Culture Tuesday: An Exploration of Somali Cuisine

Culture Tuesday is a new weekly column in which Best of Vegan Editor Samantha Onyemenam explores the cuisines of different cultures across the globe through a plant-based and vegan lens. Click here to read her column about Sri Lankan cuisine, here to read her column about Nigerian cuisine, and here to read her column about Indian cuisine.

Culture Tuesday – Somali Cuisine

The Somali cuisine is a delicious fusion of East African, Indian, Persian, Arab, British, Italian, French, and ancient Somali cuisines. As Somali people are traditionally semi-nomadic or nomadic, they have adopted aspects of the cuisines of other nations in East Africa and the Horn of Africa and nearby Arab countries. Those who migrated back to Somalia, over the years, returned with learned cultures which gradually influenced the cultural cuisine of Somalia until they became traditional parts of the modern cuisine. 

As Somali people are traditionally semi-nomadic or nomadic, they have adopted aspects of the cuisines of other nations in East Africa and the Horn of Africa and nearby Arab countries.

A significant number of Arabs and Persians also migrated to Somalia and/or traded with Somalis in the coastal regions thereby introducing ingredients such as garlic, coriander, cumin, cloves, other spices, and rice, and dishes such as ful and kimis (fava beans with flatbread), hummus, falafels, and pita bread to those regions. The use of these ingredients spread until they became common features in the national cuisine. The Indians and Europeans introduced ingredients, dishes, and cooking methods to the Somalis. These included sabaayad (the Somali paratha), sambusa (Somali samosas), chillies (which were taken from the Native Americans by the Europeans), pasta dishes, pastries, and puddings.

An Exploration of Somali Cuisine:
“You say samosa, we say Sambusa!” – Image Credit: @kulakitchen. Click on the image above to view this post on Instagram.

Herbs and Spices

Somali cuisine features the use of warm spices to enhance the flavour of foods as well as to give them deeper, spicier, and more earthy notes of flavour during cooking, marinating, or serving stages. Some of the most used spices are kaamun (cumin seeds), hayl (cardamom), qorfo dhegeyere (cloves), qorfe/qorfo dhaadher (cinnamon), hulbad (fenugreek seeds), hulbad caleen (fenugreek leaves),  sinjibiil (ginger), kabsar (coriander seeds), kabsar caleen (coriander leaves), joss (nutmeg), basbaas (chilli), filfil (black pepper), and huruud (turmeric). These herbs and spices are usually bought and stored whole to preserve the intensities of their flavours. Prior to being used in a dish, the spices are usually dry roasted to amplify their flavour before they are freshly ground as needed.

Somali cuisine features the use of warm spices to enhance the flavour of foods as well as to give them deeper, spicier, and more earthy notes of flavour during cooking, marinating, or serving stages.

Apart from cooking with individual spices, Somali people also cook with a traditional spice blend known as ‘xawaash.’ Xawaash is the backbone of many Somali dishes giving it the authentic flavour of the cuisine. Its ingredients vary with region. However, generally, it contains dry roasted and ground cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, fenugreek seeds, green cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, as well as dried ginger and turmeric.

An Exploration of Somali Cuisine: Bariis Iskukaris
“Bariis Iskukaris is a fragrant spiced rice dish that has a wealth of flavor. Once you try this Somali dish, you can never go back to just plain white rice.” – Image Credit: @basbaassauce. Click on the image above to view this post on Instagram.

“You can’t be trusted unless you use red onion in your cooking”

This is a common Somali phrase as, likewise to most African nations, the Somali people cook relatively strictly with red onions as one of the ingredients for many dishes, especially those served as qado (lunch) or casho (dinner) such as suugo (pasta sauce), a qumbe stew (Somali coconut milk and yoghurt stew), bariis iskukaris (a rice dish consisting of a mixture of fried vegetables, potatoes, raisins, peppers and spices), maraq (hot pot soup), surbiyaan (another rice dish) and cambuulo iyo maraq (a traditionally vegan rice and adzuki bean in a tomato sauce dish).

The practice of eating rice or pasta dishes with banana(s) is commonly practiced in various African nations. It involves eating a bite, or slice, of banana with each fork/spoonful of the main dish.

The sauces are usually served with bariis (rice) or suqaar (pasta) and moos (banana) on the side offering a sweet and cooler contrast to the hot savoury dishes. The practice of eating rice or pasta dishes with banana(s) is commonly practiced in various African nations. It involves eating a bite, or slice, of banana with each fork/spoonful of the main dish. The contrasting flavour profiles complement each other resulting in a beautiful taste experience with greater depth and balance of flavours.

An Exploration of Somali Cuisine: Canjeero
“Canjeero with saliid macsaro” – Image Credit: @ina_xulka. Click on the image above to view this post on Instagram.

