Bronx Eats: Okra Soup at Ebe Ye Yie, Fordham
We've written about Ebe Ye Yie before: it's the stalwart Ghanaian restaurant that has been slinging fufu and banku under the 4 train since the 1990s. Home to a particularly tasty version of the pumpkin seed soup egusi, replete with lamb face meat, the restaurant looks like the quintessential West African steamtable shack. There is the eccentric touch of the lifeless fish tank, as empty as it was the first time I walked in four years ago, and a stillness to the air that—together with the shield of the drawn shades—removes you from the surrounding world. The food will do the same.
In that initial post, we covered a number of the restaurant's principal dishes, soups and stews that are common in West African restaurants throughout the city. These days, though, we're seeking out less common dishes than your workaday peanut soup. With that mission in mind, I returned last weekend in pursuit of a weekend special of tuo zafi, a Hausa dish made with fermented corn. By the time I arrived, however, there was none left. I was offered okra as consolation, and it didn't disappoint.
Writers will often point to the West African origins of okra in Southern cooking, as a thickener for example, and in Ghana it's often made into soup or stew. At Ebe Ye Yie you'll get a bowl of okra soup that looks like an abstract impressionist's interpretation of a forest on fire: the lighter and darker bits of the okra, a tug of war between shades of green, swirling with the red of the palm oil and tomatoes. It is beautiful in a way Ghanaian food seldom is. Chunks of cartilaginous bone-in lamb rest above the surface, but offer little meat; direct your attention instead to the sweet and tender fish, much more generously allotted.
Those with texture issues be warned: this okra soup is seriously slimey. This is not a soup featuring okra; it's okra as soup. It has a light and humming heat, one that will make your lips tingle, and a slightly earthy and funky flavor that is so characteristic of the cuisine. Not as heavy as the restaurant's other offerings, this okra soup is also surprisingly rich and unusually bright. It reminded me why, when I sweated through my first peanut soup at Papaye, I first felt intrigued by West African food. And while we failed in our initial mission to find something less common, we succeeded in our ultimate goal of discovering the tasty.
I've been combing the Bronx in search of a noteworthy suya, a type of kebab rubbed with tankora (a spice blend that includes peanut), and my eager eyes lit up when I noticed the delicacy listed on the brief specials menu. But if there is greatsuya in the Bronx, I did not find it at Ebe Ye Yie.
Served with fried yucca, onions and plantains and garnished with a pile of generic tankora blend, the beef is bland, overcooked, and chewy enough to be only a notch short of leathery. There's no evidence of a spice rub being applied, and it's all served at room temperature. If the okra soup offered me solace for missing out on the tuo zafi, I couldn't help but wish for it again after nibbling on a few bites of this lackluster beef.
It wouldn't be right to end on such a negative note, not only because of the appeal of Ebe Ye Yie's okra soup, but because of the otherwise tasty meals I've had here. There is a lesson, though, and it is to focus on the soups and stews. That, however, is common knowledge among serious eaters who haunt the steam tables of New York's West African restaurants. And it's not like you have much choice, anyways.
Ebe Ye Yie
2364 Jerome Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10458 (map)