A trip to flavors, aromas & traditions of Somali cuisine

The word cunto in Somali means food. The human body needs cunto every day in order to function properly and to gain strength. That’s why I decided to introduce readers to Somali cuisine and how we eat in Somalia.

Somalia is a country located in east Africa that has its own customs and traditions; even its cuisine is unique, distinguishing it from other African countries. Somalia has a tradition in trade and commerce, which has led to the fusion of its culinary traditions with Italian, Indian, even Turkish influences. So, let’s start our tour in Somali cuisine with breakfast, or quraac! In Somalia we eat three times a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, just like in most countries of the world. A typical breakfast is the Somali pancake, or anjero. It’s similar to the Ethiopian injera but it’s smaller and thinner. Made with corn flour, water, flour, sugar, salt and a little yeast mixed all together, it is left covered overnight to rise. The next day the mix is ready to fry in a special utensil which looks more or less like the frying pan we all know.

The anjero can be eaten in many different ways: small pieces with butter (subag) and sugar; mixed with tea and sesame oil (macsaro), for the children; it can also accompany liver (beer), meat (hilib), beef cooked with potatoes, carrots and peppers (suqaar), and odkac, that is small dried pieces of beef or goat meat or even camel meat, boiled in oil. 
Breakfast is usually accompanied by qaxwo, which is instant coffee with cardamom, cinnamon and ginger. Alternatively, we also drink a black tea flavored with cardamom and ground cloves, called shah which is often taken with milk. Lunch is eaten in the middle of the day, from half past twelve to half past two at the latest. According to Somali culture, lunch is the most important meal of the day. The dishes consist of very heavy flavors, which means that they are the best!

There are many traditional Somali dishes you can eat for lunch, consisting of meat, fish, rice, pasta, vegetables, fruit, soup and more. It’s hard to pick a single traditional dish to present to you, but like a good chef I will tell you about my personal favorite. I am talking about soor, which resembles polenta, and is composed of semolina, water and salt, however in Somalia we have our own way of preparing it. We bring the water to a boil, and then add salt. Then the semolina is added and stirred slowly, in order not to form lumps. Next, the pot is covered and is cooked for 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring every five minutes to prevent sticking. After resting for 5 minutes, soor is ready to be served! We accompany it with spinach or with the above-mentioned suqaar.

Dinner is the third and last meal of the day and we eat it at night before going to bed. In some countries it is customary to eat dinner around five in the evening before the sun sets, since doctors say it is good to eat our last meal before nightfall. The Somali people, however, eat dinner at sunset, from seven to nine and after cisho, the last prayer of the day.

In 1988, the Somali newspaper Xiddigta Oktoober conducted a survey which found that 83% of the residents of Mogadishu preferred cambulo for dinner. The research also showed that in many regions of the world, dinner (cashado) is considered to be the most important meal of the day and that people choose to consume the most “important” food then. This is due to the belief that, because dinner is the last meal before bedtime (which means staying several hours without food), it is good to provide the body with a light but also hearty meal that will keep you satiated throughout the night and will help you avoid hypoglycemia.

But, back to cambulo now! It is a traditional dish, which consists of well-cooked beans mixed with butter or sesame oil and sugar. The beans, which are in themselves a complete meal, can be cooked for up to five hours in a pot of salted water or in the oven at a low temperature. Something else that you might find interesting is that in Somalia, like other countries of Africa, we eat with our hands! It is a tradition to eat with the right hand alone, since using the left is disrespectful.

So, before closing, let’s do a short tour of the most important foods of Somalia, which have to do with bread, the sabayad pie, the malawax pancake, the cambulo beans, wheat and fruit. Somali cuisine is not considered particularly spicy for the most part, but spices such as cumin, cardamom, coriander and black pepper are used to a large extent.

Written by Hassan Hassan | Translated by Margarita Christoforatou | Edited by Gigi Papoulias

photo credits: Pixabay

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