EazyLife Restaurant & Lounge

Instagram Post 11/18/2019

If you like West African cuisine but can’t decide between Nigerian and Ghanaian food, you might consider EazyLife Restaurant & Lounge, 1300 East 222nd St. in Eastchester, Bronx, where two chefs are in residence, one from each nation. (Incidentally, the dual arrangement insinuates a round of dueling jollofs since the two rice recipes are markedly distinctive.)

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Our appetizer was Nigerian Isi Ewu, goat head sautéed in “native sauce” as the menu described it. Of course, the texture and flavor of goat head are unlike goat meat from further down the carcass; more like goat skin, these nubs are chewy and benefit from the spicy sauce and spears of red onion that accompany them.


Keeping with the Nigerian theme, this entrée is Bitter Leaf Black Soup. Bitter, yes, but in a good way, with a satisfying spicy kick. Croaker was the fish of choice in the starring role.


Afang Soup was less a soup or sauce and more along the dry stew <-> chopped leafy vegetable continuum. Made from afang (aka okazi) leaves, sometimes with the addition of spinach, cooked down with palm oil and dried fish, it had a medium spice level. More croaker alongside. Our starchy fufus (aka swallows) that day, not pictured, were amala and the more neutral pounded yam.
 
 

Brooklyn Suya

Instagram Post 6/6/2019

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[1] Suya is a popular street food in Nigeria (and elsewhere in West Africa) and there’s little doubt as to why. Sliced beef and other meats are marinated, skewered, grilled, liberally peppered with a spicy, peanutty, powdery seasoning blend and generally accompanied by slices of raw onion. Brooklyn Suya maintains the tradition at 717 Franklin Ave in Crown Heights with its Suya Bowls: choose steak, chicken, or shrimp and two of kale, plantain, egg, or avocado, all over rice. Or, you can order suya solo, sans all those healthy accoutrements; that’s what you see here.

[2] Extreme close-up of chicken, steak, and shrimp – just to get the juices flowing. It’s a tiny space, with a few window perches and a counter, so you might consider take-out, but that didn’t deter us. Incidentally, they sell their custom blends of seasoning/marinade if you want to try your hand at making suya – but if you enjoy cooking, I suspect you’ll find dozens of other uses in the kitchen for their piquant spice blends.
 
 

Hills Kitchen

Instagram Post 5/13/2019

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Given what I do, people often ask me what my favorite restaurant is; the answer is “any place where the food was so good that I need to go back and try everything else on the menu.” That was the case with Hills Kitchen in Bushwick. My dining buddy contacted me a few days ago and we met at their location, 252 Knickerbocker Ave in Brooklyn. We shared only two dishes that day but I can recommend both enthusiastically.

Keep in mind that in West African cuisine, the words soup, stew, and sauce are often used interchangeably. This one is Banga, also known as Ofe Akwu, based on the palm nut/palm fruit, a tasty ingredient that figures into a number of Nigerian sauces. We ordered ours with fish, specifically croaker, which was excellent. West African stews are incomplete without some kind of starch, sometimes called a “swallow”; that’s what turns these sauces, soups and stews into a meal. You pinch off a bit, dip it into the delectable soup, and enjoy – really hands-on cuisine! Our choice for this dish was identified only as “wheat” and it was a perfect complement.

Next up was White Soup, also known as Nsala, which was tender, flavorful goat meat in an accessible, lightly seasoned, thin sauce. My understanding is that this is one of the few Nigerian soups made without palm oil so it was distinct from our Banga; we chose pounded yam for our swallow, itself a gentle, comforting accompaniment, hence another good match.

Hills Kitchen has been open for a little over two months. I intend to go back soon – hope to see you there!
 
 

Honey Bee’s Kitchen

Instagram Post 5/10/2019

Since I enjoy the cuisine, I make it a point to visit as many Nigerian restaurants as I can locate, and it’s not all that difficult here in NYC. Many have similar menus with similar preparations of the “greatest hits” but I was surprised and delighted by the unique spin on our choices at Honey Bee’s Kitchen, 9322 Avenue L in Canarsie, Brooklyn. My dining buddy and I grabbed only a handful of items but that just guarantees a return trip! Three from the appetizers section where most of the dishes were tagged “in spicy pepper sauce”; each was unique and delicious.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)Suya. Grilled beef often served on a stick but always served with spicy peanut powder and raw onion, a favorite Nigerian street food.

Peppered Snail. I’ve had these elsewhere but the snails were tough. Not the case here: they were sautéed to perfection and the sauce was so good that we reserved what was left to adorn some rice.

Gizdodo. Chicken gizzards (the “giz”) and fried plantains (called “dodo” in Nigeria) cooked together and infused with herbs in a tomato based sauce. Hard to stop eating this.

From the entrées section: Rice with Ayamatse sauce with assorted meat, stockfish (dried unsalted fish) and a hardboiled egg. Ayamatse (you might see ayamase) sauce is made from hot peppers, bell peppers, and palm oil and although ours wasn’t all that hot, it was tasty nonetheless. The menu refers to “HBK sauce”; after some reflection, I realized it stands for Honey Bee’s Kitchen!

