As is often the case these days, I’ve bent over backwards to find Gambian food, and I keep failing… but sometimes, that isn’t so bad:
- Gambian food fail #1: My wife’s brother’s ex-wife’s friend’s husband said that he knew a few Gambians who might be able to cook for me. Several emails and a few phone calls later, nothing happened. I tried to bribe them with Nigerian food, but I think they got tired of hearing from me.
- Gambian food fail #2: A few weeks ago, I found an oh-so-faint internet ghost of a Gambian restaurant on Walton Avenue in the Bronx. I went there to investigate, and it was long gone, converted into a barbershop.
- Gambian food fail #3: After leaving the barbershop, a friendly customer at a nearby bodega gave me vague directions to a restaurant that might serve Gambian food. (“Go down 169th, cross Webster, go down the hill, and it’s somewhere around there.”) I found the restaurant, but the owner was Ivorian. He insisted that he’d never heard of any Gambian-owned restaurants – even though we were in a Gambian neighborhood.
- Gambian food fail #4: After stuffing myself with (non-Gambian) fried fish and acheke, I made a 45-minute trek to a restaurant called Fouta, which had at least one Gambian dish — super kanja — on the menu. But the place was owned by a Senegalese family.
- Gambian food fail #5: One of my very favorite food writers – Dave Cook at Eating in Translation – found a Gambian chef at Nabaya Restaurant in the Bronx, formerly known as Bate. To celebrate, I went to Nabaya with six friends, including Dave. But Dave was the victim of some miscommunication on his previous visit: the owner is from Guinea-Conakry, and her kitchen staff is from Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso.
I’d cry into my ginger beer, but I got another great meal out of the situation, and can’t be upset. Nabaya may not be Gambian, but it’s awfully delicious.
I think this is one of the least-upsetting tables I’ve ever seen, especially since it includes acheke (toasted, shaved cassava, served with a spicy onion-and-pepper sauce and a ground-up Maggi cube) and a nice cassava leaf stew, among other treats:
I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a nice plate of braised lamb shanks:
Or baked fish, served with a spicy onion sauce:
Or guinea fowl, stewed in tomato sauce with a nice habanero pepper:
Or thiebou djeune – jolloff rice with fish, yucca, carrots, and a dark chile paste:
And you can’t go wrong with roasted chicken in another spicy onion sauce:
Or lamb dibi, featuring fried lamb with fried onions:
So yeah: I’ve failed to get Gambian food on five different occasions. But I ate so much lamb and fish and acheke that I can’t even be upset about the tall dude with the big camera who seems to be preventing the other dudes from eating. When the food is this good, why whine?
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Do you know any Gambians or Mauritanians who might be willing to prepare a simple dish, or at least have a good conversation about their native cuisines? If so, email me at email@example.com, or find me on Twitter or Facebook.