Tag Archives: Somali

Ginevra Cafe

mediterranean restaurants columbus Somali

2285 Morse Road
614.475.4880

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At the end of last year we wrote “In the short time it has been open, Ginevra has had an interesting evolution. It started as a Somali coffee shop offering coffee, tea, snacks and desserts but has recently expanded to offer a full lunch and dinner menu. Rather than providing a strictly Somali menu, they opted for mix of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Somali dishes”.  At that time the kitchen was being run by Mo, the nephew of one of Columbus’ well known Middle Eastern chefs – Nasir of Lavash (and formerly of Firdous).

Now Ginevra has transitioned again and they are serving a more Somali focused menu. Based on our recent visit and reports from Somali friends this change is proving very popular with their customers. On the night we visited the restaurant was almost full with large groups of Somali men animatedly discussing politics and soccer.

The menu is small with six entrees and four sandwiches. Entree options are lamb shank, beef or chicken steak, beef or chicken suqaar or fish steak. Each can be served with either rice or pasta. We would recommend the rice. The pasta was linguine in what tasted like jar-sauce.

somali restaurants columbus

The lamb shank was tender and was served with sauteed onions and a mountain of Somali rice and salad. Optional hot sauce is available. We also tried the chicken steak, suqaar and the fish steak. All were well cooked and seasoned.

somali restaurants ohio

As is common in Somali restaurants each entree is preceded by a complimentary bowl of soup. This is usually a mildly spiced meat based broth with vegetables. The soup at Ginevra was very good.

ginevra cafe columbus

I don’t think a visit to Ginevra would be complete without the Somali chai which has a wonderful mix of ginger and cardamon. Our tea came in a teapot to share. I would also recommend the Ginevra special juice, an intriguing mix of dates and milk but quite delicious.

somali tea shop

Service is friendly and Ginevra also has free wifi. Somali desserts and snacks (such as Sambusa) are available from the counter.

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Calanley Restaurant

Cuisine: Somali
3149 Cleveland Ave.
263-3530

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Having driven past Calanley quite a few times, we’ve always felt a vague sense of unease about the place based upon its exterior appearance – there’s just something foreboding about the windowless building.

This unease appeared to be mutual, at least at first – it seemed as though Calanley may have never served non-Somalis prior to our visit. We definitely sensed a bit of anxiousness initially.

Especially from the poor man at the counter… our presence seemed to completely blindside him. His job was to take our order, and he seemed frustrated by, at minimum, our shared inability to bridge the language divide.

Thankfully, frustration led to resourcefulness.  He tapped an English-speaking Somali customer for assistance, and called on an English speaking employee from the kitchen. With their help, everything came into focus.

Turns out that Calanley is primarily frequented by regulars – unsurprisingly, almost all Somali. These customers know the offering (and the language), so there is little use for a menu. An out-of-date English-language menu was searched for and found, though, and after a few tries we managed to select items off of it that were still currently being served.

We ordered the ‘chicken steak’, KK (kimis & kalaankal), and Ethiopian anjera with beef stew, and took our seat.  Complimentary bananas, juice, and bottled water came out shortly thereafter.

Calanley’s interior is basic, and the ambience was based largely around a television playing what appeared to be recordings of prayer ceremonies during the hajj.  This led us to recall that there was a separate exterior entrance for ‘families and ladies’ that opened into another smaller (closed off) dining room… we wondered if our female dining companion’s presence in the larger dining room might be causing distress.  We concluded that it probably wasn’t, at least if the remainder of our time there was any indication.

Our meals arrived quickly, and as seems to be the norm with Somali restaurants, portions were generous.  We tried the ‘chicken steak’ with rice first. This was very similar to African Paradise’s chicken preparation, which is to say it was cut into strips and similar to an Indian tandoori mixed with sauteed onions.  Roundly enjoyed.

Next, the KK.  In some of our early research, we came across a thread on a Somali web forum that discussed Somali food/restaurants in Columbus.  In it, Calanley was widely thought to be *the* place for KK.  Underneath the lettuce was kimis (thin strips of flat bread) and kalankaal (seasoned cubed beef) mixed together in a thick, tomatoey sauce. We found it to be enjoyable, but perhaps a bit less so than the chicken.

Finally, we tried the anjera with beef stew.  This was quite a spread – stew, salad, a wickedly spicy hot sauce, and a hard boiled egg, all atop a massive piece of anjera (also known as injera, a spongy Ethiopian flat bread).  The anjera seemed a bit on the mushy side, and the stew was fine if unexceptional… we probably wouldn’t build a return trip around it.

While we walked in to an atmosphere of concern at Calanley, we left to smiles.  We liked the place, and appreciated the efforts they went to in accommodating us.  Once we were able to express our interest in their food, everything else fell into place.  Suffice it to say that any cultural observations above (as with all cultural observations on this blog) are recounted solely for the purpose of providing practical insights for the uninitiated.

We were unable to evaluate the vegetarian friendliness of the offering due to the menu situation, but all dishes discussed contained meat, as seems to be the case with Somali cuisine more generally.  There was nothing posted to indicate halal preparations, but we’d wager it probably all is.

Banadir Cuisine

Cuisine: Somali
3246 Cleveland Avenue
(614) 268-0933
Hours: lunch & dinner (we didn’t see posted hours)

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Subtitle: In Which We Learn About The Proper Time Of Day To Go Out For African Food

We entered the well-worn dining room of Banadir Cuisine to warm welcomes from the staff, and were promptly shown to our table. Baskets with utensils, napkins and complimentary bananas arrived with the menus.

