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?
860 Melrose Avenue
Subway: Yankee Stadium (4, D trains)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on Twitter or Facebook.