Cookbook:Cuisine of Somalia

Cookbook | Ingredients | Cuisines

Somali cuisine varies from region to region and is a fusion of different Somali culinary traditions.[1] It is the product of Somalia's tradition of trade and commerce. Some notable Somali delicacies include Sabaayad/Kimis, Laxooh/Canjeero, xalwo, sambuusa, bariis iskukaris, and Muqmad/Odkac (beef jerky).

Pork consumption is forbidden to Muslims in Somalia, in accordance with Sharia, the Islamic law.



Breakfast (Quraac) is an important meal for Somalis, who often start the day with some style of tea (shaah) or coffee (Qaxwa). The tea is often in the form of haleeb shai (Yemeni milk tea) in the north. The main dish is typically a pancake-like bread (canjeero or canjeelo) similar to Ethiopian injera, but smaller and thinner. It might also be eaten with a stew (maraq) or soup.[2] In addition to Canjeero many Somali people eat chopped meat mixed with some cumin, garlic, onions and pepper.

  • Canjeero or Canjeelo is eaten in different ways. It may be broken into small pieces with ghee (subag) and sugar. For children, it is mixed with tea and sesame oil (Macsaro) until mushy. There may be a side dish of liver (usually beef), goat meat (hilib ari), diced beef cooked in a bed of soup (suqaar), or jerky (oodkac or muqmad), which consists of small dried pieces of beef, goat or camel meat, boiled in ghee.
  • Lahoh (Laxoox) is a pancake-like bread originating in Somalia, Djibouti, Yemen.[3] It is often eaten along with honey and ghee, and washed down with a cup of tea.
  • Sabaayad or Kimis is another type of flatbread similar to Canjeelo/lahoh, as well as the desi paratha. During lunch, kimis is sometimes consumed with curry, soup, or stew.
  • Polenta Mushaari or porridge Boorash with butter and sugar is eaten in the Mogadishu area. Elsewhere in the south, such as in the Merca city, a special bread known as rooti abuukey with tea is preferred. This is also known as muufo, and is cooked in a special clay oven by sticking the mixture to the walls and waiting for it to fall off when done.[4]

Flatbread referred to as rooti is consumed in all over Somalia. Nationally, a sweeter and greasy version of canjeero, known as malawax or malawah, is a staple of most home-cooked meals.


Baasto (pasta) made of spaghetti and digaag (chicken) take-out from a Somali restaurant

Lunch (qado) is often an elaborated main dish of pasta (baasto) or rice (Bariis iskukaris) spiced with cumin (kamuun), cardamom (heyl), cloves (qaranfuul), and sage (Salvia somalensis). The diffused use of pasta (baasto), such as spaghetti,[5] comes from the Italians. It is frequently presented with a heavier stew than the Italian pasta sauce. As with the rice, it is often served with a banana.

Spaghetti can also be served with rice, forming a novelty dish referred to as "Federation". The dish is usually served with equal (whole) portions of rice and spaghetti, split on either side of a large oval plate. It is then layered with assorted stewed meats and vegetables, served with salad and an optional banana. It has been suggested that the name of the dish is derived from the union of two dishes in Somalia and also from the size and quantity of the food. You will not find this dish served in the average Somali household, since it is uncommon to cook both rice and pasta in one meal. It is instead more common to order the dish from traditional Somali restaurants, where both rice and spaghetti are always readily available. Hence, its novelty status.

In Somalia many people or tribes who have Arab influences eat some Arab cuisines such as ful (fava beans) with kimis or white bread also with hummus. Other dishes like falafel with hummus or eaten with pita bread and salad and hummus (like a sandwich).

Another popular dish in the South is called Iskukaris, a hot pot of rice, vegetables and meat, is a regional staple. Beyond the many styles of Hot pot (maraq), rice is usually served with meat and/or a banana on the side. In Mogadishu, steak (busteeki) and fish (kalluun/mallaay) are widely eaten.

Southern Somalis commonly consume a soft cornmeal referred to as soor or Asida. It is mashed with fresh milk, butter and sugar, or presented with a hole in the middle filled with maraq or olive oil.

Bariis iskukaris, a Somali camel meat and rice dish

A variation of the chapati is the sabaayad/kimis. Like the rice, it is served with maraq and meat on the side. The sabaayad of Somalia is often somewhat sweet, and is cooked in a little oil.

Popular drinks at lunch are balbeelmo (grapefruit), raqey (tamarind) and isbarmuunto (lemonade). In Mogadishu, fiimto (Vimto) and laas (lassi) are also common. In the northwest, the preferred drinks are cambe (mango) (guava) and tufaax (apple).

Bariis iskukaris is also popular in Somali cuisine. This traditional Somali rice dish is cooked and then fried with some onions, any meat and then mixed with a Somali spice mixture called xawaash which contains cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamon, black pepper, cloves, and nutmeg. It is traditionally served at Somali weddings.


