Don’t be deterred by the lack of curb appeal at Som Taste, located near Minnehaha Park. It looks like what it was — a Bridgeman’s Ice Cream Parlor (and, according to a sticker in the window, an Ember’s) that has seen better days. Well, maybe new better days have arrived. Ignore the exterior and go on in (and also ignore how half of the restaurant is blue paisley and the other half black-and-white zebra stripes).
Owner Jama Abdikani, a Somali immigrant, is working hard to bring Somali food to Minnesota. All the recipes on his limited menu come from his 95-year-old grandmother, who still lives in Somalia and receives a phone call from her grandson every week. He speaks of her with great fondness, and that relationship seems to be represented in the comforting nature of the food; these are foods a loving grandmother would happily make for her descendants. We may not be her descendants, ourselves, but we partook and felt all the better for it.
We started with an order of Beef and Onion Sambusas ($1.50 each). These were delicious fried triangles stuffed full of ground beef and onion and a variety of spices that didn’t pack heat but were tremendously flavorful. The dough was flaky and tender, lightly fried but not greasy, and didn’t seem likely to have come from a freezer. An innocent little plastic container with something green in it sat next to the sambusa; mint or parsley, we wondered? One of us took a generous forkful and discovered that is was something akin to pureed jalapeno. Although initially surprising, it added a nice optional kick to the appetizer.
For entrees, we tried the Curry Chicken ($12, above), Goat Meat ($12, below), and Foul Mudammas ($8, top). The meat dishes come with the option of pasta or rice, which intrigued us, and we ordered one of each. Abdikani explained that Italy occupied part of Somalia for many years, and that in fact, his grandmother had worked for the Italian consulate for a while. Clearly the influence rubbed off on her, and she shared her secrets with Abdikani. The pasta was perfectly al dente and was tossed with an earthy, robust tomato sauce.
Both meat dishes were delicious and clearly benefited from a slow approach to cooking. The chicken curry was quite mild (the only truly heat-packed item we tried was the chili condiment), but fork-tender and juicy. The goat was a revelation. Other versions we’ve tried ended up gamy and tough, with lots of little bones to pick through, but Som Taste’s goat was tender, milder, and with few bones. In texture and flavor, it was similar to a mildly barbecued pork dish. Each meat dish also came with a small green salad, pita, and a comfort-food side of carrots and potatoes in a mild curry sauce.
As much as we loved the meat dishes, we also fell in love with the vegetarian Foul Mudammas. Fava beans were slow-cooked with garlic, onion, and lemon juice to the point where there was barely a discernible shape to them. They were topped with red onion slices and sauteed spinach that was as melty as the beans. The slow cooking brought the flavors out without overwhelming the dish. This could easily be the go-to meal for the coming winter months, hearty and filling, flavorful but not aggressive.
Abdikani brought us a special Somali tea ($1.50) that he called “Grandmother’s Secret Tea” for dessert, something mildly sweet and cheerful. When asked about ingredients, he smiled shyly and noted that his grandmother liked him to keep these things secret. No matter. You don’t need to know what’s in it to enjoy a cup.
So as the weather begins to move towards winter, you have the perfect place to savor some comfort food made from recipes meant to nourish loved ones. Winter might be tolerable after all.
Somali food in Hiawatha
4757 Hiawatha Ave S, Minneapolis
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $8-$12
NOISE LEVEL: Low
Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
PARKING: Free lot