Go East

Exploring East African cuisine at Gereny.

| August 05, 2010

Sometimes, eating out reminds me that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. A few weeks ago, my boyfriend suggested we try Genery, a Sudanese restaurant on Jackson Avenue, just east of Trezevant. The exterior is nondescript except for a sign advertising burgers, wings, and African food, which is slightly deceptive. So is the menu.

The key to success at Genery is to ask the waiter for the "real deal," as in the really authentic food. Our waiter finally realized that we didn't want a gyro and headed back to the kitchen to place the order.

While we waited, we drank hot tea. We had three options: white, green, and a milky, sweet chai-like version. Our food arrived still sizzling: a chicken stir-fry dish with peppers and tomatoes and a massive platter of subtly scented rice, hummus, and fresh, ripe bananas. It was divine. We vowed to return.

We did a week later and brought a friend with us. He had already discovered Gereny and become something of a regular.

This time, I tried the goat meat, which was very tender, while the guys tried the salmon, slow cooked with lemons and chili peppers. All the dishes came with rice, salad, and a spicy chili pepper relish. I dug my fork in to try a large bite and was rewarded with instantly cleared sinuses and lungs.

"Go easy on the relish," I managed to choke out, in between chugs of fresh, sweet mango juice. Luckily, our waiter had brought us an entire pitcher.

After we were all too full to move, we sat and finished the dregs of our tea. At the table across from us, a group of men were eating from a large communal platter, the traditional way to eat East African cuisine. Our friend asked our waiter what the men were eating.

He told us it was an egg dish, commonly eaten for breakfast.

"Can we taste it?" our friend asked. As full as I was, I decided to try a bite when it arrived at our table. I pulled off a chunk of the crusty white bread and scooped up a bite of what looked like scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions. Within minutes, we had polished off the whole plate. It was that good. I tried to ask our waiter what it was called, but between his accent and new customers, I wasn't able to get a clear answer.

When I got home, I did a quick Google search on East African food. And that's when things got tricky.

The more I researched African cooking, the more overwhelmed I became. In the same way a New York pizza is very different from a Chicago pizza, African cuisine varies widely, depending on which region of the continent you happen to be in. Even within individual countries, dishes can differ depending on the area and the available ingredients.

Part of the difficulty in defining African cuisine by country or region is because during the "Scramble for Africa," between the 1880s and 1914, European settlers defined colonial borders without regard to pre-existing territories or cultural differences among tribes.

This made perfect sense to me, especially because it seems that Gereny has influences from several different countries in Africa, not just Sudan.

Studying African cuisine is a lesson in occupation. Starting with the Arabs more than 1,000 years ago, various cultures have invaded the continent, bringing with them spices, plants, and cooking techniques that are now a part of the cuisine.

The Arabs brought steamed rice and spices like saffron, cloves, and cinnamon. Portuguese explorers introduced roasting and marinating techniques and oranges, lemons, and limes from Asian colonies. Later, they introduced New World items like chilies, peppers, maize, tomatoes, pineapple, and bananas (most of which are very much a part of the cuisine at Gereny). The British and Indians introduced vegetable curries, lentil soup, and chapattis.

One thing is definitely clear about Gereny: The food has a very strong Middle Eastern influence.

Items such as hummus and gyros are menu staples, but don't go to Gereny to have a chicken gyro. Go for something totally different, like the goat meat (kind of like lamb but not) or the Kingfish (salmon smothered in grilled lemons and a red spicy sauce).

It might be difficult to pin down exactly what type of cuisine Gereny serves, but one thing is certain: It's tasty. Go get some before word gets out about this delicious hole-in-the-wall.

The menu prices range from $10 to 12 for an entrée, but keep in mind that includes tea, any beverages (like the super-tasty mango juice we tried on our last visit), extras like hummus, and tax.

Gereny

2356 Jackson (458-6330)

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Comments (12)

Showing 1-12 of 12

The goat is wonderful, but also unlike any I ever had before.