The menus, here as in every other African restaurant we’ve been to, are notable for their bias towards lunchtime – that is to say, the lunch selection is usually 3-4 times larger than that of the dinner menu. A lot of the lunch items sounded awfully good, but so it goes… it’s dinner, we’re here, and we’re hungry.

We ordered the fish steak, beef steak, and the chicken suqar.  All of the dishes came with the option of jabati, rice, or spaghetti, and when we asked for jabati with the chicken suqar, our server offered to have it cut into slices and mixed it in with the dish, ‘K’ style.  Why not?

We also ordered tea (served with or without milk) and were given soup as part of the dinner order.  The tea, when ordered with milk, was chai flavored – similar to African Paradise’s offering but (mercifully) less aggressively sweetened.  The soup, ostensibly vegetable but flecked with goat meat, looked innocent enough, but was surprisingly rich and meaty tasting – these guys know how to make a mean (apparently goat based) soup stock.


Upon finishing the soup, our mains arrived.  Opting for ‘K’ style on the chicken suqar turned out to be a good move – the suqar struck us as something of a halfway point between a curry and a stir fry, and the jabati bread strips were dense enough to hold their own in the mix, both absorbing the sauce and presumably thickening it.  An unqualified hit with all who tried it.

The beef steak was less well received.  Flavor was nice, with a significant pepper hit, but the consistency of the beef led to murmurings about truck-stop jerky.  It’s possible that the chewiness of the preparation is traditional, but we’re still left wondering how it’d be if the beef were more tender.

Finally, the fish steak.  This was four or so reasonably sized pieces of salmon with a heavily spiced char crust, topped with a mix of vegetables and french-fry-cut potatoes. Slices of lime and a small salad garnished. The flavors of this dish were roundly appreciated, though there was some discussion about the oiliness.

Sated, I walked up to the cash register to pay.  While doing so, I asked the owner about the reasoning behind offering so many more items for lunch.

‘Simple’, he responded (and I paraphrase), ‘Africans, in Africa, traditionally work until about 2:00-3:00pm, and then have the main meal of the day.  This generally translates into lunch for Africans in the US.  What we call dinner here is a minor meal for most Africans. Usually Americans eat dinner here.’

‘Yep, that’s us’, I chuckled to myself.

Our next stop for African cuisine will be the Calanley Restaurant.  For lunch.

African Paradise


Cuisine: Somali
2263 Morse Road
614.476.2163
Hours: 7:30am – 10:00pm

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A bit of advice – just go with the flow when at African Paradise.  From the odd, vaguely Bourbon Street-esque exterior to a menu that, willy nilly, mixes cuisine categories with food items with Friday specials with – hey, no prices on anything? – much about this Somali restaurant will confound the more logically inclined.

Do hang loose, though, because African Paradise has an awful lot to recommend it.

Stepping inside, we found a large, clean space with minimal decor and low lighting.  Our party of 5 was seated between a prayer room and a ‘ladies only’ room (a dining area sectioned off with accordion doors, presumably created to allow Muslim women to dine without the unwanted intrusion of the male gaze).

After trying to make sense of the menu, we decided to simply use it as a starting point for conversation.  The servers were more than happy to explain everything, and if they felt as though they had failed on any point they were quick to provide samples to clear up the confusion.   Such was the case with the mufo and the jabati – both were flat breads, what was the difference?  Their answer:

Turns out, mufo is a dense, tart and chewy cornmeal-based flatbread, while jabati is something like a wheat flour-based cousin to the Indian chapati. These were served with a delicious dipping sauce that Hungrywoolf described as tasting like a curried marinara*.

‘Did we like?’ asked the waiter.  Indeed we did.  With that, a proposition: ‘You can order single dishes for each person, or I can do a large family style dish for everyone with four different choices on it’.  After much discussion, we settled on the family style spread and added rice, more jabati, soup, salad,  mango juice, and Somali tea. All or some of which may or may not have come with the family style meal.  Bottled water was also included.

Soup and tea arrived first. The soup was a simple vegetable mix in a rich chicken broth, and was enjoyed by all.  The Somali tea was reminiscent of chai with strong cardamom notes, but achingly sweet.

Then the main dish:

That’s roasted goat, chicken, and two types of fish (salmon and, um, something else?) The goat was a revelation – while there was some variation between pieces, it was moist, tender, delicately flavored, and as good as any goat any of us had ever tasted.  The chicken was reminiscent of an off-the-bone Indian tandoori, though in my opinion more flavorful and more tender.  Both fishes were seasoned similarly to the chicken and were delicious though perhaps a bit on the dry side.  The rice was subtle with just a hint of cardamom and made for a perfect accompaniment to the proteins.

Quantities were generous – the photo with the oversized serving spoon fails to illustrate this point.  The five of us indulged to our hearts content and had plenty of leftovers.

Now for the check.

Wait… you’ve got to be kidding.  $33?  For everything…. for all 5 of us?! Yeah, we’ll be back… especially since AP has some intriguing breakfast menu items.

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*The marinara analogy is interesting because Somalia was briefly colonized by Italy and Italian culinary influence persists to this day.  Pasta items are not unusual in Somali restaurants and were in ample evidence on AP’s menu as well.