Somali cuisine is no bland affair. In fact, the ancient Romans referred to Somalia as ‘Cape Aromatica’ as spices and fragrant resins abound. It is no surprise, then, that Somali cuisine is diverse and complex. The diversity of a cuisine is generally determined by what local produce is available in different regions. Whatever fresh produce grows in an area will inevitably influence what sorts of dishes will be invented and made. Think of it the same way you would the work of an artist; an artist’s work will be influenced not just by what they see around them, but also by the tools they have to represent those personal observations.
Somali cuisine is no different. Somalia’s fauna and flora vary wildly from region to region. Somalia has historically been a nomadic country, with pastoral nomads travelling with the turn of the seasons in search of fresh pasture to sustain their animals and families. They introduced their knowledge of other regional dishes, spices, and techniques to each new place. Most importantly, however, Somalia boasts an impressive coastline. It is this coastline that is primarily responsible for many of the culinary influences that permeate Somali cooking. Persian, Arab, Indian, and even Italian flavours and characteristics can be detected across the whole gamut of Somali cuisine.
For centuries, Persians and Arabs traded with Somalis in the coastal regions, bringing with them spices such as coriander, cumin, and cloves that are so foundational to countless Somali dishes. Periods of European rule resulted in the introduction of new dishes, ingredients, and cooking techniques such as spaghetti. Indian merchants introduced samosas and curries. While Somali cuisine is a fusion of foreign and domestic influences, it rarely, if ever, receives the same attention or appreciation as some of the cuisines that helped to shape it.
We’ve compiled a list of some of Somalia’s best loved foods that we’d love for you to try!
Sambusa is a fried pastry with a spicy meat filling that resembles a samosa. They are typically enjoyed as a snack or appetiser. They’re usually pretty heavy on the cardamon and are often reserved for special occasions such as Ramadan.
Pasta is regarded by many as the de facto national dish of Somalia. Baasto is a traditional Somali pasta dish made with cubed beef and tomato stew as a sauce. Although it resembles traditional Italian bolognese, it uses a range of different (and more flavourful) spices such as coriander.
Cambuulo is a dish made from well-cooked mung beans, which are sometimes mixed with rice, as well as a drizzle of sesame oil and sugar. As you can imagine, it’s quite filling, so it is usually reserved for dinner time.
Bariis Ishkukaris is a popular rice dish made in Somali homes. It is seasoned with a fragrant spice mix known as xawaash, which is the backbone of many Somali dishes. This spice blend includes cardamon, cloves, turmeric, and nutmeg. The rice is accompanied by a meat broth that includes fried onions and tomatoes.
Let us know what your favourite Somali dish is.