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Posted by Neondragon on 08/08/2010 at 8:40 PM

So, this is, what, the third restaurant in Memphis that serves African (not to be confused with Middle Eastern) cuisine? What accounts for that (I doubt it's our large AA population)?

Three African restaurants and we still can't get a decent Jewish-style deli? Go figure. Wouldn't corned beef be more popular than goat?

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Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 08/09/2010 at 1:04 AM

I'm as big a fan as can be of NYC Jewish deli food (I'm from the state and visited NYC every year growing up, it was my favorite city in the world for a long time; when I moved here I became instantly homesick for Carnegie-style corned beef and matzo ball soup and BAGELS), but your comment doesn't make a ton of sense. If you see something good and unusual around you, why would you be like "oh, but [X other unusual thing] isn't here too, so why is this here!" What. This restaurant's existence is not keeping anyone from opening a Jewish deli (btw, the closest thing you'll find is the East Memphis Bogie's, not at all like home but still pretty tasty). Gereny offered Sudanese cuisine when it first opened, which blew my mind--if you check the Chowhound boards you won't find it in regularity almost anywhere, in any city. The moukhbaza they offered is not even available online as a recipe anywhere. That's nuts! We had something really special.

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Posted by ifjuly on 08/09/2010 at 1:07 PM

Also, it's a supply side thing, don't you think? Just like--surprise!--Jewish delis were when they first opened up in NYC. It's the immigrant population you have where you are.

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Posted by ifjuly on 08/09/2010 at 1:08 PM

I'm not bemoaning the presence of unusual food. I'm a big fan of unusual food (though I must admit, the Ethiopian place is a bit too unusual for my palate). I didn't say that African restaurants are taking the place of delis. What I said was similar to saying if a city can have 10 golf courses, why can't it have at least one skate park (see the skate park thread on this forum).

By the way, I don't think anyone would categorize deli as "unusual" food. On the contrary, I think it's pretty mainstream, and almost ordinary, these days. I suspect there are many multiple more delis in this country than African restaurants.

So, are you saying we have more African immigrants in Memphis than Jews (there are, give or take, 10,000 of them here), and that's what accounts for more African restaurants than delis? Somehow, I don't think there are anything remotely approaching 10,000 African immigrants in Memphis.

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Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 08/09/2010 at 4:12 PM

The answer to the Jewish deli vs. African restaurant debate seems simple: Obviously, Memphis appears to have more African immigrants who are determined to make a living in the restaurant business than Jewish residents determined to do the same (at least when it comes to owning delis)!

That doesn't necessarily mean that African immigrants outnumber Jews in Memphis. It simply means that more African immigrants apparently view the restaurant business as the best way for them to make a living in Memphis. More power to them. (And more power to our Jewish residents who are making a living by other means.)

To borrow a phrase from Rodney King, can't we all get along? And can't we all agree to support some of our local restaurants that serve African cuisine? After reading Sarah Bolton's positive review, I certainly plan to do my part by visiting Genery as soon as possible!

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Posted by Strait Shooter on 08/09/2010 at 5:58 PM

Right you are, SS. I hadn't thought of it that way. Of course we can get along. If I say I miss, let's say, Kwik Chek on Madison, which closed this week because of tax problems, that doesn't mean I won't patronize another sandwich place, just as saying I miss the absence of a deli doesn't mean I won't go to an African restaurant. It amazes me how what I say so frequently gets misinterpreted, or worse, twisted.

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Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 08/09/2010 at 6:07 PM

The supply side explanation makes the most sense also if you consider that these spots exist but don't seem well known, with Abyssinia being the exception. Kaloum is even more of a secret than Gereny was before this write up. They're not open because of demand, but because as SS said, the people running them find it viable and desirable to run them for whatever reason. That has definitely been the vibe I got from both Gereny and Kaloum--that if at all possible they'd exist no matter what, regardless of how few people seem to know about them. It's intriguing, that.

And I don't think it's surprising about the deli--if you're talking real Jewish deal that is. At least not in Memphis. There isn't much Jewish _anything_ here relative to where I'm from (a Kroger and a small enclave of homes in East Memphis hardly counts as substantial). It isn't common at all, which is a bummer. I'm curious if the rest of the state or general South is like that. It is sad to live without kugel.

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Posted by ifjuly on 08/09/2010 at 9:47 PM

Is this 2010 and is there really a discussion about Africans and Jews in the food section in Memphis, TN. So maybe we should also wish for a piano bar like The Monster.

Sarah, thanks for a delicious review...we'll add this to our list of ethnic places. We've found the ethnic food to be the best food in Memphis. Saigon Le, Las Delicias and hopefully Asian Palace will re-open soon...and Pasta Italia is oh so worth the drive to Collierville. Beyond that I've relegated myself to the Farmers Markets and the kitchen/grill.

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Posted by boyOboy on 08/10/2010 at 11:25 AM

There used to be a Jewish deli in Memphis in years past. It was in one of the spaces behind where the Sekesui (sp?) on Poplar is now. Don't know why it went out of business and won't even suggest a guess. I only went there once, but it was good.

Can't wait to try Gereny. Thanks for letting us know about it.

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Posted by tjj on 08/10/2010 at 12:56 PM

Friends and I tried to go there today for lunch - met there at noon and they had not opened yet. Went to Abyssinia instead.

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Posted by tjj on 08/18/2010 at 4:38 PM

I wish I could comment on the food at Gereny, but because of horrible customer service, I never got a chance to eat anything off the restaurant’s menu. This is because during two separate occasions, I tried to order something off the menu, but was never given the opportunity because the menu items weren’t available to me. On my first visit, I was given the choice of either a beef or a chicken sub (I chose the chicken, which was decent). This visit occurred on June 2, 2010 in the afternoon (about 12:30 PM), so I assumed that they didn’t have anything prepared and chalked up the experience as growing pains for the new restaurant. Last Saturday (August 21, 2010), I returned to Gereny at about 6:30 PM for dinner. As I walked inside the restaurant, I noticed a family was seated at one of the tables and preparing to order from the menus given to them by their server. When I asked to see a menu, the server told me that none was available and that the family I saw earlier was ordering from an old menu produced by the previous owner, which somehow allowed them to order from it. This didn’t make any sense, because even if whatever the server was telling me was true, the family’s order was going to be cooked in the restaurant, unless it going to be prepared off of Gereny’s premises, which doesn’t make sense. Instead of providing me a menu, I was offered the choice of two basic rice dishes, chicken and goat. Now I wasn’t going to let the restaurant offer me a sub-standard meal while watching a group of people get their pick of the menu, so I left and went to Abyssinia, an Ethiopian restaurant that treated me very well.
Reflecting on this latest experience at Gereny, I am not sure what to make of it. I could go with the obvious conclusion that my appalling treatment was race-related, due to me being black and that the family who got the good service is white, and it may be so. But, given that the owners are black, combined with praises I heard from a black guy who was doing maintenance work there when I made my initial visit, my bad experiences there could have been attributed to something else, although I don't know what that could be. These kinds of experiences are rare for me, for most restaurants that I've been to treat everyone equally as opposed to offering different levels of service to different customers. If I'm the only person that had these kinds of experiences at Gereny, then I guess I'm just extremely unlucky. On the other hand, if my experiences are typical of many customers who dine there, Gereny's chances of long-term success are slim. Regardless, I cannot recommend this restaurant and I will advise others, regardless of race and class, to not dine there.
By the way, I participate as a reviewer on Urbanspoon where I try be as objective as possible. My profile can be found at "Ken's Food Find."

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Posted by kenscomments on 08/23/2010 at 5:03 PM
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