My vegetable sampler ($8) sported potatoes and sweet potatoes, chickpeas and soy chunklets, long beans, callaloo, and spinach — uncommonly spicy spinach — all atop a bed of white rice that had been wetted down with dhal.
Meals like this give me the dietary latitude for indulgences like a footlong link of lamb black pudding ($7 when I bought it, years back, at a Queens location of this Guyanese mini-chain). Loose-knit and somewhat crumbly, the mildly spiced pudding could be squeezed from its casing like a boudin, though eventually I found myself scarfing up considerable spillage from the carryout tin.
"Ali," by all accounts, is a popular name in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Multiple roti shops in New York go by this name. I don't know if any are under common ownership; all of them seem to run as separate operations.
This particular Ali is a genial fellow who serves generous portions; my salt fish roti ($8.50), shown partially unwrapped, was near full to bursting. You might burst, too, if you try to polish it off at one sitting.
For its supposed properties of male invigoration, Jamaican goat head soup is widely known as manish water. Most restaurants, for like reason, offer it only on Friday and Saturday. My serving (taken merely as a midafternoon nosh, small, $3) was bulked up by several large chunks, cut on the bias, of green banana. Following common practice, the thick skin was left in place; the inside can be scooped out, or the long-cooked banana can be eaten skin and all. Either way, the goat meat's much better.
Soo Jamaica Caribbean Restaurant 4143 White Plains Rd. (East 230th-East 231st Sts.), Wakefield, Bronx 718-708-6086
Kingfish, at the fore, was the buttress for my tiepu djen ($10). Ringed by vegetables including cabbage, carrot, and cassava and crowned with a dollop of cassava leaf sauce, this rendition of Senegal's national dish was unusually composed. (Oddly spelled, too. The restaurant's owner, do note, comes from Senegal's southern neighbor Guinea.) Though the rice was very good and my plate, soon bare, I prefer more abandon in the presentation.
Peruse the wall-mounted picture menu, and you'll be hard-pressed to distinguish the food of Togo (first home of the manager) from that of neighboring Ghana. The two cuisines are virtually identical, the fellow behind the counter told me, except that Ghanaians (like his wife) prefer to take their meals with a doughy wad of fufu, which is typically made from yam or cassava. Togolese (like him) favor banku, which combines equal parts cassava and fermented corn. (One will, I also understand, find plenty of banku lovers in Ghana, too.)
Before plumbing the depths of egusi with fish (small, $12), I sampled my banku on its own. The difference, in comparison with my memories of fufu, was subtle. Imagine taking a bite of a single slice of bread, then ascertaining by taste alone whether it's five-grain or seven-grain. Then imagine scooping it through a mucilaginous squash-seed sauce heavy with stewed spinach and skin-on fish — the differences would seem subtler still.
Also noted: On a previous visit, several customers were intent on a PSG football match, that is, a soccer game featuring Paris Saint-Germain. It occurred to me only afterward that while English is widely spoken in Ghana, the national language of Togo is French — which has been discreetly introduced on the blackboard below Bognan's picture menu (click for a closer look). That message from the manager includes the letters "S.V.", part of a code-switching call to "S'il Vous Your Attention" to the prices of various combos.
Bognan International 590 East 169th St. (Franklin-Fulton Aves., Morrisania, Bronx 347-271-5457
This faceted-glass panel, one of four set into the windscreens of the elevated platforms, illuminates Mottel, the Cantor's Son. The last novel of the Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem, it was unfinished at his death, in the Bronx, in 1916. The panel also celebrates Aleichem's work as a whole: Above the cabbage peddler's customer is a diminutive fiddler on the roof.
Frank's bulgur soup (small, $2, usually available Friday only) is better known as bulgur porridge in its native Jamaica. Except for the lack of flaky edges, you may be reminded of brown sugar cinnamon breakfast oatmeal.
The pastelillos are as delicate and flaky as any in the city. Previously they could be found only at Mama Isabel's Place, a truck that shared its fenced-in corner lot with a half-dozen chairs and many more customers; each year it opened with the crocuses in mid-March and closed for the season as Thanksgiving drew near. Now the truck has shuttered, but it wears signs that point the way to this new business, from the same owners, just around the bend.
Shown: a pastelillo de carne ($2), bulging with ground beef. Other patties are filled with the likes of jueyes, pollo, or carrucho (crab, chicken, or conch). Enjoy the ample seating, sheltered from the elements, or step outside if the weather permits — pastelillos are eminently suited to eating on the go.