Somali food – history’s in the side dishes

Tom Hanchett

somaliSomalia, on the Indian Ocean in the upper righthand corner of Africa, has long been a cultural crossroads. You can taste that history at Jamile’s International Cuisine, the newest addition to Charlotte’s vibrantly multi-ethnic Central Avenue.

Jamile Sheikh fled civil war in Somalia for Charlotte. Warm climate and many African immigrants make the Queen City feel at least a bit like home. “I always dreamed of my own business, a coffee shop or a restaurant,” says Jamile. “She loves to cook,” chimes in best friend and business partner Hamsa Hashi, “but in Somalia it is hard for a woman to own a business.”

Mainstay of Jamile’s menu is suqar (also spelled sukhaar) , a traditional dish of grilled chicken or beef with onions and Somali spices, a delight to American taste buds. The menu’s variety comes in what you pick to go with the entrée.

One choice is a griddle-made bread called canjaaro or canjera. It’s a thinner version of injera, familiar in Ethiopia which is Somalia’s next-door neighbor. If you like, you can break off hunks and use it to scoop up the suqar.

Another choice is chapatti, a flatbread originating in India. Why India? Somalia is the closest part of Africa to India, and traders have been moving back and forth for centuries.

Those traders also brought another Indian side-dish to the Somali table, basmati rice.

The fourth choice took me by surprise – spaghetti! “Italians controlled southern Somalia until World War II,” Hamsa explains as she lays a fresh banana on the table. The Italians ran banana plantations in Somalia, so the two foods go together in Somali cuisine.

Jamile’s International Cuisine
Hours: Noon – 9:30pm seven days a week.

4808 G Central Avenue
Charlotte, NC 28205
(704) 531 – 1180

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