A bag of traditional Somali cambuulo (azuki beans)

Dinner (casho) in Somalia is served as late as 9 pm. During Ramadan, supper-time often follows Tarawih prayers, sometimes as late as 11 pm. Cambuulo, a common dinner dish, is made from well-cooked azuki beans mixed with butter and sugar. The beans, which on their own are referred to as digir, can take up to five hours to finish cooking when left on the stove at a low temperature. Qamadi (wheat) is also used; cracked or uncracked, it is cooked and served just like the azuki beans.

Rooti iyo xalwo, slices of bread served with a gelatinous confection, is another dinner dish. Muufo, a variation of cornbread, is a dish made of maize and is baked in a foorno (clay oven). It is eaten by cutting it into small pieces, topped with sesame oil (macsaro) and sugar, then mashed together with black tea.

Before sleeping, a glass of milk spiced with cardamom is often consumed.


Somali sambuusas (samosas) being prepared

Sambusa, the Somali variation of the Desi samosa, is a triangular snack that is commonly eaten throughout Somalia during the afur (iftar). The Somali version is spiced with hot chili pepper, and the main ingredient is often ground meat. Kabaab is a snack eaten in western Somalia or kebab sticks with vegetables or kofta kebab. chips but homemade chips are made with fresh potato and some black pepper. Fruits such as mango (cambo), guava (seytuun), banana (moos) and orange (liinbanbeelmo) are eaten throughout the day as snacks.


Gashaato is a coconut-based confection, set here to a backdrop of the Somali national flag.
Xalwo (halwo) or halva is a staple of Somali cuisine.
  • Xalwo (halwo) or halva is a popular confection served during special occasions,[6] such as Eid celebrations or wedding receptions. Xalwadii waad qarsatey! ("You hid your xalwo!") is the phrase that follows a person who has eloped or has a small, private wedding. Xalwo is made from sugar, cornstarch, cardamom powder, nutmeg powder, and ghee. Peanuts are also sometimes added to enhance texture and flavor.[7] In the south they have rice pudding called ruz bil laban.
  • Gashaato, Kashaato or Qumbe, made from coconut, sugar and oil, which is spiced with cardamom, is a much-loved sweet. The sugar is brought to a boil with a bit of water, then the cardamom is added, followed by shredded coconut.
  • Lows iyo sisin is a favorite sweet in the south. It consists of a mixture of peanuts (lows) and sesame seeds (sisin) in a bed of caramel. The confection sticks together to form a delicious bar.
  • Jalaato, similar to the American ice pop, is made by freezing naturally sweet fruits with a stick in the middle. More recently in Mogadishu (Xamar), it has grown to include caano jalaato, which is made with milk and requires sugaring up. The word jalaato comes from gelato, which is Italian for "frozen".
  • Buskut or Buskud comprises many different types of cookies, including very soft ones called daardaar (literally "touch-touch" due to its smooth, delicate texture).
  • Doolshe encompasses many delectable styles of cakes.
  • Icun is a sweet mostly eaten by southern Somalis. It is made from sugar and flour mixed with oil. People prefer to say Icun I calaangi caloosha I gee (Eat me, chew me, then take me to your stomach) when they see it. It is mainly eaten during weddings and Eid times, but southern Somalis always make it at home and eat it as part of a dessert.
  • Basbousa or a cream-filled Basbousa is a traditional Somali sweet cake which is also an Arab influence.[8] It is made from cooked semolina or farina soaked in simple syrup.
  • Also in the north of Somalia they eat Lokma, a ball which is sweet (normally eaten in Egypt).
  • Baklava is also eaten by all Somalis.
  • Another snack or desert eaten by Somalis, Yemenis and Egyptians is ma'amoul which is a biscuit filled with dates or nuts.

There are many sweets eaten during festive occasions, such as weddings, parties or Eid. Among these are baalbaaloow, shuushuumoow, bur hindi, bur tuug, and qumbe (coconut), the latter of which is made from coconuts mixed with sugar to form a bar.


A dabqaad incense burner

Somalis traditionally perfume their homes after meals. Frankincense (luubaan) or a prepared incense (uunsi), or bukhoor in the Arabian Peninsula, is placed on top of hot charcoal inside an incense burner or censer (a dabqaad).[9] It then burns for about ten minutes. This keeps the house fragrant for hours. The burner is made from soapstone found in specific areas of Somalia.


  1. Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi (2001). Culture and Customs of Somalia. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 109–. ISBN 978-0-313-31333-2.
  2. Abdullahi, pp.111-114.
  3. Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi, Culture and Customs of Somalia, (Greenwood Press: 2001), p. 113.
  4. "Somali Polenta Flat Bread (Muufo)". The Somali Kitchen. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  5. Somali recipes (in Italian)
  6. "Somali Halwa." Accessed July 2011.
  7. Ali, p. 79
  8. "The Recipes of Africa". p. 241. Retrieved 2014-07-18.
  9. Abdullahi, pp.98-99