I want to travel everywhere. I think this is a common sentiment. And while I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do some roving in my young life I’m still trying to get to one of my early “destination fascinations”: Senegal and West Africa. In 1996, in reference to the country’s capital, Dakar, Howard French at the NY Times declared, “...nowhere has the marriage between Europe and Africa been as thoroughly consummated.” I can get behind this because I love the products of hybrid cultures.
Like many people, I too discovered West Africa by way of Europe. I studied French language in high school and college and learned about all the different places France had colonized, with special interest in Africa’s colonization in the 17th century. Out of all of France's occupied territories, Senegal has spent the most time under the country's control, becoming independent in just 1960.
So, while I'm patiently waiting to visit Senegal, I have the unparalleled privilege of living in New York City, home to the majority of Senegalese-Americans. In Harlem, just down the road from our very own Red Rooster is the infamous Le Petit Senegal. There is plenty of media coverage of the neighborhood, which stretches an undetermined length across 116th street (and surrounding), made up of Senegalese vendors, West Africa social clubs and most importantly Senegalese food. Here's a quick breakdown:
Most Senegalese food spots in Harlem have a similar vibe and menu. They are often modestly lit, either very busy or nearly vacant (the neighborhood loves take-out) and usually don't adhere to the menu, so experiences can vary. Here are some that I have tried and enjoyed (on at least one occasion).
Le Baobab 120 W 116th St Possibly the most lo-fi of the list, you won't feel out of place in Le Baobob. The food is great (they will usually only have one or two dishes to choose from depending on when you go) and the service counter is friendly. "Merci" goes a long way.
Kaloum 126 W 116th St Just a few doors down from Le Baobob, Kaloum tends to get a few more mentions in the media, often for its long standing presence and introduction of African food to many Harlem residents.
Africa Kine 256 W 116th St Possibly the most hi-fi of the list, Africa Kine feels a lot more like restaurants New Yorkers are used to. The classic limited selection of dishes still exists, but what they serve and when they serve it is definitely more consistent. Their website is a little funny but it's nice that they have one.
Keur Sokhna 2249 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd This is the only one I haven't had the pleasure of dining in yet. Reviews look good and most people comment on its relatively pristine service setting.
Patisserie Des Ambassades 2200 8th Ave PDA is a soft introductory experience to Senegalese food and is an experience. Part cafe (the coffee isn't the worst, but the house-made croissants are unbelievable), part Senegalese sandwich shop, PDA serves an eclectic menu, the coolest of which is the croque-monsieur, served with turkey instead of ham, for the Afro-Muslim lunch crowd.
For more travel stories by Mac Malikowski: