This is part of a weekly series in which reporter Aparita Bhandari explores how to eat the different cuisines that make up Toronto’s diverse culinary landscape.
When Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce happened to partake in a traditional Somali meal while on assignment in Minneapolis in 2016, he made a bit of a foodie faux pas. When presented with a banana alongside his meal, he got confused and tweeted about getting a banana as an appetizer. The Twitter-verse soon set him straight — the banana is supposed to be eaten with the meal.
I had found myself in a similar situation a few summers ago. After interviewing a young Somali man about growing up in Toronto’s Dixon neighbourhood, I suggested we get a bite to eat. The meal arrived, with a banana on the side. “What are you supposed to do with the banana?” I asked my contact. He told me not to worry about it, and as he proceeded to eat his salmon and rice, without any banana, likely for my benefit. Out of politeness, I skipped the banana as well. But the question lingered in my mind.
I wanted to find out how you are supposed to incorporate the banana into the meal. So I called upon Bashir Munye, a Toronto chef whose approach to cooking is influenced by what he describes as his “Somali nomadic” experience.
“Culturally, Somalis are nomads. So we’ll eat some authentic Somali nomadic food,” says Bashir Munye, asking me to come to Istar Restaurant in Etobicoke. He says he likes Istar (pronounced is-turr) because it’s “a good quality takeout and Somali restaurant, with a beautiful hot table.
“They offer a variety of items, unlike other Somali restaurants in Toronto. For example, in most other restaurants, you get either rice dishes or injera. But at Istar, you also get cornmeal preparations.”
For our meal, Munye chose a traditional nomadic breakfast made up of soor (white cornmeal polenta-like dish made with vegetable stock or water), otka (sun-dried meat — beef, lamb, goat or camel — seasoned and preserved in ghee). “You have the vegetarian version of a breakfast with a dish called qudaar made of potatoes, spinach and carrots,” he said. Accompanying the meal, there was also bes bes (hot sauce) and a banana.
As with many other cultures, Somali food is eaten with your right hand.
“There’s something intimate about eating with a friend and being able to use your hands,” Munye says.
The idea is to mash the banana and incorporate it in the morsel you are going to eat. Given that Somali food is usually eaten with bes bes, the sweetness of the banana nicely offsets the spice.
For those unused to eating with their hands, Munye has a pro tip. “Use your thumb to push the morsel of food into your mouth,” he says.
The meal often ends with dates to balance out the other flavours with a hint of sweetness, Munye adds. “We have a high intake of protein in our food because the desert is cold. The way our body index is, this diet is perfect for our culture.”
Somali food is a reflection of the country’s history and geography, Munye says. Located in the Horn of Africa, Somalia has the longest coastline and was once an important commercial centre. “But interestingly, we don’t eat much fish. Most of the seafood is exported,” he says.
As a result, Somali food brings together traditions from across the world. Australian food blog The Somali Kitchen points out that Arab, Persian and Indian traders introduced spices such as coriander, cumin and cloves, as well as rice and paratha (Indian bread). The British, French and Italian meanwhile added pasta, English pudding and pastries to the mix.
The food that we sampled is “a typical breakfast for nomads who take herds of cattle across long journeys,” Munye says. “The otka is also consumed with mouffo, a type of traditional bread cooked under the coil, similar to bannock. It’s easy food to take on a journey.”
So there you have it! This is how to eat Somali food — with a banana.
Source:- The Star