The 5 best dishes I tried at N.J.’s African Restaurant Week’s sprawling festival

The first-ever New Jersey African Restaurant Week wrapped up this weekend with a food festival Saturday in Newark.

DJ’s blared music through the parking lot at Bisrate Gebriel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church as vendors sold clothing, beauty supplies, health products and more.

And there was food. Lots of lots of food.

African Restaurant Week CEO Akin Akinsanya said he hoped the restaurant week (which featured 23 different eateries taking part) and the closing celebration (with even more food vendors) would help put African food “on the foodie map.” I tried as many dishes as I could from Day 1 of the event on Saturday — some dishes I had tried before and several I hadn’t. Day 2 was postponed by Hurricane Henri and will now take place next Sunday.

Here were my favorite foods I sampled.

African Restaurant Week

Tamarind chicken, stewed fish and jollof rice from Delicious African Orchards at New Jersey African Restaurant Week, which was held Saturday and Sunday at Bisrate Gebriel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Newark. (Jeremy Schneider | NJ Advance Media for

I am a sucker for anything tamarind, and the succulent chicken in the tangy sauce was my single favorite thing I ate on Saturday. The marinade was sweet but not overly so, reminiscent of barbecue sauce but with more bite. The jollof rice (a West African dish that recently got shouted out in Apple TV hit show “Ted Lasso”) was tender and packed with tomato and pepper flavor that stood up to the chicken.

Sea moss drink

Sea moss from Sweet-T-Creams at the New Jersey African Restaurant Week festival in Newark. (Jeremy Schneider | NJ Advance Media for

All you need to know about sea moss is when I told the owners of Sweet-T-Creams I had never had it before, they busted out their cameras to film my reaction. As soon as the Jamaican drink, which is derived from a type of algae, hit my lips I knew why. Wow. One of the most unique textures I have ever experienced. Light and fluffy but also with the softness of a gel. With coconut and vanilla added to the mix, it was a delicious dairy-free dessert with a myriad of health benefits.


Acarajé from the New Jersey African Restaurant Week festival in Newark. (Jeremy Schneider | NJ Advance Media for

Acarajé is street food common in West African, Caribbean and Brazilian cuisines. Black eyed peas are peeled, mashed and then fried into a ball that gets split and filled with shrimp and cashew sauce and topped with peppers and onions. My favorite part of the dish is the different textures — the doughiness of the fritter, the succulent shrimp and then the crispy veggies give you three very different mouth-feels in one bite.


Suya from Zobo Sorrel at the New Jersey African Restaurant Week festival in Newark. (Jeremy Schneider | NJ Advance Media for

The first thing I ate at the festival, and it packed the most heat. I guess they weren’t kidding when they said they were spicing it up for me. Suya is a spicy meat skewers popular in West African cuisine. I tried chicken and beef and loved both, but the chicken was especially tender and tasty. The red onions on top were a nice addition that cut through the spiciness.

Coconut jerk pasta

Coconut jerk pasta with shrimp from Urdee B’s at the New Jersey African Restaurant Week festival in Newark. (Jeremy Schneider | NJ Advance Media for

Pasta. Shrimp. Coconut. Not three foods I had ever had together before Saturday, but now I’m wondering where it has been all my life. The sauce was the right balance of sweet and spicy, while the shrimp was big and juicy. The pasta brought it all together nicely.

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Jeremy Schneider may be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @J_Schneider and on Instagram at @JeremyIsHungryAgain.

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