Food in 2 Worlds™ Podcast: Sub-Saharan Brooklyn Offers the Flavors of Africa

Chief Boima is a DJ and producer based out of Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. (Photo: Aaron Leaf)

As more Africans settle in New York, authentic African food is increasingly becoming available.

In Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvestant neighborhood, the area’s large Senegalese, Malian and Guinean populations head to the aptly named African Cuisine Restaurant to get an inexpensive taste of home.

In this podcast, Fi2W editor Aaron Leaf meets with local DJ, Chief Boima, to try some West African specialties.

Chief Boima, aka Boima Tucker, was born and raised in the US and is Sierra Leonean by heritage. African Cuisine Restaurant is his favorite. In fact, he moved just around the corner so he could be nearby.

“The connection to home,” he says, “is through music and food. I don’t really speak Krio that well so growing up that, and clothes, were the things I most identified with Sierra Leone.”

Once you select your food from the steaming buffet table, the attendant puts it on a scale. You can get West African drinks such as the juice of the baobab fruit mixed with sweet milk. Soccer plays on the TV in the background and late at night many of the patrons are cab drivers or security guards taking advantage of the constant stream of fresh food.

One of the dishes Boima keep coming back for is atchekea starch sort of like cous cous made from roasted cassava root, grated and eaten with a meat or fish dish, vegetables and a hot pepper sauce.

“First time I ever had atcheke was in Liberia,” remembers Boima. “I was told it was Ivorian food. There’s this one spot that’s the most popular. People wait in line and you get this spicy fish and I remember having this fond memory of getting a plate with friends.”

There are many other Senegalese and West African restaurants in the area. It’s a reflection of the growth in the West African population in Brooklyn over the past decade. According to the Census, the African-born population of Brooklyn doubled between 2001 and 2007 and in 2010 held more or less steady at 63,000 people.

At the center of the community is the Al Taqwa mosque. If you stay in the neighborhood long enough you can hear the call to prayer.

The buffet at African Cuisine Restaurant. (Photo: Aaron Leaf)

“That mosque has been integral to the neighborhood…” says Boima. “It’s really become a Muslim neighborhood. You’ve got Egyptians, Yemenis, West Africans, African Americans. Everyone congregates around this area because of the efforts of that mosque.”

At the restaurant we met Aziz, a Senegalese immigrant who works in Manhattan as a cook in a French restaurant. Despite living uptown he comes to Brooklyn every week to eat at African Cuisine Restaurant.

“I come here every Sunday when I take my day off” he said.

At work Aziz will cook filet mignon and potatoes gratin but he prefers African food. His favorite dish is thieboudienne. It’s similar to the popular Nigerian dish Jollof Rice.

To get to African Cuisine Restaurant, take the C Train to Franklin and Fulton. There are various African video and music shops, grocery stores and even a Fula speakers association. If you head west on Fulton street into Fort Green/ Clinton Hill there’s a place called Buka that serves excellent Nigerian specialties.

Many nearby groceries carry both African and West Indian products. There are also a handful of Halal meat butchers and stores selling West African fashions. 

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation. Fi2W podcasts are supported in part by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and CUNY-TV.

AboutAaron Leaf
Aaron Leaf is a writer, editor, and digital producer based in New York with a special interest in African politics, immigrant diasporas, and the future of cities. Raised in Canada, he has lived on four continents and has written for a wide variety of publications. Recent bylines include Al Jazeera America, The Nation, The Globe and Mail and The Guardian.