3414 Cleveland Avenue
We visited Safari Coffee late on a “school night” which made the majority of the Somali portion of the drink menu off limits, as they were mostly caffeinated coffees and teas. This was just a small speed bump in experiencing the wares of the brightly-lit joint; while drinks were a no-no, desserts were totally okay. Which is good, because I like desserts.
Four unmarked desserts were available for my consumption, and as we were a small army of what our previous restaurant referred to as “Caucasians,” there was a high probability that we could try all in one sitting.
As far as ambiance goes, Safari Coffee, at the corner of Cleveland Ave. and Innis Rd., has the looks of many Somali places throughout the city: fluorescent lighting, a television showcasing Al Jazeera, bright colors and a very clean feel.
Throw in smoothies and all sorts of western soft drinks, and you have a comfortable stepping point into Somali cuisine for the cautious-yet-curious.
Two of the dessert offerings, pictured above, were quite “safe,” even for the non-adventurous. To the left is qumbe, a close relation to the macaroon. This moist bar cookie is made up of coconut, sugar, milk and flour. On the right is a lightly sweetened cookie, subtle in flavor and similar to a biscuit one might have with tea in England. The antithesis to overly-sweet American desserts, this cookie was a tiny bit dry, meant, of course, to go with the caffeinated drinks that I didn’t order.
And then there’s this. When I first saw it in the dessert case, I thought it looked like some sort of animal part – a liver or a heart, perhaps – served in a ziplock bag. I kept this opinion to myself and strongly lobbyed for someone else to order it, so that I could try it, yet not feel obligated to finish it. Halwa, as its called, is like a hardened jello without with gelatin. (Vegetarians, this dessert is likely safe!) The dish is made up of sugar, cornstarch, peanuts and spices like nutmeg, cardamom and saffron. I found that it tasted a little like ginger snaps, and nothing like animal parts.
And so. Somali food isn’t all just goat meat and unfamiliar spices, especially when you start with dessert.