The transatlantic connection between Akara and Acarajé, bean fritters from Nigeria and Brazil respectively, is unmistakable. I wrote about this connection in 2014, noting the research of Nigerian food scholar Ozoz Sokoh at the time. I was really excited to see a short film on this topic by Sokoh, where she cooks both of these dishes. Seeing each being made really visually illustrates the unmistakable connection between these two Transatlantic dishes.
When we heard that there was a new African restaurant in NYC with a chef from Mauritania, our ears perked up. The restaurant is the brainchild of chef Diana Tandia, who is originally from Mauritania, but has worked in upscale restaurants around NYC for decades. She decided that it was time to strike out on her own, so she opened Berber Street Food (35 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014). The menu is a mosaic of different African and African Diaspora cuisines, along with some interesting fusions.
Berber Street food is a tiny – and we mean tiny – restaurants with 15 seats. This counter-service is not a place for groups, or to linger over a leisurely lunch (though when we were there, the couple occupying the table in the window was having a simultaneous birthday party and photo shoot, so who knows). When we entered around lunchtime, the place was packed, and we were happy to see that they were doing a brisk takeout trade. Many of the lunch orders were buying Afro-Fusion express bowls ($10), which were various combinations of grains, greens and proteins, including tofu curry, Berber-spiced meat and Jamaican jerk chicken.
For starters, called “street food bites,” there are Senegalese empanadas (vegetable or beef curry $3 each), Kofta meatballs with Berber spices ($8), or a Suya Nigerian beef brochette ($8), along with Jamaican jerk chicken wings ($7.5o). All of Africa and the diaspora seemed to be covered.We were excited to see akara, a black-eyed pea fritter that is the Nigerian descendants of Brazilian acarajé with tomato and onion sauce ($7), so we knew we had to order it. Though smaller in size to acarajé, they tasted pretty similar and were delicious. M topped his with some spicy kani, west African hot sauce made of habanero peppers (which were also placed decoratively in basket at each table).
The mains were a little more pricey, and covered the greats hits of the region, including Djolof Fried Rice (which is claimed by many West African countries – $17) rice cooked in a spicy tomato sauce with either chicken or tempeh and Moroccan vegetable tajine, served served in an actual tajine ($18). We had the Berber Feast ($24) which consisted of roast lamb, squash and couscous, the most Mauritanian item on the menu. The lamb was fall of the bone tender and not gamey at all (sometimes a problem with lamb), and we enjoyed the accompaniments and sauces, though we felt the price was a little steep for the portions. We washed down our dinner with Berber iced mint tea ($3) and ginger lemongrass drink ($5) – we also discovered that these two mixed together made an amazing riff on the Arnold Palmer.
The attention to detail in Berber Street Food restaurant is amazing. It is basically a one-woman show, with Diana cooking, taking orders and delivering food (though it did appear she had a sous chef helping her back in the kitchen). We enjoyed talking with Diana, who connected with us over having spent some time in Brazil. If we lived in the area we could definitely see ourselves having lunch here pretty often. We wish Berber Street Food nothing but success!
This post is particularly appropriate for the world cup since it connects host country Brazil with one of the countries playing a game today, Ghana. One of the most emblematic foods in Brazil, especially in the Northeast of the country, is acarajé, which we have written about extensively for this blog. However its roots are in Africa, and brought and adapted by enlaved Africans brought from West Africa to Brazil. Both Nigeria and Ghana have a dish called acara/akara, which is very similar to acarajé, and all variants are fritters made from black eyed peas. Betumi blog and Kitchen Butterfly have recipes for akara, which definitely seem similar to acarajé. However, akara is typically eating for a snack or breakfast, while acarajé is more of a later-in-the-day snack. Another difference is that, in Nigeria, the akara fritters may be fried in vegetable oil, while in Brazil it is always the bright-red palm oil – our favorite!We love acarajé, so we assume we would be fond of its predecessors as well.
Acarajé with dried shrimp from Cida in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
Welcome to Eating the World! We’re two Midwestern omnivores, L and M, who are trying to eat food from every country in the world (at restaurants in both the US and abroad). Eating the World is where we update our global restaurant and food adventures. We are based in Cleveland, Chicago and beyond.To contact us for partnerships or just to say hi, email us at eating the world (at) gmail.com
Eating The World · We're two Midwestern omnivores, L and M, who are trying to eat food from every country in the world (at restaurants in both the US and abroad). Eating the World is where we update our global restaurant and food adventures. We are based in Cleveland, Chicago and beyond.