Tag Archives: somalian

Safari Coffee

Cuisine: Somali
3414 Cleveland Avenue
614.262.2811

Click here to map it!

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.

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Calanley Restaurant

Cuisine: Somali
3149 Cleveland Ave.
263-3530

Click here to map it!

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)

Click here to map it!

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

Click here to map it!

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.