Bronx Eats: West African Chu Yap and Bouey at Fouta, Soundview

[Photographs: Chris Crowley]

Immigrants from Ghana dominate the Bronx's West African diaspora, which is reflected in the overwhelming bent towards the country's cuisine among African restaurants in the borough. But as often as not, transplants from neighboring nations can be found working at these largely Ashanti-owned dinners, welcomed into the fold with a sense of transnational community. A few stars representing the region's other traditions have joined ranks of the Bronx's fufu slingers.

Take Fouta, which offers a more comprehensive taste of West Africa under the 6 train. Inside, the dining room is flanked by wall-spanning mirrors. Like its counterpart Bate over on Melrose, there's more attention paid to the digs that what's standard at these types of places.

Decidedly focused on rice-based dishes without another starch in sight, the lunch menu features a number of the region's greatest hits. It wouldn't be West African if there wasn't mafe (all dishes $10 unless otherwise noted), but there's also peanut-based suluhu with meat and fish, Seneglese hallmark cheebu jen and yap, leaf stews, and okra in two guises: the Gambian soup super kanja and Maggie cube seasoned foutie. Dinner more clearly displays the French and North African influences in the cuisine, with dishes like stuffed and roasted lamb leg called mishiou ($14) and a wrap of beef, vegetables, and French fries called chawarma ($7).

A good launching point would be a bowl of chu yap, a dish of stewed beef or fish in a tomato-based sauce. The sauce has a thick but irregular consistency, with onions and other ingredients floating about, and the soft carrot that greets you first thing is just the right place to get started. The tomatoes are, unsurprisingly, the most aggressive flavor; there's just a mild touch of slinking heat with the sweet-and-salty dynamic outgunning it. The white fish doesn't taste all that different from others at similarly minded West African restaurant, but the cooks here are able to tap into flavors others don't even see.

Pepsi, Snapple and other beverages are available for the thirsty. But a more exciting trio of drinks ($2) can be found in an independent fridge, indicating their in-house origins: sorrel, sharp pineapple and ginger juice. There's also a thrilling find: bouye. Fouta is the only place I know of in New York that makes it.

Made from the innards of the versatile baobab fruit, bouye is popularly known as "monkey bread." Made with milk, sugar, and, likely, processed powder from the fruit, the beverage is pulpy and perplexingly dry. Though it smells of peppermint, it tastes a lot like a creamy citrus with a very sweet and sometimes sour flavor that gets explosive, and difficult to pin down, towards the end of the sip. Drink more and the peppermint flavor asserts itself; to say you'll find it difficult to stop drinking is, likely, an understatement.

There's a lot of promising ground left to cover at Fouta, what with its unfamiliar dishes (tourie or doe with okra sauce, anyone?), and consistent supply of bouye. Bring a friend or two to sample a wider range of their offerings, as multi-dish solo meals at West African restaurants can be daunting for even the boldest of eaters, or sneak over to Pupuseria Salvadereno for some horchata and pupusas.

Fouta Food

1762 Westchester Avenue, Bronx NY 10472 (map) 718-792-1700