To be honest, I don’t know how the heck I’m going to find food from these last few countries. I was just telling a friend that there’s no way that I’ll ever cross another country off my list by eating in a restaurant again – from here, it’s all about asking friendly people to cook for me. I mean, it’s not like there’s a Togolese restaurant in the Bronx or anything…
Oh, wait. Yeah, there is. Thanks to the great Jared Cohee from Eat the World NYC, I learned that I had my head wedged firmly up my ass: Bognan International Corporation in the Bronx is owned by a lively Togolese family who knows how to put their heart into an epic plate of food.
So I was in the neighborhood (Morrisania, in the heart of the Bronx) last week, chasing three (completely false) rumors of Gambian food nearby. I dropped by just to check Bognan’s hours, knowing that I’d be back for a meal a few days later. Bognan co-owner Fousseni Alidou – also known as “Ali” – introduced himself, and as I was leaving, he pressed two chunks of pan-fried chicken into my hands as a parting gift.
Dude loves feeding people. I trusted him immediately.
So when we appeared a few nights later for dinner, we put ourselves completely at the mercy of our Togolese hosts. We asked Ali and his team to make whatever they felt like making, as long as there were meals for our vegetarian and pescatarian (um, that’s a word, right?) companions, and something meaty for the rest of us.
Ali proceeded to absolutely bury the six of us – including a German public radio reporter, a Dominican-American student who wrote this article about the NYC Togolese community, and the founder of the Queens Night Market – in a mountain of food. For our vegetarian friend, he offered a bowl of stewed okra, topped with chile oil; the pescatarian received okra stewed with fish. Both dishes were served with a cornucopia of starches: white rice, fried plantains, some lovably thick spaghetti, and plenty of fufu – dense balls of pounded cassava that our German friend initially mistook for mashed potatoes.
If you’re the sort of person who eats like a hippo, Bognan is pretty much heaven: neither the vegetarian nor the pescatarian managed to even make a dent in their meals. And their plates were downright runty compared to the mounds of goat and bird the rest of us ate.
For two of us, our mountain of chow featured goat in a phenomenal tomato sauce, served atop an enormous bowl of joloff rice, along with a dark, delicious chili paste, a boiled egg, and a few fried plantains. A third friend received a gigantic bowl of chicken stewed in a tomato sauce, atop a dense mix of rice and black-eyed peas, accompanied by more pasta, more plantains, another boiled egg, and more of the dark chile paste. And meat-eater #4 received goat in a delightful peanut sauce, seasoned with a rivulet of chile oil.
You know, it would be easy enough to mistake Ali’s meals for generic West African fare: okra, tomato sauce, and peanut sauce are all standard in West African restaurants. But I have to give Ali his props: I rarely meet a plate of West African food I don’t love, but this stuff was even more flavorful than most, spiked with an extra bit of chile paste and curry and anise, among other spices. Plus, I love slime. No really: I freaking love some nice, slimy okra, especially when it has a kick to it.
You know what else I love? Watching my friends leave me as many leftovers as I can handle. One of my five companions ate about half of her entrée; the others didn’t even make it to the halfway mark before they surrendered to the hugeness of Ali’s plates. I liked my accidental buffet.
And in case you’re wondering, “Bognan” apparently means “one who is always there for others.” So you wanna be stuffed like a monstrous, happy teddy bear with a blissful food coma? True to his restaurant’s name, our man Ali is there for you.
Bognan International Corporation
590 E 169th Street, Bronx
Subway: Freeman Street (2, 5 trains)