Paterson, NJ 07503
- Cost: $$
- Parking: Street
- Take Out: Yes
May 10, 2012
A mainstay of the ethnic food cornucopia that is Main Street, Paterson, NJ, Al Safa features Middle Eastern comfort food.
I visited with anthropologist Lisa La Valle-Finan, who writes about New Jersey’s cultural communities. When the Syrian owner stopped by our table, we asked him which dishes on the menu are typically Syrian. His response echoed what I have learned about the most common “Middle Eastern” foods. Many countries share the same dishes – hummus, falafel and shawarma, for example. They may have different names in different parts of the Middle East – shawarma, doner kebab or gyro, for example – but the basic ingredients are the same whether you order your sliced meat sandwich in Damascus, Beirut, or Cairo. The spices and way it is prepared will vary slightly from country to country. Al Safa uses a seven-spice blend (red pepper, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, coriander and caraway), or baharat, typical of Syrian food. At Al Safa, the owner is Syrian, the guy behind the counter is Palestinian, and many customers are Turkish.
We sampled some excellent kibbeh (a deep fried mixture of bulgar wheat, ground beef, pine nuts and onions), baba ghanouj (eggplant dip) and hummus (chikpea dip), served with a package of pita bread. I also ordered a beef shawarma sandwich, sliced from the large spits of meat rotating behind the counter. Nicely spiced and served in a pita with pickles, yogurt and a pepper sauce, Al Safa makes a very good shawarma. The menu includes falafel, lebneh (yogurt, garlic and mint dip), various charcoal grilled kebabs, as well as grilled liver, marinated kidneys and “tounges & brains” for the more adventurous.
The restaurant has a take out counter with a few tables. Upstairs, is the large dining room and an outdoor patio.