By Margie Merritt
Accra restaurant, a small Ghanaian restaurant in the Bronx, opened ten years ago at this location after a series of other locations in the Bronx failed to work out. Owner Gina Tackie says once she found this place, a block from the 4 train, everything clicked, and the bustling 30-seat restaurant did well enough to enable them to open two other locations in Harlem and the Bronx. The original space now acts a gathering spot for local West Africans to come and catch up or share announcements. The front counter of the shop is full of copies of “African Abroad” newspapers and flyers for everything from concerts to upcoming funerals.
All of the employees at Accra are women. Cooks in colored head wraps quickly rush from the kitchen to the buffet line, carrying overflowing pans of Waakey (rice and beans), returning to dice yams and plantains on the front counters and prepare combinations of sauces to go atop the meats. Servers dish up food to patrons who stand in the buffet line and point to what they want; goat, chicken, beef. After they make their selections, the server grabs a fresh ball of steamed fufu, made of mashed cassava and plantains, and they carry their food over to the seating area on a colored plastic tray. Fufu, which is served with almost every dish here, resembles a large ball of dough. Guests tear off pieces of it and use it to soak up their soup.
During the lunch rush, three servers in brightly-colored shirts rotate between the kitchen and the counter, while one is designated to clear tables. At the entrance men stand around conversing in Twi, a Ghanaian dialect, while waiting to place their order. Many of them sit at tables alone, occasionally yelling over to one another in Twi. Ghanaian music battles with chattering news anchors on Euro News on one of the two flat-screen televisions, and colorful painted murals cover the walls. During the lunch rush men quickly head up the two stairs, set down their heaping plates of rice and beans or steaming bowls of soup to reserve a spot, and then run to the restroom to wash their hands before they eat. They eat rice and beans with a fork, but when it comes to the soup and fufu they dig in with their hands.
According to census data, the Bronx has large Italian, West Indian, and Hispanic populations in the city, but the number of people from Sub-Saharan Africa is growing, including almost 2,000 Ghanaians who have settled in the Bronx over the last five years. When Anthony Adjei first came to America from Ghana three years ago he came right to the Bronx, because his brother knew people who lived in the area.
“I felt like I was back at home hearing them yell Twi on the streets,” recalls Adjei. “I was like, ‘Wait, am I back in Ghana?’” Adjei, 27, came to the United States alone three years ago with intentions to get his bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering. A thin man who seems always to be smiling, he now has his own apartment not to far from Accra. “This was one of the first restaurants I found when I got here,” says Adjei. “It really reminds me of home. I can cook most of these things at home, but it’s something about the spices here.”
Gina Tackie says that Accra was the first Ghanaian restaurant to open in the area, and because of that she felt a great responsibility to make sure everything tasted authentic. “With the help of my husband and my mother-in-law we have really been able to bring the flavors of Ghana here,” she said. Dressed in a colorful garb, Tackie spends her time shuttling between the different locations, to make sure that everything is running smoothly.
“There are lots of African markets around here where we can get everything we need,” says server Maryam Sillah, 32, including most of the staples of Ghanaian cuisine; yams, plantains, okra, goat, and beef. The two most popular dishes are okra soup and rice and beans.
Tackie gets a few ingredients sent from home. “We are using family recipes, so some spices I can’t get here,” says Tackie. “I have to get them shipped over from Ghana.”
While there are other Ghanaian restaurants in the area, the regulars at Accra say there’s something special about the food. “There are about three other Ghanaian places around here, but this is the only place I feel like is really Ghanaian made,” says Majeed Abdul, who came to the United States eight years ago from Ghana. “It’s the taste. They have the combination of spices,” says Abdul as he grabs another piece of fufu.
It could also be the cooks in the kitchen. The women cooking and working in the kitchen come from many different places in West Africa. They banter back in forth in many different languages, with the occasional “What are you saying? I don’t know that language.”
Sillah came to the United States six years ago from Gambia and now works six days a week at Accra. “I get here around 10 in the morning and they’ve already been in the back cooking the food for the day,” she says.
Tackie and her husband try to help as many people in the community as they can. When new immigrants come to the restaurant she says she tells them “This is the land of opportunity, seek something new so you know why you came here.”Tags: Accra, Bronx, Fufu, ghana