Article By Mecca Bos
“Most people are afraid of what they don’t know,” says Jamal Hashi, perhaps the best known Somali chef in the Twin Cities, credited for his “bridging” cuisine, which seeks to make traditional Somali cooking and restaurants more approachable to new communities. His restaurants and dishes are also popular with a younger generation of Somalis who have grown up in the states.
“Food brings the stress level down a bit. We come from a Nomadic culture,” says Hashi, one of about 75,000 Somali people who now call Minnesota home. “You are always someone’s guest, or they are our guest. Hospitality was a rule of law in Somalia, and it’s still in place. Survival depended on that.”
Minneapolis is home to over 25,000 Somali residents, about a quarter of all Somalis currently living in the United States. Many Somalis migrated to our state in the early 1990’s, fleeing the country’s civil war.
Our Cedar-Riverside area, also known as the West Bank (of the Mississippi river,) has been dubbed “Little Mogadishu,” the Somali capital of the United States. Dozens of Somali businesses dot the area, but examples of the surprisingly familiar, comforting cuisine can be found throughout the Twin Cities.
General markers of the cooking include tasty chapati and injera flat breads, fragrant spice cabinet seasonings, and a long colonization by Italy means noodles, red sauces, and even Alfredo. It’s a lively mashup of flavors that are easily accessible for the American palate, presented in dishes and techniques that can be eye-opening and altogether surprising and delightful.
Like any cuisine anywhere, Somali food differs from region to region, and like any cuisine anywhere, Somali restaurants differ in style and feel. Somalia is not generally a restaurant culture, with most meals being taken in the home. But around Minneapolis, you can find different kinds of eateries for different kinds of experiences.