Hospitality, Senegal’s way, at Teranga in Harlem


For years, chef Pierre Thiam has been planning to open a restaurant and call it Teranga. Translated from Wolof, a language spoken in Senegal, teranga means hospitality — though as Thiam explained it, the meaning is more significant, and more complex, than any English translation will allow.

“It’s such an important word in our culture, and it’s high up in our values,” said Thiam, who was born and raised in Senegal until he moved to the United States as a student in the late 1980s. “Teranga is about the way we treat our guests. It’s about the way that when you come into a Senegalese household, everyone moves so that you can fit in the circle and share their food and drink.”

In September, Thiam will open Teranga in the Africa Center in Harlem, occupying about 2,000 square feet of the 70,000-square-foot space overlooking Central Park. It will be his first new restaurant in the United States since he closed Le Grand Dakar in Brooklyn in 2011. (In 2015, he opened a restaurant in Lagos, Nigeria.)

Teranga’s menu will be influenced not only by the rich cuisines of Senegal, but also by the foods of Nigeria, Mali, Ivory Coast and Guinea.

Thiam is importing design elements from the region. A whole fishing boat from Dakar arrived this month, shipped over in a crate and painted with colorful graphics by a local artist. Back in Senegal, the boat would have sailed out into the Atlantic and brought in a daily catch of thiof, a kind of grouper. Now it will be the centerpiece of the dining room.

Teranga’s menu will be packed with traditional ingredients from West Africa. Thiam will work with sorghum and millet, and serve these with dried fruits and yogurt at breakfast time, or with vegetable-laden stews at dinner. And he will import betel leaves and sweet potato leaves to make dishes inspired by traditional West African comfort food. Thiam said the menu will be gluten-free, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.

Thiam has long been a champion of fonio — an ancient grain that looks almost like couscous — and he recently founded Yolele Foods, which imports it from West African cooperatives. At Teranga, he will serve fonio at breakfast time, treating it as a hot cereal with fruit and nuts. The tiny, tender grain will also be one of several options for Teranga’s lunchtime grain bowls.

The restaurant’s coffee and tea menu also aims to introduce the vast, sophisticated flavors of West Africa to New Yorkers, from baobab juice to moringa lattes, which are tinted a bright green from the addition of dried leaves of the drumstick tree, and made with steamed oat milk.

“The Senegalese, we don’t show our wealth by talking about the amount of money we have in our bank accounts,” Thiam said. “We show it by sharing our food and drink with people, by having Teranga.”

Teranga: 1280 Fifth Ave., itsteranga.com, September.


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