My introduction to Middle Eastern food was eating falafel for the first time as a college freshman, with another Jersey expat, at Mamoun’s in New Haven, CT. Little did I know that I could have sampled hummus, baba ganouj and shawarma much earlier, much closer to home in one of New Jersey’s vibrant Middle Eastern communities.
“Middle Eastern,” of course, is a broad term. The dishes associated with Middle Eastern cuisine – creamy dips, warm pita bread, grilled meat kebabs – are served in communities from North Africa, to the Eastern Mediterranean, to the Arabian peninsula. I once asked a Jordanian what the difference is between falafel prepared in Israel, or Lebanon, or Egypt. He said there is essentially no difference, just slight variations in spices; everyone in the region enjoys the same foods. The names might be different – shawarma, doner kebab or gyro, for example – but the basic ingredients and preparation are the same whether you order your sliced meat sandwich in Damascus, Beirut, or Cairo.
Paterson’s Main Street might be the best place in the state for Middle Eastern cuisine, due to the high concentration of Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese and Turkish restaurants.
EthnicNJ’s Middle Eastern category includes Turkish, Persian and Afghan restaurants, even though each of these ethnic cuisines feature their own unique dishes. Restaurants serving halal food follow Islamic dietary guidelines (no pork, no blood, no alcohol).