West Africa in NYC
The two-block stretch of West 116th Street between Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass is sometimes referred to as Little West Africa, emerging in the 1980′s as the commercial center for immigrants from the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, and other Francophone and Muslim countries in Africa.
More recently, a concentration of immigrants from West African nations have chosen to make the South Bronx their home, specifically around Grand Concourse.
For more on the unique conditions that gave rise to Little W. Africa in Harlem, download Victoria Ebin’s research article on the subject, here.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of The New York Public Library, is generally recognized as one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world. For over 80 years the Center has collected, preserved, and provided access to materials documenting black life, and promoted the study and interpretation of the history and culture of peoples of African descent.
The Africa Resource website has this interesting article linking contemporary African immigration to NYC to the African Diaspora communities that also call NYC home.
A City Lore staff favorite for Senegalese food with a wonderful atmosphere is Jolloff restaurant in Bedford Stuyvesant. Their peanut butter sauce is the best we’ve had in NYC!
The Met and the Brooklyn Museum have renowned collections of Egyptian antiquities and are worth a visit.
Those with an interest in living arts would be lucky to check out the dance traditions presented by Yasser Darwish, Egyptian folk dancer and City Lore teaching artist. Forms he teaches include:
Tanoura is a Sufi dance performed by men in Egypt. The dancers where brightly colored skirts and spin continuously, much like the Whirling Dervish, or meditative Sufi dancers of Turkey.
Tahtib, is a Saiidi stick dance from egypt. The sticks are about 4 feet long, made of a plant grown by the Nile that is used in daily life for farming, herding sheep, walking and playful combats.
Dabke is a line and circle dance danced at weddings and celebrations in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan – all with their own variations. Its movements — foot stomping, hopping, and twirling — are done in different combinations with men and women together. Usually the leader of the line has their right hand free, so will twirl napkins or handkerchiefs.
Idul Fitr Brooklyn Late January, 8:30 a.m. until dusk Prospect Park, if weather permits, otherwise held in mosques citywide
Teaching artist, Haifa Bint Kadi shares:
Stuffed eggplant can be found throughout the Middle East and the variations can include vegetarian, meat-stuffed (beef, but most likely lamb) with most variations due to local spices. Palestinians might use more cumin while Lebanese might include more lemon or sumac.
The best stuffed eggplant can be found at the Kabab Cafe on Steinway St. in Astoria, Queens. It feels more like someone’s home and less an eatery. Almost every dish is custom made. The owner, Ali Sayed, will cook whatever you ask for. What I love about Kebab House is that even though it is traditional Egyptian cuisine, I can tell Br. Ali to do it “Palestinian Style” and he will customize the dish. For example, the dish Maklouba (Upside Down) is a concoction of chicken, eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes layered with rice and cooked in one pot over a slow simmer. It is then turned out with much fanfare on a large platter maintaining the shape of the pot. Hence, the name Maklouba. If I say “Palestinian Style” it will include lots of eggplant while Egyptians usually leave out the eggplant in this dish.
Egypt in NYC
The two largest enclaves of people of Egyptian heritage in NYC are Steinway Village in Queens, and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn. The religious diversity of Egypt has transferred to these enclaves as well: the Muslim cultures of Bay Ridge were commemorated at the recent celebration of arts and culture, Muslim Voices: Arts and Ideas. A growing number of Coptic Christians hailing from Egypt are finding a home in NYC, as well.
For a well-researched introduction to Egyptian American history, check out this article and resource listing by Monica Mikhail.