Way Across 110th Street
Special Guest Mentalist---John Wojtowicz(our man in Vienna):
I recently discovered a Nigerian-owned restaurant about a half mile down the street from me, called FEED.
On my first visit there, various patrons glowered at me and the waiter treated me with caution. It's quite likely they thought I was a narc. Among Austrians, Africans have the reputation of being all drug-dealers. In a recent major drug-bust campaign, well over a hundred bars and cafes in Vienna that dealt in cannabis (and generally run by the Yugo mafia and young Turks) were closed down. This in turn meant that the Africans now do proportionally even more of the dealing here (adding cannabis to the white stuff that was already their market niche), esp. since their business is all on the street and therefore wasn't affected by the crackdown. And they don't need a crackdown, they get hassled enough by the cops as it is.
So the waiter was polite but on his guard, until I asked him what music was playing. He came back and said that it was a mix CD with things from Mali, Ivory Coast, Senegal. Since the track in question had that giddyap-giddyap rhythm guitar thing going and also sounded a bit like Youssou N'Dour, I announced to him that it must be from Senegal.
Well I was right, and that broke the ice for the rest of the meal. btw I've found that this is typical when I talk to Africans: they often withold a certain amount of information until you've shown them that you know what you're talking about, and then all is cool.
As I write this, I'm covering the phones & office for an out-of-town colleague who translates a lot of documents for African immigrants. Just about an hour ago, a Nigerian guy dropped off a document and I asked him about other African restaurants in town. He was less than forthcoming until I mentioned one specific neighborhood where I'd been recently--in the 2nd District, not more than a stone's throw from the Ferris wheel that figures in Orson Welles' "The Third Man"--where there's not only an African restaurant and a bar, but a beauty parlor and a late-hours grocery store and probably other joints that escaped my notice. And if you go there on a warm summer evening, Africans are going to & from all of the above and generally just hangin' out. If the Austrians (utter, putrid racists, cela va sans dire) didn't already consider the 2nd District to be a pit, they'd be shitting in their pants at the sight. Anyway, the Nigerian guy told me to give him a call some Saturday night, and he'd take me round to one of the restaurants there.
btw in view of the fact that the 2nd District also has a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood not so far away, when I'm there I start feeling like I'm in Crown Heights or something.
Until a half-hour ago, I was under the impression that among the Africans, the Nigerians are at the top of the heap. Well, with their country being a member of OPEC and high-profile for other reasons, yes, the Nigerians see it that way, but unfortunately, the other Africans do not. Coincidentally, a (Polish!) woman just came by with documents that her husband needs translated: he's from Burkina Faso, and she tells me that the people there and in other countries (Ivory, Mali, etc.) don't particularly like the Nigerians, who have a reputation for crooked business dealings. The joke in Burkina Faso is that if you buy a car in Nigeria, it'll break down even before you get to the border, even if you had a mechanic check it beforehand! Similarly, the Africans in Austria are bugged because they see the Nigerian drug-dealers are creating a bad reputation for the rest of them--esp, since the Austrians are incapable of making distinctions between different African countries and/or peoples.
So back to FEED: The first time I ordered beef with black-eyed peas and fried plantain. On my second visit I had fish with chopped spinach & okra and a mound of manioc and here's the revelation: substitute a heap o' rice for the manioc and change the spices a wee bit, and this is EXACTLY the kind of stuff that my GF from Oakland used to make for herself all the time. For the first time since I left the West Coast, I was nostalgic for my ex's cooking!
When I'm talking with the Africans about their food, I always point out the similarities between that and Southern and Caribbean cooking--esp. since they're almost never aware of this and they seem to appreciate hearing it.
But regardless of how relaxed things get when I talk to the guys who run FEED, I still haven't been seated in the big room, which is an all-Black domain. In fact, in each visit, until I've struck up a conversation with the people there, when I walk by I can_just_feel_Major Attitude being projected outward from the big room. In any case I won't be living in that neighborhood much longer, and will probably soon investigate the joints in the 2nd District.
greetings, bon appetit, etc.,
((also see John's previous Presenting "The Uncanny"(Andy's Robot Mix), in the 08/2004 archive))