Sometime in the early 17th century, a ship transporting captured Africans to a life of slavery foundered off the coast of Central America. That was the Africans' lucky day. They managed to swim to shore. They built villages, intermarried with the local Carib Indians, and eventually evolved a distinctive culture, mostly African but with some native American elements too. Isolated and reclusive, they stayed in their remote coastal villages. Until not so long ago, if you wanted to sample their cuisine, that's where you had to go, hitching a ride on one of the rickety freighters that ply the Mosquito Coast.
At some point, a few of these villagers (now called Garifuni) left their native Honduras and settled in the South Bronx. True to their rebel roots, they got jobs and led the fight to organize trade unions in their fields of work. But until last year, there were no Garifuni restaurants. Now there is one. And so, instead of a freighter like the ones Joseph Conrad sailed on, you can take a subway to eat Garifuni food.
Garifuni Star is a small restaurant, but the whitewashed walls make it seem far larger. On a late Sunday afternoon it was crowded with families eating, and some men who came to drink and watch TV. I ordered something called Machuca. It was $15 and there was a very long wait... not made any easier by my having to hear exclamations such as "this is the best food I ever ate!!" from the happy diners. Finally, the chef herself emerged proudly carrying my meal. It came in three big plates; I had got my money's worth.
The first plate held a whole pan-fried red snapper. The second bowl held a soup with 4 big shrimp at the bottom. The third plate had the machuca. Machuca, I learned, is a pounded paste made out of boiled plaintains. Like fufu, I told the chef. Yes, she agreed. And then I remembered, and told her, that in Uganda they have a very similar dish called with a very similar name, matoke. Coincidence? I don't know. In any event the machuca was pure African.
But the soup was the star of the show. It was rich and golden, and made with coconut and spices. It tasted very much like a Thai curry. It was wonderful. You either ate the soup plain or you took some machuca on a big spoon and then dipped it in the soup. In Africa, I said, they use their hand to make a ball of the machuca. The chef thought that was a bit uncouth. So I used the spoon.
A wonderful meal. True fusion cuisine. If I had sailed for weeks on a steamer, and then got that meal, I wouldn't have been disappointed.
640 Prospect Av
(note that the correct name is not on awning, they still use the former occupant's awning)
Nearest subway: 149 Street stop of the number 6 train
for more on the Garifuni, see http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/afburns...