Bread Galore

The Somali cuisine features a range of breads of Somali origin and either of Arab or Indian origin or influenced by breads of Arab of Indian origin as well as some adopted from the Native American cuisine. They are common additions at quraac (breakfast) and casho (dinner). These breads include canjeero (fermented batter flatbread/savoury pancake), lahoh (an unfermented/less fermented version of canjeero), cambabuur (a crepe-like fermented spiced flatbread), kimis/sabayaad (an unleavened flatbread similar to the Indian paratha), rooti (a Somalian roti), pita bread (a yeasted flatbread of Arab origin) malawax (a sweet fried flaky flatbread of Yemeni origin) and muufo (the Somali version of the Native American cornbread).

Some uses of the breads include soaking up sauces and stews or acting as vessels to carry food from the plate or bowl to one’s mouth.

These breads are served with a drizzle or spread of sweet syrup, olive oil or saliid macsaro (sesame oil) and a sprinkle of sugar or filled or topped with falafels, hummus and/or vegetables. Alternatively, they are used to soak up sauces and stews or to act as a vessel to carry food from the plate or bowl to one’s mouth. These foods include misir iyo lows (a lentil and almond dish), maraq bocor (pumpkin soup), cambuulo (sweetened well-cooked azuki beans, qamadi (well-cooked and seasoned bulgur wheat).

 

An Exploration of Somali Cuisine: Icun cookies
Icun cookies. “Getting ready for Eid! This one is just flour, sugar and oil!” – Image Credit: @sikiacooking. Click on the image above to view this post on Instagram.

Cunto Fudud (Snacks/Light Meals/Treats)

Somalis have a wide range of snacks, light meals, and treats. These are usually found at events such as weddings, Eid celebrations or parties, but some are often regularly available in homes or sold as street food. These foods include fresh fruit such as cambo (mango), moos (banana) and linbanbeelmo (orange), sambusa (Somali version of the Indian samosa – a spicy fried triangular pastry filled with a mixture of vegetables), kabaab (Somali version of the Arab kebab – fire roasted skewers of chopped vegetables or non-vegan ingredients which can be substituted with meat alternatives), xalwo (a sweet seasoned cornstarch confection of Arab origins), qumbe/gashaato (a spiced coconut sweet), lows iyo sisin (a peanut and sesame seed caramel bar), jalaato (frozen fruit purees on a stick), doolshe (cakes), icun (a chewy flour, sugar and oil confection), baklava (a sweet and flaky nut pastry), macsharo yariis (mini Swahili rice and coconut cakes), and ma’amoul (an Arab cookie filled with a mixture of fates and nuts).

Vegan Somali Recipe: Cambabuur

Below is a link to the recipe for cambabuur, a spiced and fermented batter flatbread. Although this recipe is best with a sourdough starter, this is a quick recipe that does not require a starter making it easier for anyone to make.

Cambabuur by Wholesomely You

Click here for the full recipe.

An Exploration of Somali Cuisine: Cambabuur.
Somalian Cambabuur. Image Credit: Wholesomely You. Click on the image above to get the full recipe.

Author: Samantha Onyemenam.

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Culture Tuesday: An Exploration of Somali Cuisine

Comments

  1. Hello! I was reading this article and I loved it so much. It reminded me of all the foods my mom said she ate when she was a child. There are so many other Somali food which I remember her eating as a kid, including Moos Bakooni (plantain) or moos bakooni maraq (plaintain stew), digaag qumbe (coconut chicken), Kaluuno (fish that is often fried), Ceesh (a bread similar to muufo that is often stuffed with meat and/or veggies), and so much more.

    My main reason for commenting, however, was to correct some small errors. First off, orange in Somali is liin macaan. Liin bambeelmo is grapefruit. Secondly, Somali malawax is different than Yemeni malawach. The words are similar but their malawach is simialr to our sabayaad. Finally, I googled Native American cornbread and it doesn’t look like muufo. I don’t believe Somali cuisine is influenced by Native Americans. I’m pretty sure our chilies originally come from the Indian subcontinent but I’m not too so. Finally, baklava and ma’moul aren’t a part of Somali cuisine. They could be commonly eaten by Somali but most Somalis wouldn’t call it traditional Somali snacks. Hariisad, Kaashato, Kac Kac, Shushumow, Bur saliid (similar to puf puf) and Rooti Shinndibaad or rooti farmaajo are more common sweet deserts. Some other savory/fried snacks include, Buur or Mandaazi, Nafaqo (fried potato with an egg inside), Barado (fried potato), Bajiye (basically falafel) and fried fish skin (I can’t remember the Somali name). They’re often eaten with bisbaas (green hot sauce) bisbaad raqi (tamarind sauce), and shigni (mango chutney).

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