As dusk falls in the Turkish capital Ankara, two Somalian restaurants near the city center Kizilay come to life. Though they start quite early to host guests, they turn a home away from home for African students in the evening.
A rendezvous for African community and a place to beat freezing Ankara temperatures, students, tourists, and entrepreneurs gather to discuss different issues and ways to live thousands of miles away from their continent around tables, tasting bites of Sambusa -- a triangular fried pastry dish filled with spicy minced meat -- and sips of Somali tea in colorful cups. In the background, Somali, Ethiopian and Yemeni songs regale the audience.
An enchanting part of these restaurants is that they are owned by 28-year old young enterprising graduate Mohamed Issa and two of his friends, who have also graduated from Turkish universities.
Issa and his friends had come to Turkey eight years ago to pursue studies. After graduating in labor economics and industrial relations, he also cleared master in management of organizations.
His original restaurant in a lane near Kizlay was exclusively serving only Somalian cuisine. It became a hit for students, due to reasonable costs of food items. But many others would give it a miss, taking it a cheap and a blurry place, always full with African students.
Just a few months earlier, Issa and his friends Mohamed, Nasser and Adam opened another restaurant a distance away, a bit lavish and luxurious, to attract non-African guests to taste variety of cuisines from Ethiopia, Yemen and Somalia under one roof.
“It is very common to see our waiters serving Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian food and attending to clients of different nationalities,” Issa told Anadolu Agency.
The idea of opening an African gourmet hole, germinated after Issa ran from pillar to post in search of homely food, soon after he arrived in Ankara to pursue studies. A foreigner can eat local food for some time. But not continuously, he said.
Turkey destination for African students
Turkey hosts 10,480 African students, who are pursuing an education in different universities. Off late, the county has emerged a favorite destination for Somalis, for different purposes that includes education, tourism and health treatment.
“We noticed there were no restaurants around to provide Somali, Ethiopian or even Yemeni food. So, we decided to come together and open a restaurant that besides providing African cuisine offer Turkish light food as well,” he said.
The first restaurant a modest one was a roaring success. Soon, they decided to open another one to expand clientele.
“We have Turkish patrons also here. A lot of Turks want to know about African culture and taste its food. They mainly try our Sambusa, stuffed with beef or mutton. In terms of popularity, Yemeni cuisine is favorite of non-African clientele,” he said.
Ethiopian dishes challenging
Sharing secrets of his kitchen, Issa said preparing Ethiopian dishes was most challenging. Somali and Yemeni cuisine is somewhat similar, but Ethiopian is entirely different, which characteristically consists of vegetables and often very spicy meat dishes.
The restaurants serve banana with every order, as it is an important ingredient of Somali meals, be that breakfast, lunch or dinner.
A Turkish client Erdogan, sitting cozy on a chair and trying out Somali rice and mutton, said it was an entirely different experience. He said diversity in food under one roof was a good idea.
On the differences between three cuisines, an Ethiopian guest Razene who has visited the restaurant for the second time explained that the Ethiopian traditional food tastes differently from Somali and Yemeni dishes. Restaurant on its menu has special Ethiopian dish Tibs, stir-fried meat and vegetables.
Rice and meat are common ingredients of all three cuisines.
Rasene was using his spoon and fork to do justice rice and Injera, the national dish of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is made from tiny, iron-rich teff seeds, which are ground into flour. The flour is mixed with water and fermented for a short period of time. It is then baked by pouring the mixture onto a giant circular griddle, known as a mitad.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.