I’m always up for a new experience. A new discovery. My travels, both within the confines of my neighborhood and in far away places, challenge my mind with unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. I make it a point encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and experience culture shock firsthand. Whether it feels like an anxious flutter in your gut or a joyous euphoria that results in doing the Wop, you’ve garnered some valuable points for having what it takes to truly be a Wanderer. You also get points for being able to visualize that eighties dance move I mentioned. Let’s just skip over the part about my age.
I start my journey from the Sugar Hill section of Manhattan. As I make my way towards the Macombs Dam Bridge, I try to recall a neighborhood brimming with the cultural distinction of being the hotbed of the Harlem Renaissance. I imagine the likes of Cab Calloway, decked out in his zoot suit as he makes his way to his posh Beaux-Art apartment building, and Adam Clayton Powell Jr., as he makes his way from a community meeting, stepping on the same pavement. If you’re anything like me, you will take the time to read the many plaques throughout the neighborhood.
Walking to and on Macombs Dam Bridge is no easy task for the novice or the harried. Just keep straight and follow the skater kids as they make their way onto Jerome Avenue. Yankee Statium’s grand structure will also guide you in the distance.
If all of this walking getting to you and the abundant array of freshly sliced mangos from the many fruit stall vendors hasn’t reenergized you, you can make your way to Bronx’s glorious Grand Concourse by either hopping on the number 1 or 2 bus going northbound. Just keep in mind, however, that you will be missing out on visiting an overlooked gem, The Bronx Museum of the Arts. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to that! We are also missing out on buying a tasty Dominican pastilito from those little carts.
What is usually a 30 minute walk or an approximately a 15 minute bus ride from the Macombs bridge leads us to 167th Street. We are in the heart of the Morrisannia neighborhood in the Bronx. Once home to European immigrants, the neighborhood is now home to a majority of New York’s Dominican, Ghanian, Gambian, and Guinean population in a sea of brown and black faces. One 180 degree turn will bring the sights of restaurants calling you with succulent Dominican style rotisserie chicken in the window and bakeries competing with each other. An ever increasing Mexican inhabitance has brought a slew of taquerias, serving fresh tamales authentically wrapped in corn husks, to the neighborhood.
My journey trek brings me to one of the larger African Markets along the way simply called Eddie’s located at 5 East 167th Street. The journey is well worth it! I mean, walking into Eddie’s is a sight that would peak anyone’s interest. Similar to the tamales that I salivated over, I came across what was called kenkey. As explained by the Ghanian store clerk, kenkey, one of the stable dishes, is a a starch usually accompanying stews. I couldn’t help but to compare it not only to the tamale that I’ve seen not too long ago, but also to many of the similar dishes prepared using cornmeal or root vegetables within the Caribbean region. My mother’s native island of Barbados has one of my favorite dishes, conkey, served in a more sweet manor with the goodness of sugar, spices, raisins, and coconut. It is amazing to see this food tradition in all of its delicious variations. Another similar Ghanian staple, fufu, are identical to dishes like Puerto Rico’s mofongo and the Dominican Republic’s mangu.
While surveying my way through Eddie’s, I gather enough items to make one of the most simple Ghanian meals. Very simple.
I came across two things that had me excited. Yes, I get excited for anything that tickles my taste buds. The first was a bottle of Shito sauce. As a hot sauce connoisseur, seeing the brown concoction makes me anticipate the complex blend shrimp, onions, and garlic. The top layer of oily residue only begs for a spoon to pierce it, agitate, and spread it on anything savory. Although not for the neophyte hot sauce dabbler, Shito deserves the respect of contending with her popular cousin, the Sriracha sauce.
Here are the key items from the items from the African market:
1 small bottle of Red Palm Oil
1 small container of Shito
2 bags of Plantain Chips
3 of Chin Chin
1 pack of Shrimp Bouillon Cubes
The list noted above only represents the items I bought from the market. Items such as the plantain chips and Chin Chin will serve as snacks for my late night Youtube wormholes. If you haven’t had Chin Chin, you don’t know what you’re missing. Ghanaians have perfected this not so sweet and subtly “nutmeggy” thing down when it comes to cookies. The Fayrouz soda, a refreshing cross between a light malt beverage and a citrus soda, brings me back to the time during my travels to Nigeria. It was a shock to see it being sold here in the states. Oops, should I have mentioned that? And at last but not least, I bought bread. Not just any old bread, but soft, dense, and yet fluffy white bread. Go to any African market and look for a loaf of this stuff. You will not be disappointed. My travels in Nigeria had me so obsessed with this bread to the point where I had bread, if not only bread, at every meal. Put some jam or butter on that and you’ll be exclaiming like Oprah. Don’t tell me ya’ll forgot about that commercial?
Based upon the ingredients gathered from my market haul, here is a super easy recipe that is vegan friendly:
West African Spinach Stew
1 Medium Onion
2 Garlic Cloves or 2 Teaspoons of Garlic Paste
1 to 2 small Scotch Bonnet Peppers depending on personal preference
2 Plum Tomatoes
1/3 cup of Palm Oil
1 6 oz Can of Tomato
1 6 oz to 10 oz Package of Spinach
- Wash all veggies including peeled onions, peeled garlic cloves (if using actual cloves), scotch bonnet peppers, and packaged spinach. I know, I always take extra precaution and wash packaged veggies anyway.
- Dice onions, peppers, crush garlic, slice tomatoes, and chop spinach into thin 1/4 inch strips.
- Remove stems and inner seeds from peppers. Chop peppers into small pieces for maximum flavor distribution. Keep seeds to the side.
- Heat palm oil to a large frying pan on a medium flame.
- Add diced onion to hot oil. Turn down flame if it is bubbling rapidly. Cook until onions are translucent.
- Add garlic or garlic and peppers to onion oil mixture. Add the scotch bonnet seeds with your, and your guests, heat tolerance in mind. Cook until onions are golden brown.
- Add tomatoes and simmer until tomatoes have been “cooked down” to a soggy appearance.
- Pour contents of tomato paste into mixture, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- After about 10 minutes, add chopped spinach and simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Serve with rice, fufu, kenkey, or yams. Enjoy!