A Gentle Welcome to West Africa, at Teranga in East Harlem

Fufu is theoretically a supporting act, with a function akin to bread, but it dominates any plate, as big as a Shanghainese lion’s head meatball. A paste with the heft of dough and equally moldable, it’s made here with plantains both ripe and green, pounded with a great wooden spoon as they cook, under a stream of palm oil that turns everything red.

Elsewhere, I’ve had fufu of abiding sourness. At Teranga, it’s mellower and almost buttery. You tear off pieces and wield them like spoons, bringing earthiness to every bite.

Mr. Thiam came to the United States in the late 1980s to study physics. He wound up working at restaurants instead, and eventually ran two of his own (now shuttered) in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. In recent years, his focus has shifted: He founded a company that imports fonio, and oversees high-end restaurants in Lagos, Nigeria and Dakar.

Here, on the lobby level of the Africa Center, where Museum Mile ends, he offers a gentle welcome to West African food for those new to it. (In Wolof, a West African language, teranga means hospitality, with an emphasis on generosity and sharing.)

If you’re seeking flavors at full throttle, you may find yourself reaching for his collection of housemade hot sauces. Among them are kani and rof, variations on the thrilling theme of Scotch bonnet, and shito, a meld of dried stockfish, crayfish and shrimp, cooked down with onions until black — more devastating and life-affirming than Maggi, and essential.

A fishing boat from Dakar, cut in half and set on end, stands near the entrance, the kind of low-slung pirogue often used, Mr. Thiam notes, to take those seeking asylum on the dangerous voyage from Senegal to Spain. Past it, windows frame views of the northeastern corner of Central Park, just across the street and almost another land.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/05/dining/teranga-review-harlem-.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

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