Heart and Soul

Less expensive and far less hassle than flying, take a bus or subway to Manhattan’s West 116th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard for a taste of West Africa.  Visit the Malcolm Shabazz African market, a semi-enclosed area where vendors from African countries including Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, Mali and Kenya gather to sell their wares. The market, in business since 1994, is a riot of color, on tables and clothing racks; in tiny ‘shops’, and on the fabulous-looking, incredibly charming, vendors.

Look for bolts of African cloth, clothing for all sizes including kids, jewelry, baskets, African Black soap (reputedly great for the skin), shea butter, musical instruments and all kinds of decorative objects. I resisted the tempting clothes but succumbed to an irresistible bowl.

The market was founded by the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque after the street vendors were ‘removed’ from 125th Street.  Shabazz himself is a sad story: the grandson of civil rights activists Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, he was murdered in Mexico in 2013, aged twenty- eight. Prior to that he was arrested for many crimes, one of which was starting the fire that killed his grandmother, Betty.

You could also drop into the family-owned Urban Garden Center, 1640 Park Avenue, open every day, or take a peek at the Masjid Malcolm Shabazz, a Sunni Muslim mosque, at 102 West 116th.

If viewing and browsing and/or shopping leaves you in need of refreshment, drop into Amy Ruth’s, at 113 West 116th. Known for its outstanding chicken and waffles, (a combination I’ve never understood but maybe my Shreveport, LA-born grandfather might have), the restaurant features classic American soul food.

Amy Ruth Moore Bass was born in Alabama, had ten children and was a devout Christian and great cook who passed her secrets down. Her grandson opened Amy Ruth’s on Mother’s Day 1999 and it’s been going strong since.

A friend and I split the Barak Obama, (aka a quarter of a crisply fried chicken), selecting cole slaw and cheesy grits as our sides from a large list.  (The daily entrees all carry names: the Nate Robinson is BBQ ribs; the Ludacris is chicken wings and there are all manner of sides, salads, sandwiches and more.) When seated, a basket of excellent corn bread appears to keep hunger at bay. Amy Ruth’s has bare floors, lively drawings of famous people on the walls and a very helpful, friendly staff.

Margaret Pruden, the housekeeper who worked for us when my daughters were little, made fabulous fried chicken but her recipe went to the grave with her. Here is a dish that goes well with fried chicken or almost anything else.

Mango Salsa from Peggy T.

 1 mango, not too ripe

1 medium red onion

1 red pepper

1 fresh jalapeño

1 bunch scallions

4-5 fresh squeezed limes

(3 garlic cloves) (not for me)

Kosher salt

Peel mango and slice parallel to remove the seed. Cut mango, onion, pepper, jalepeno and scallions into small dice and combine. Squeeze lime juice over all, sprinkle with 1 tsp. Salt and taste. Correct if necessary. Swoon.

Amy Ruth’s serves lemonade, coffee, tea, water, wine and beer. Iced tea, often served sweetened in the south, is a standard accompaniment to soul food. Pick your poison.

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