Appetites: A beginner’s guide to East African food

East African cooking isn’t exactly new to the Twin Cities due to thousands of people from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

But lately, the food scene has been shifting to be more representative of the area’s changing population.

City Pages food writer Mecca Bos has noticed a rise in East African restaurants cropping up around the metro. She joined All Things Considered host Tom Crann to offer newcomers a guide to the various food styles and offered some restaurant picks, too.

Ethiopian dining

The most recognizable Ethiopian dishes include injera bread, a floppy, round pancake of sourdough bread.

Bos said she likes to order samplers at Ethiopian spots. Those often include a big platter with injera, dollops of stews (called wot or curries), dals (often lentil-based) and tibs (heavily spiced meat dishes).
Overall, Bos said Ethiopian cooking is for fans of warm spices. If you like Indian food, she said, you’ll probably like Ethiopian. It’s filled with aromatic spices like chile, cumin, coriander and ginger, and many dishes are good for vegetarians.

One of the metro area’s best-known Ethiopian spots is Fasika Ethiopian Restaurant near Snelling and University avenues in St. Paul. It’s been open for about 15 years. Another spot, Ghebre’s Restaurant, which serves Eritrean and Ethiopian food, has opened across the street from Fasika too.

Somali cuisine

While Somalia is adjacent to Ethiopia, it’s food is unique.

Part of that is due to the Italian occupation of Somalia, which means that there are pasta dishes and tomato sauces.

At almost any Somali restaurant, Bos said, there will be sambusas — lightly fried triangular pastries stuffed with spiced ground beef or lamb.

Bos’ pick for where to get sambusas is Alimama’s, a food truck that has a counter space inside Metro State University. There’s also Afro Deli, a highly approachable St. Paul eatery with a pan-African menu. You can get everything from keke to a burger.

Other spots to check out

The Midtown Global Market has Safari Express for grab-and-go Somali food. Som Taste on Hiawatha is a more homestyle place with full-service located in an old Bridgeman’s storefront. For another classic Ethiopian and Eritrian experience, check out the brand new Tropicana Cafe on West 7th Street in St. Paul.

For more on East African cuisine from Bos, use the audio player above.

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