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Monday, September 28, 2009

A Visit to Ebe Ye Yie

[NOTE: This article refers to the most recent EAT CLUB adventure, at Ebe Ye Yie. For more information about Eat Club, check out the Eat Club website]

The ride from Mid-town to the restaurant takes forever. It's way up in the Bronx... past Yankee Stadium. Plus it's a Saturday, so the trains are running on that weekend guaranteed-to-miss-your-stop-and-make-you-go-backwards schedule. I get to the restaurant about 15 minutes late. Does it matter? Nope, it's only me who shows up from Eat Club.

I explain to the server in the back, protected by bullet-proof glass, that I don't know anything about Ghanian food and want something with fish in it.  

“Do you want rice and beans?” she asks. I nod.

I order a dish of fish with a mildly spicy sauce over rice and beans.

I also buy a VIMTO soda, something I'd never seen before. 

I pay my money and the owner/cook says she'll bring me my food.  

I go to a table and find it set with-- not salt and pepper shakers-- but with a glass bottle of lime juice and a small squeeze bottle of Palmolive dish-washing liquid. I expected to encounter some strange things in Ghanian cuisine, but somehow this last condiment seems wrong.

The food comes in a big bowl with a plastic fork and spoon. I give the cook/owner/server an EAT CLUB card, so she'd know why I'm there.

On the food, I use the lime, but not the Palmolive. While I'm eating, a bunch of people come in. All African-looking, some with the most incredible clothes: materials sparkly and yellow and jaw-droppingly amazing.

I open my VIMTO and suck it down. It's delicious, as is the rice, beans and fish. The only problem with the fish is the multitude of small bones. It takes some work to eat it. I have to pick out the bones with my hands.  

Then this young guy with an A's baseball hat comes in. He goes to the back, to the kitchen. I hear conversation. Then he comes out and comes right over to me.

“Hello,” he says extending his hand. “My name's Jibril. My Aunt Hajia is the owner here. She says you gave her a card with the restaurant name on it. She doesn't understand it.”

So I explained Eat Club and apologize that I'm the only person here. Jibril laughs and gets up to order his own food. Then he sits down at the table with me.

“Are you from Ghana?” I ask.

He nods.

“Then how come your name isn't Ousu?” I ask, “I thought everybody from Ghana was named Ousu.”

He laughs again. Then turned as his Aunt calls him. He goes to her and returns with a giant bowl of what looks like hot water. It is hot water. He squeezes some Palmolive into it and uses it to wash his hands. SO THAT'S WHAT IT'S FOR. Like Passover.

More food comes. There's a big plate of what looks like mashed potatoes, but is actually FOO FOO, made from yams.

There's also a bowl of fish in some red soup. Jibril tears a piece of Foo Foo, and dips it and his hand into the mixture. Then, he eats the soup-soaked foo foo. So that's the system! The forks and spoons are for the gaijin, like in a Japanese restaurant.  

Jibril and I talked about Ghana. I ask a lot of stupid questions which made him laugh. He telss me that people come from all over the city to eat there. It's not the only Ghanian restaurant in the city, but it is the best.  

He tells me that the people at the next table are from Nigeria. Some others are from Ghana, but not his tribe. We talk about language, about soccer (I know less about soccer than about Ghana), and about his dream of opening a restaurant of his own. (Now, he works in a Bronx hospital.)

We both finished eating about the same time. We plan to walk out together, but first I ask him to ask some locals to take our pictures.  

“My Aunt also wants her picture,” he says.  

So I go back to the kitchen and take Aunt Hajia's picture. I'm telling her how much I like her food when I hear a voice calling my name. I turn around, it's AG2, “I thought you left,” he says. “It took me so long to get here. I'm really hungry.”

So we sit back down. I ask him what he wants. “I want something really African.” he says.

Jibril tried to talk him out of the super-spicy native stuff. “I'm a native,” he says, “and my lips are burning.” But AG2 insists. So, Jibril orders it for him, explaining to his Aunt that the Japanese guy out there really does want it the authentic way. (If everybody in Ghana is like Jibril, I wanna move there!) I advise AG2 to get a Vimlo.

When the food comes, Jibril explains how to eat it. Then, after a photo with us, he takes his leave. AG2 dig in and quickly downs his Vimlo and orders another. I watched in amusement as he turns red. So does everybody else. I'm sure he's the first Japanese person to ever enter the place. After we finish eating, we thank Aunt Hajia. She asks God to bless us.

On the subway back, we find ourselves in a car with a gang of half a dozen Bronx hip hop kids. They're playing what looks like tag-dance. How it works is: while the others keep the beat by clapping, the IT-guy stands up and dances in the middle of the car. Each IT improvises some kind of hip hop dance that invariably includes taking a shoe off, flipping it over his head, catching it and doing something strange with it. Their ages range from about 26 down to about 12. All of them are great. But greatest of all is that they didn't do it for money. It's for their own entertainment and if the rest of the car enjoys it... that's plus. There isn't a commercial jerk, twitch or step. It's for pure pleasure-- for its own sake.  

AG2 and I were treated to a half an hour of this great show. I think we go under the tunnel back into Manhattan. Then, suddenly, the subway jerks to a halt, throwing the dancer into a completely new step. It seems, says the announcement, someone has jumped onto the tracks. Please be patient. This train will be backing up. Yeah, we're back in the city, right.

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