Gbegiri (bean soup) and Ewedu (jute leaves blended with egusi, melon seeds) counterpoised in a jaunty triangle, served with amala (pounded dried yam) and croaker (the fish, of course!).
 
 

Asmau Restaurant

Instagram Post 3/2/2019

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Another stop along our Bronx West African food crawl captained by Dave Cook from eatingintranslation.com some months ago was Asmau Restaurant at 1460A Boston Rd in Foxhurst. They serve up some fine Ghanaian food and we were keen to sample whatever they had to offer that day. In no particular order, that afternoon’s indulgences included:

[1] Egusi soup, always tasty, thickened with crushed melon seeds and served here with chicken.

[2] Peanut butter sauce (or peanut soup) with beef.

[3] Tomato sauce with chicken and beef.

[4] All of the above are incomplete without some kind of fufu; that’s what turns these sauces, soups and stews into a meal. As with all West African doughy starches, you pinch off a bit, dip it into the delectable soup or sauce, and enjoy – really hands-on cuisine! From the bottom moving clockwise, here are omo tuo, banku and corn fufu. Omo tuo is made from rice cooked with more than the usual amount of water; that technique produces softer grains which are then pounded and shaped into a ball. It works particularly well with peanut stew or soup. Banku is a fermented variety made from cassava sometimes blended with corn; we paired it with the egusi soup. The corn fufu worked well coupled with the tomato sauce with chicken and beef.

[5] Black eyed peas and plantains, no explanation needed, but so good!

[6] Chicken soup with vegetables.

I admit to being a major fan of West African food; it differs from nation to nation so if you haven’t tried any yet, there’s plenty to keep you busy in every borough of New York City. Keep following my posts to see more!
 
 

UNAMA

Instagram Post 12/7/2018

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The United Nations African Mothers Association (UNAMA) holds an annual fundraising event that takes the form of a buffet luncheon featuring home cooked food representing numerous African nations. Their mission includes improving the socio-economic conditions of women and children in Africa as well as promoting its diverse, rich culture. Held this year at the Consulate of Nigeria, we enjoyed dishes from Burkina Faso 🇧🇫, the Republic of Cameroon 🇨🇲, Côte d’Ivoire 🇨🇮, Kenya 🇰🇪, Tanzania 🇹🇿, Nigeria 🇳🇬 and many more.

This sunbathed plate held a few examples of chicken, salmon, shrimp, couscous, rice, and potato preparations; the second photo provides a closer inspection of an artfully garnished couscous from Libya; the third shows Seswaa (shredded beef) from Botswana, Lamb Basquaise (stew) from Cameroon, and more of that sensually scented couscous.
 
 

Accra Restaurant

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for more extensive reviews and photos, so in response, here’s a comprehensive report on one of my favorites.


Ever had Ghanaian cuisine? Want to try some of the best you’ll ever have? Then look no further than Accra Restaurant, 2065 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, where a group of us converged on a recent jaunt to Harlem. Accra is named for Ghana’s capital and although Senegalese food is a bit easier to find in this neighborhood, we had set out for a Ghanaian feast and this steamtable spot provided just what we were after. Thanks to their excellent food and warm hospitality, it was an extraordinary experience. The story of our first visit is the stuff of which fantasies are made and perhaps I’ll post the details of it soon, but in the meantime, have a look at some of the extraordinary dishes we tried.

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Suya

Skewered spicy grilled beef, served in slices, best known as a delicious street food.

Fried Turkey Tail

This is Halal cuisine, so don’t expect any pork on your fork, but you’ll forget about ribs when you try these. Known to some as the pope’s nose, I call it the part that goes over the fence last. Smoky, juicy, delicious and often overlooked by those who don’t know better! 😉

Plantain Fufu and Palmnut Soup

Pinch off a hunk of the starch with your fingers, dip it in the delectable soup and enjoy. One of my favorite starch/soup combinations, but they’re all great here.

Emo-Tuwoo and Peanut Soup with Goat

I’ve seen many spellings for this starch including emotuo and omotuo; orthography aside, it’s a compressed rice ball that goes perfectly with peanut soup. Sounds good, right? Tasted even better!

Dibi and Acheke

Served with remarkable mustard onions. Dibi is roasted meat, in this case lamb, sliced into chunks, and often part of the street food scene; the mustard component is a significant ingredient in the recipe. Acheke (you might see it as attiéké) is grated cassava with a texture similar to couscous.

Guinea Fowl (Akonfem)

The meat is a little leaner than chicken and the flavor is more pronounced. It was topped with peanut powder, traditionally a blend of peanuts and chili powder along with spices like ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.

Eba with Egushi

So many fufus, so little time, and I admit to liking them all. In contrast to smooth, pounded cassava fufu, firmer eba has tiny flecks of gari (dried grated cassava) in it and is a little tart or sour tasting. Perfect with egushi (you might see egusi), a delicious soup made from ground melon/pumpkin/squash/gourd seeds.

