It was their ginger juice that really started it all. In 2015, Mohammed and Rahim Diallo spent their last $200 on supplies to make a big batch of ginjan, the drink they sucked down as kids in the outdoor markets of Conakry, Guinea, and set up a stand near their apartment in Harlem at a street fair.
The brothers had been experimenting with the recipe for a while, testing out variations on their mom’s old recipe with friends, until they nailed the taste of home: enough fresh ginger to burn the back of your throat, cold-pressed pineapple and lemon, some vanilla, some sugar and, the coup de grace, a touch of anise.
The ginger juice that started it all, available in to-go bottles (Scott Lynch)
It was a hit. The Diallos launched an online store later that year (which turned out to be a real savior during the early pandemic), started selling in Whole Foods, showcased at the James Beard Awards in Chicago, and, in 2019, opened their first Ginjan Cafe in Harlem’s historic Corn Building, adding a hibiscus-and sorrel-based ginjan bissop, La Colombe African coffees, and a menu of jollof bowls, wraps, “snackies,” and stews to the mix.
Now, finally, the Diallos have come to Brooklyn with their second Ginjan Cafe, located on Nostrand Avenue in Bed-Stuy. The space is gorgeous, with a plush little lounge area, plenty of table seating for laptoppers along the vibrantly painted main wall, and nifty, bright yellow chairs before a wide counter at the front window. It’s comfortable, it’s welcoming, it has neighborhood favorite written all over it.
Make yourself at home (Scott Lynch)
Unlike Ayo Balogun’s acclaimed Department of Culture down the street, which focuses on North Central Nigerian fare, Ginjan Cafe calls itself, broadly, the “home of African flavors,” and the menu is filled with familiar crowd-pleasers. Unfortunately, only a couple of dishes were available when we arrived in the late afternoon earlier this week. Fortunately, they were both excellent, making us eager to come back for more whenever they’re ready to roll out the full menu.
The chicken yassa wrap, for one, gives new life to that tired format, a decent flour tortilla, rolled and stuffed with chunks of well-seasoned bird and a vegetable slaw, then grilled on the plancha for a “crisp finish.” It doesn’t look like much, but it packs a lot of flavor, especially when you pour on even a tiny bit of their potent scotch bonnet hot sauce.
Chicken yassa wrap, $13 (Scott Lynch)
The other dish was equally satisfying, the vegan jollof starring a mound of broken grains of rice in a robust tomato stew and topped with garbanzos, sweet plantains, red beans, some saucy vegetables, and a pile of nutty sprouted quinoa. Complementing it all, of course, was a cup of Diallos’ famous ginjan, a delight with plenty of bite.
Vegan legume jollof, $15 (Scott Lynch)
Other dishes, which are promised to be coming soon, include a creamy peanut stew called tiga, lamb jollof, filled fried fish pastries, and a red snapper cocotte with jasmine rice. In addition to the ginger and bissop juices, Ginjan Cafe also offers lots of coffee drinks and various teas.
Ginjan Cafe is located at 335 Nostrand Avenue, at the corner of Quincy Street, and is currently open on Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.