Find West African Vegetarian Fare at Le Marécage
Macaroni au gratin aux 2 fromages at Le Marécage | Tara Mahadevan
Owners Ivrose and Mamadou Bamba opened Le Marécage -- whose name translates to "the swamp" in French -- in early October, and they pay homage to their Haitian and West African backgrounds. The intimate, rustic, and upscale eatery serves a small menu of dishes that are traditional of the duo's respective countries: Ivrose is from Haiti and Mamadou is from Côte d'Ivoire. The couple's restaurant is a tried-and-true family effort, as Mamadou is head chef, and Ivrose, Mamadou, and family members personally serve patrons.
"I started cooking early in my life," Mamadou says. "I was the only boy of my mother, so she always said, 'Man is going to be adventurous, is going to travel, so you have to learn how to wash your underwear and to cook.' " Though Le Marécage is under two months old, Mamadou is no stranger to the restaurant business: He opened a catering business in Long Island City when he immigrated to the U.S. 37 years ago, and then ran a café in MOMA's P.S.1 for eight years. He also taught at New York's French Culinary Institute until 1995.
Now the Bambas get to enjoy life. Le Marécage is a culmination of Mamadou's years of culinary hard work. "I opened this because we live close by in Stuyvesant Town. I'm close to my retirement, so a little place like this is good," Mamadou says.
As for meat-free cooking, Mamadou says vegetarian fare is vital to African cuisine. "The region I come from is the forest, so we have a lot of root -- taro, cassava -- so we use that for most of our dishes. Meat is not everyday; we [don't always] find the meat in those origins, so we cook more root, vegetable, potatoes, yam. That's our vegetarian base."
Fried breadfruit at Le Marécage | Tara Mahadevan
Breadfruit, on the menu here, is a faintly sweet tropical fruit, found in South Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Hawaii. It has a texture similar to a potato, especially when it's prepared the way Le Marécage prepares it, fried ($10) with a roasted bell pepper dipping sauce.
Accra at Le Marécage | Tara Mahadevan
The Accra appetizer ($8) is reflective of African cuisine. The dish features fried balls made from black-eyed peas -- a vegetable popular in Africa -- taro, shallot, and onions. The outside is crispy while the inside is soft; the dish is served with a side of light hot sauce, extracted from peppers.
The macaroni au gratin aux 2 fromages ($14) is Ivrose's creation, a Haitian- and French-inspired pasta dish that is a rich bed of cheese. While the pasta is cooked al dente, the top is loaded with a baked, crispy layer of cheese.
At the end of my meal, Ivrose joins our conversation. She poignantly adds, "[Food] is all a combination; it's familiar. And it's how you cook it. You can have the same vegetable but different way of cooking. The same way music connects people, so does food. It's true."
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