, spicy flavor. Goat is the favored meat, but fish is the most common staple. Although there are groceries in the Bronx, the ones I know are in Queens:
Giftanco, (718) 760-3897, 97-09 57th Ave, Corona, and another in the basement of the LeFrak City building right across the street whose name I forget now (just enter the basement commercial area and go to the right). Beware, these shops have a strong smell from the smoked fish piled around. It might gross you out, but you can also buy fresh African yams (ask Kweku, the owner, or the clerk or any patron to help you choose a good yam), fufu flour, kenke (both the corn-husk and Fante one wrapped in banana leaf - get the handmade ones), shito, dzomi, sardines, as well as stomach remedies like Alafia bitters (or Dr. Assiemah's herbs in LeFrak). They also have some British supplies like Horlick's malted milk powder and nice ginger cookies and digestive biscuits.
Ghanaian people are quite friendly, and staff, as well as customers, especially customers, will be happy to help you understand what's what. Kweku also sells nice fabric and can hook you up with a lady who sews African dresses.
Hope this will encourage some of you to try this "exotic" cuisine.
Thank you, Jill, for the crash course and the restaurant recs!
While this gives me yet another reason to get to the Bronx, I'll also have to take a closer look at some of the African restaurants here in Brooklyn - maybe one or more is Ghanaian. Unless your husband's approval of two places means he has tried, and distinctly recommends against, all others...
There may be some Ghanaian influence and/or dishes at Skipper's, on Staten Island, which I described as Nigerian on this board. My memory is hazy, but probably the owner was Nigerian, whereas the restaurant calls itself African. It's easy to project some of your food descriptions onto some of what we ate or saw on the menu, but again, it's been too long to recall for sure.
Read your post on Skipper's in SI. Though my husband ran a bar in SI for awhile, I don't think he ever got off in time to try any restaurants. He did live in Nigeria and from him and Nigerians I know, I have found many similarities in the cuisine. Fufu, the pounded yam is found in both places, and jollof rice supposedly originated in Senegal but is popular in Nigeria. I like Ebe Ye Yie's which, other than tiny bits of tiny dried fish has no meat. At Kowus, it has veggies which might have been a frozen mix, don't remember. I just remember that I didn't find it as interesting. The spice level can be high, but generally bearable at these restaurants. I'm glad you liked Skipper's. I'll have to try it some time. I know my husband didn't much care for a Nigerian place in Brooklyn that Sietsema in the Voice liked. (But hubby is very picky, not a chowhound at all. He laughs when he sees me using recipes and wonders why I would want to cook something that might not turn out to my liking, believes in sticking to the tried and true, and avoids eating in restaurants unless he really can't get home. )
Thanks so much for your detailed and informative post. It's wonderful to learn about a previously unfamiliar cuisine. You are a true chowhound.
re: JH Jill
I really enjoyed eating at Sokobolie (2529 8th Ave) in Harlem once. They may be Senegalese--is that similar to Ghanaian? I rarely get up to Harlem as I live in Newark.
Here in Newark, I've gone past Gold Coast African Restaurant several times but haven't eaten there yet. I read that Ghana was once called Gold Coast, so I bet this place qualifies. It's at 42 Broadway not far south of Bloomfield Ave. and a few blocks north of I-280. It's a one-way (southbound) section of Broadway.
Got this info from a web page:
5. Gold Coast African Restaurant
West African cuisine with peanut butter soup, okra soup, plantains, snails, and fish specialties; Mon-Sat 11a-8p; Sun 11-6p; seats 34; major credit cards ok; 42 Broadway downtown; 973- 482-7188
Another web page also mentioned a Fatu Restaurant at 107 Sherman Ave., but didn't say anything else about it.
Browsing through the phone book at one point, I also noticed a "Little May African Resturaunt" (sic) listed at 250 South Orange Ave.
An African cab driver here in Newark once told me there was a good African restaurant somewhere "on 10th" but the various yellow pages including www.superpages.com are no help narrowing that down.
I would have posted this at the Tri-State Board, but nobody there ever posts about anything in Newark except for Spanish/Portuguese, and I was hoping Jill would see it despite the lateness of the posting. Jill, if you try any of these places and they're good, please let me know.
Thank you for this list - I used to live in Togo and have been searching for Togolese food in NYC for over a year - Ghanaian may be the closest I get! However, I live in lower Manhattan and am much more often in Brooklyn than in the Bronx - does anyone know of Ghanaian/Togolese food options in this area?