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At Berber Street Food, a Chef Centers the Global Influence of African Food

Diana Tandia pulls from her hometown traditions at the Greenwich Village restaurant, while also nodding to the international influence of slave food

Diana Tandia at her new restaurant Berber Street Food
Diana Tandia at her new restaurant Berber Street Food

Chef-owner Diana Tandia doesn’t want to limit herself to just one type of cuisine when it comes to her new 15-seat restaurant in Greenwich Village. Though Tandia plants her menu in African traditions, Berber Street Food serves a diverse range of cuisines from the continent and beyond — partly a reflection of the way Africans have spread around the world due to global slave migration.

Tandia — who previously worked in high-end restaurants like Spice Market, Per Se, and Daniel, both front-of-house and in the kitchen — describes the food at Berber, now open at 35 Carmine St., between Bedford and Bleecker streets, as “Afro-fusion.” The native of Mauritania in northwest Africa developed the menu with family recipes and her own culture in mind, but the restaurant pulls inspiration from regions throughout Africa, as well as from the Caribbean, Asia, and France. It’s drawn from her travels and also distinctively inspired by the cultural impact that Africans have had on cuisines around the world due to slavery, she says.

Roasted leg of lamb and couscous
Roasted leg of lamb and couscous

The house specialties include the “Berber feast.” This $24 dish, Tandia explains, is common to serve at weddings or other special occasions in Mauritania. Traditionally, it’s a whole lamb dish, but for this version, Tandia marinates a leg of lamb over night in her own spice paste blend made with harissa, cumin, thyme, red bell pepper, and olive oil. She then roasts it for four hours and serves it with couscous, grilled onion, and roasted vegetables with a side of dijon mustard and habanero sauce. A black eyed pea stew option is intended to be “very African, like what they used to feed me when I was young,” she says.

But there’s also vegetable tagine from Marrakech, a city in Morocco, as well as chicken shawarma and lamb kofta and Senegalese empanadas. Jerk wings and fried plantains impart some Caribbean flavors; Tandia points to the region’s African roots for the inclusion. On the menu, she specifically calls it backyard jerk chicken as an ode to traditions from her home. “In Africa on Sunday, when nobody’s working, we bond and we sit in our backyard and we marinate whatever we have, meat or chicken, and we cook and sit and eat it,” she says. There’s also a vegan vegetable curry option and a turmeric fried rice base, the latter inspired by her time in Indonesia.

Accara, the black eyed peas fritters on the menu, are particularly special to her, she says, because they were brought over to Brazil by slaves. They became known as acarajé, and it’s a food common to find now in Bahia, Brazil. “The slaves couldn’t take anything with them,” Tandia says. “All they could take is their culture and their food in their mind.” Here, they’re much easier to make with the help of a blender, as opposed to the traditional way of grinding the beans with a mortar and pestle. The “colonial quiche lorraine,” meanwhile, references France’s colonial history in Africa.

Senegalese empanadas
Senegalese empanadas
Jerk wings
Jerk wings

All of these dishes fall into different sections of the menu, which is broken down into a section for street food bites, sandwiches, and “Afro-fusion express,” a section that denotes customizable bowls. For $10, those bowls come with a base, two sides, and a protein, such as the grilled meats with Mauritanian spices.

As for the street food bites side of the menu, which includes the wings, empanadas, and falafel croquettes, Tandia says she has fallen in love with street food. “The best food I’ve ever had in my life is street food,” she says. “In Africa, we never had snacks at home. You’re outside, you see a lady making empanadas, whatever they’re making, they just wrap it up in newspaper and give it to you. You run around with your friend, and you eat it.”

Service elements at Berber Street Food reflect this casual way of eating. It’s counter-service, with the entire menu available for takeout and dine-in dishes served in multicolored woven baskets, wrapped in parchment paper.

Berber Street Food
Berber Street Food
Berber Street Food

The space is similarly full of bright colors, including woven baskets hanging on the walls. “When I wanted to open my own place, I wanted to do something more down-to-earth, simple, and showing my African culture,” Tandia says.

For now, the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Tandia has plans to roll out a brunch in the coming weeks.

Berber Street Food menu
Berber Street Food menu

Berber Street Food

35 Carmine Street, Manhattan, NY 10014 (646) 870-0495 Visit Website
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