Banku with Baked Tilapia

Banku is fermented corn or corn + cassava dough, a little sticky, and is a typical partner for baked tilapia and other fish dishes.

Jollof Rice with Chicken

Accra’s jollof rice, the widely celebrated and beloved tomato-based West African triumph and a source of both pride and dispute among African nations as to whose version is best, was delicious as was the chicken.

Pounded Yam Fufu and Okra

This time, the fufu is yam rather than cassava; different but equally tasty. The okra soup is delicious although mucilaginous – an acquired taste, or perhaps an acquired texture. Generally my advice to those who are new to okra soup is to try to think past the consistency and just focus on the wonderful flavor!

Wakey with Fried Whiting and Gari

Wakey (you might see waakye and other spellings but the pronunciation is wah-chay – rhymes with watch-way) is Ghana’s culinary claim to fame; similar to West Indian rice and peas, it’s made with rice and black eyed peas or cowpeas. The characteristic reddish-purplish-brown color can come from dried red sorghum leaves, millet leaves, or even baking soda. Gari is dried, ground cassava, a little like Brazilian manioc, but unique. And tasty fried whiting – what’s not to like?!

Yam Porridge

The last time we went, Ayesha, the owner, told me that this dish was new on the menu and recommended that we try it. I am so glad we did!

Yam Porridge (aka asaro) is not what some customarily think of as porridge, and those are not the kind of yams some think of as Thanksgiving fare (those are actually sweet potatoes); these yams are seasoned and cooked down so there is a little mashed yam “soup” and some larger tender chunks. Topped with a sauce made from smoked turkey, onion, and tomato in red palm oil, it was another winner. If this isn’t comfort food, I don’t know what is!
 
 
And two photos from a subsequent lunchtime visit:

Fried Whiting with Jollof Rice

Chicken with Waakye

PS: Get some of their amazing homemade ginger beer when you go! Non-carbonated, non-alcoholic, unique and delicious.
 
 
Accra Restaurant is located at 2065 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, Manhattan.
 
 

Golody Halal Buffet

Instagram Post 9/3/2018

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Golody Halal Buffet recently opened at 222 1st Avenue in Manhattan. Featuring West African and Mediterranean cuisine, it’s steam table, self-serve style and their descriptions of what I selected were simple: “Lamb Chops, Chicken, Spicy Chicken, Athieke with Peanut Butter Sauce, Cassava Leaves”. Timing is everything and ours was less than stellar; we were told to come back in two hours and there would be more choices. Ah well, maybe another day. Note that although the signage reads “All You Can Eat”, it’s pay by the pound.
 
 

Allerton Avenue International Food Festival

Instagram Post 8/25/2018

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Scenes from the Allerton Avenue International Food Festival in the Bronx.

It was a treat to see Mama G African Kitchen at the festival. I’ve written about one of their brick and mortar restaurants (3650A White Plains Road in the Bronx) here and here so I don’t need to repeat how much I like their food; I’ll just show you what we got:

Waakye – you may see variant spellings but the pronunciation is wah-chay (rhymes with watch-way) and it’s Ghana’s culinary claim to fame. Similar to West Indian rice and peas, it’s made with rice and black eyed peas or cowpeas; the characteristic reddish-purplish-brown color can come from dried red sorghum leaves, millet leaves, or even baking soda. Yellow gari (ground cassava) on the side.

Jollof rice – There’s a keen rivalry among West African countries over whose version is the best but tomato paste figures heavily into all of them.

Fried turkey (the part that goes over the fence last – yum!), plantain, and fried croaker submerged under spicy sauce.

Delicious!
 
 

Pikine

Instagram Post 6/19/2018

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Pikine, a West African restaurant at 243 West 116th St in Manhattan is definitely worth a visit, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with Senegalese food. Portions are large (suitable for two, I’d say) but be forewarned that oftentimes many dishes are unavailable, sometimes because they’re served only on certain days of the week (typical for many African restaurants) but sometimes just because the kitchen reports that they’re out.

We ordered Senegal’s national dish, Thiebou Djeun – spellings vary widely but pronunciation is close to Cheh-boo Jen – and to call it rice and fish is an understatement even though the words translate as rice and fish. It’s made from “broken rice” (easily found at nearby African markets) and if you look closely you’ll see its short grains, but it begins its life as standard untruncated rice that breaks in the field or during processing or milling; the shards are sorted by size and are highly desirable since they cook faster and absorb flavors more readily than whole grains. The rice, combined with chopped onion and garlic, is cooked with tomato paste that lends its deep red color and rich flavor, plus okra, carrots, cabbage (your vegetables may vary) and perfectly seasoned fish.

Our second dish was Maffe (often spelled Mafé), lamb stew with vegetables in a tomato/peanut butter sauce, another Senegalese classic that’s not to be missed.