The Taste of Tomorrow
  • African Cuisines
  • November30th

    A recent article in the New Yorker sent us on a mad, and unsuccessful scramble, through Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood in search of some yaji.

    What caused the yaji hysteria at the TofT headquarters?

    The news that in parts of Ghana a good yaji is treated with the same obsessiveness as a good kimchi. Reports that yaji is an aphrodisiac with Viagra-like powers.  The description of the spicy sauce (a mix of black, red, and white peppercorns, dried ginger, cloves, dried red peppers) stimulated group salivating,

    and stirred us to begin thinking of yaji-marinade bulgogi and yaji-encrusted chicken wings.

    Mohammed Naseehu Ali, the author of The New Yorker piece, and a well-regarded short story writer, started the yaji excitement with a description of his childhood in Kumasi, Ghana.  In the Ali household, there were two types of yaji.  One was the regular, industrial yaji,  which his mother used for soups and other staples, and served to all. And then there was a special yaji reserved only for Ali’s father.   This yaji was, literally, kept under lock and key in glass cupboard in the living room.  In fact,  Ali’s mother warned her children. “Don’t even think about opening that jar, you hear me?”

    This yaji, Ali later learned, had a secret ingredient called masoro, known in English as “bush pepper.”

    Yaji is typically used as a condiment on suya, a thinly sliced skewered beef delicay that is popular on West African roadsides. Ali, who now lives in Brooklyn, described a particularly life-changing moment at a roadside suya stand in Nigeria.

    “It has the aroma of a dozen different spices with a long-lasting titillating taste that makes you lick your lips in search of leftover particles.”

    The TofT staff are now on a full-APB in search of yaji. Reports to come.   If you have access to the NYer, definitely check out the piece.

  • November21st

    As readers of The Taste of Tomorrow will find out in April of 2011 (sorry for blowing the suspense), Detroit is not a great city for African cuisine exploration.  Chicago is slightly better.   It is just not easy, in America circa 2011, to properly explore the range of sub-Saharan African cuisines.   So if you’re not traveling to the big continent, or to London, your best bet is probably D.C.

    DC has the highest concentration of Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants in the states.  One DC neighborhood, Adams Morgan, feels like a quasi-Little Ethiopia.  And DC has Bukom Café, which is, in my humble view, probably the best place for an introduction to West African food. ( Not only does Bukom, fyi, offer consistent pan-West African food (Ghanaian, Nigerian, Sierra Leonean, Gabon), it’s friendly, spirited serves African ginger beer and beer-beer and has music most nights of the week.  (A must-try).  But I am even more convinced that my old home-town is the best place for African food after searching through Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide.   Cowen, economist,  uber-blogger, and regular NY Times contributors, also has a side passion for ethnic food exploration.  Cowen, author of one of my favorite statement ever “All food is ethnic food” has been eating-through DC’s ethnic option with Chowhound-like intensity for years, and he has surprisingly extensive coverage of sub-saharan African food.   Judging from Tyler’s site,  DC has a pretty good range of West African options —Ghanaian, Seneglasese, Sierra Leonean.  Most intriguingly, DC had a Cameroonian restaurant, the Roger Miller Restaurant, named after a Cameroonian football star (according to web report, Roger Miller is “relocating”) and a Sudanese place, called El Khartoum.  Not to mention African specialty stories.

    The TofT magazine will report back on the sub-Saharan African foodstuffs of DC during a fact-finding visit this February.   Also, fyi, good reading found:  extensive coverage of Ethipian restaurants and markets in the U.S.