“The question of whether dishes from other parts of Africa can enter the mainstream depends on how that culture and country is viewed in the West, according to Krishnendu Ray, a professor of food studies at New York University. In his book, The Ethnic Restaurateur, Ray argues that assumptions about a group of people or nation can influence the popularity and pricing of their cuisine.”
“Street food culture can be a valuable way to introduce a piece of the continent to the rest of the world. Recently, DF Nigerian, a food truck based in Manhattan’s Midtown, won The Vendy Awards, a yearly competition which selects the best food trucks in New York City. The food truck, started by Nigerian couple Godshelter and Bisola Oluwalogbon in 2015, serves popular Nigerian dishes like jollof rice, sautéed gizzards, and suya. In the same way taco and kebab food trucks are go-to food stops for people in large cities, African cuisines could benefit from the ease and convenience that this model offers.”
“For African cuisines that aren’t well-known or don’t have a large immigration group, associations with haute cuisines can be a way to appeal to Western tastes.
‘You climb the system by partly latching on to elements of the system which are on the higher end,’ says Ray. ‘In a sense, you have to break into a domain. The way African art enters into cubism, the way Japanese water colors enters into French impressionism…you have to use the idioms of your cuisine to latch onto something that already has prestige.'”
“This is what Cafe Rue Dix, a restaurant in Crown Heights, Brooklyn recognizes. The restaurant, which is also participating in New York African Restaurant Week, styles itself as a French-Senegalese brassiere, offering standard French classics like steak au frites alongside dishes like thiebou jen, a national Senegalese dish consisting of stewed fish, vegetables, and rice.
“Lamine Diagne and Nilea Alexander, the couple who founded the restaurant in 2013, wanted to use French food as a way to introduce customers in Brooklyn to Senegalese cooking. ‘We felt like so many people don’t know Senegalese food but they’re familair with French food,’ Alexander said.
“South African-style samosas at Madiba Restaurant in Brooklyn. (Madiba Restaurant)
Cafe Rue Dix employs two chefs – one responsible for the Senegalese parts of the menu, and the other who handles the French. There are also combinations with other cuisines as seen in the serving of Senegalese spring rolls and grilled tiger shrimp tapas.
“Even for restaurants who haven’t ventured into fusion properly, there’s an acknowledgement it could make customers feel more comfortable trying out African foods. Another participant in NYARW, Accra Restaurant in Harlem serves Ghanaian food along with dishes from Mali, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Abdul Abdullah, events manager for the restaurant, said his father, who started the restaurant in the Bronx 25 years ago, saw that he could lure African-Americans to his restaurant by serving soul food.”