It Will Be Alright New York City Entry #77 Ebe Ye Yie
Some months ago a friend, an Africa hand, traveled with me to Harlem to eat at Africa Kine, a smooth and elegant Senegalese restaurant. This week we ventured up to the University Heights section of the Bronx (where, incidentally, my father once attended NYU, in the days before it devoured much of lower Manhattan). We visited one of New York's better known Ghanaian restaurants, Ebe Ye Yie, which roughly translates means "It Will Be Alright."
Indeed, it will be alright. Unlike Africa Kine, Ebe's target niche is not middle-class adventurers, black and white, but the sturdy Ghanaian working-class. The restaurant is a modest store-front accented with decorations that oddly do not evoke the homeland - pictures of Kenyan warriors and Lower Manhattan served as decor. Customers order by requesting food served on a steam table at the back of the restaurant. Although Ebe has received some culinary attention (it is the highest rated Ghanaian restaurant in Robert Sietsema's guide and it rates a mention in TONY's 2005 feature Around the World in 80 Cuisines), it serves humble Ghanaian food to local diners. For those who lust after authenticity, Ebe Ye Yie is a destination. Never having visited West Africa, I can not report whether the food is either authentic or ethereal, but my companion suggested that the restaurant compares favorably with meals that she has experienced throughout Ghana (she gave it four of five stars), and she had a delicious time reminiscing with the cordial and sociable owners from Kumasi in the Ashanti region of Central Ghana.
As a novice, I was struck by the fish, the sauces, and the mash - various gummy starches. One of the defining features of West African cuisine is mash - at Ebe Ye Yie, we ordered fufu (a doughy and rubbery starch from Ghanaian cassava and plantain), banku (a fermented cassava dough), and kenkey (fermented cornmeal mash). I enjoyed each (particularly banku), although in smaller doses than might be common in West Africa where filling calories are essential. Of the dishes the best - and the most accessible - was a beautifully fried whole Tilapia. I also enjoyed a stew, or at least the fish and sauce. As in many African restaurants, meats are tough and unappealing. The creamy, spicy spinach (a term that might have been used for other greens) was particularly satisfying. I still have much to learn about using mash as a utensil for scooping up sauce and stew, but had I been trained at the same early age as I learned to wield chopsticks, I might have held my own. As at hospitable West African restaurants, customers were given a bowl of warm water (and dishwashing liquid) to clean their hands. No silverware was provided, although in the middle of the meal I was pitied and offered a fork and spoon. (I didn't accept!)
Ebe Ye Yie is an experience for adventurous New York diners. And far less expensive than a trip to West Africa ($30 for a large dinner for two). The restaurant is a short walk south on Jerome Avenue from the Fordham Road Subway Station (The 4 line). My visit is another glorious reminder why New York is a Global City.
Ebe Ye Yie
2364 Jerome Avenue (at North Avenue)
Bronx (University Heights)
Seaport Food Lab: Wiley Dufrense
3 days ago