I first went to Hargeisa [the capital of Somaliland] in 2001. The thing you have to remember is that this was when people were comfortable enough to go back, and even started moving back to be with their family. I was 8 years old when I first visited and was exposed to Somali culture like never before. I saw a lot of different types of Somali food, including sabaayad, which was being eaten at any time of the day. That was very different as, for us, sabaayad wasnt something we made very often. This made it quite special when my mother would prepare sabaayad for the family.
In Hargeisa, I watched sabaayad being made on a Burjiko stove, which is a Somali-style cooker or charcoal-burning stove. One of my fondest memories from that first trip to Hargeisa was seeing sabaayad being consumed in a different way, and remember it tasting slightly different. Everyone has a preference I like it flaky. I think to get it more flaky you need to make sure you add a lot of extra flour, and that flour develops the flakes on the exterior. Making sabaayad is always a collaboration with my mother; she is the main artist and I am featuring. The reason I do it with my mother is because its a lot of fun, it’s a team effort, you put on a bit of music in the background, and it’s enjoyable. I think helping my mother prepare the sabaayad was definitely a bonding experience. I would always enjoy getting my hands dirty and playing around with the dough. Cooking with the family is a lot of fun, and if I ever have children, Id definitely teach them and prepare Somali dishes together.
I have brought bariis and hilib, which also means rice and lamb. Its a very particular meal in our culture, which we believe to be our main dish. We eat it at least two, three times a week. Ive got the fondest memories [of] eating it [when] getting home as a schoolboy after a free school meal which wasnt the best.
When I got home and my mum was cooking rice and lamb for me, it would just brighten up my day even more. There was such a difference between that school meal, which took minimum effort, compared to my mum pouring her love into that dish for me and my siblings. It made me appreciate my mum more for all the little things, like making sure the food was made just before I got home and then laying it on the table for us. My mum couldve easily just ordered us a takeaway since she was working during the day and must have been tired, for sure, but she still made the effort for us. Bariis and hilib takes around an hour and a half to make. My mum would spend a lot of time preparing the meal, and a lot of love and blood sweat and tears went into it. One particular thing Somali people love to add to their meal is a banana, I have no clue why but its always there now. [Whether the dish is] rice and lamb to pasta or lasagne, it’s always there. I really fell in love with it when I was 3. Bariis and hilib is my favourite dish ever, and I dont think anything else will beat it.
I was out with my mum one day, and I told her I was going to make xalwo cheesecake and, basically, she looked at me like I was crazy and said, I dont know how thats going to taste, because xalwo [a Somali dessert made from sugar, spices, and oil] is already sweet itself. I like xalwo because of its sweetness, and it reminds me of my childhood.
I added some biscuit and made it into the base, and when I did that, I realised I cant really bake it because the xalwo is going to melt.
So I thought, why dont I just do a no-bake cheesecake? I made it one day and I was actually quite shocked, and my mum was like, This actually tastes nice! A lot of my followers were like, Can you send me your recipe? and then they made it and they loved it and said that it’s the best thing ever. My followers on Instagram and Snapchat really loved it and they were like, Yay! First person to make Somali xalwo cheesecake, and thats it basically. The first person to actually taste it was my cousin because he was coming back from work and he was like, Have you made anything? and he was like, Oh, that sounds nice. He came over and had it with Somali tea, and he said it was really nice. He took the whole cake home. Ever since then hes asked me to make him another one and he loves it.
I brought mufo (a flatbread) and suqaar (stew). Mufo is basically a flour, or a really thick pancake you could say. I used semolina and yeast and pounded it up. Suqaar is just meat cut into really, really small pieces, and you can add vegetables to it and make it into a maraq (soup) and you can eat it together. I chose it because being from Mogadishu, or Xamar, thats a really traditional food for us. If you go to a house as a guest, you will find mufo there and its just so easy to make. Even when youre at home and theres nothing to cook you can just make mufo. You just pound it up and put it on the stove. My mum used to make mufo, like, every day. You know, when you have four kids, you can just make it every day so, yeah, its just like a childhood food. We made this mufo together. We made the bur (the flour for the mufo) yesterday so it can set, and we made the rest of it this morning. Mufo tastes like pancake; its floury like bread. Its really thick and soft inside, and suqaar is just meat and xawaaji (seasoning).
Growing up, Ive eaten malawax with sugar and butter for breakfast, and even now when my mum finds the time, I still manage to eat it early in the morning. We eat malawax in lots of different ways. I mostly do with sugar and some fruits or with suqaar. It has a very distinct sweet smell that makes you look forward to waking up early on a Sunday. During Ramadan, we eat it as a big energy booster as having a couple of malawax doesnt just fill you up, but it also nourishes you quite well. It goes amazingly with Somali tea and even better wrapped over a samosa. I have a lot of fond memories linked to malawax, for instance, when my non-Somali friends from school would stay over theyd always ask for it. It got to a point where we tried to re-create the recipe ourselves and it would never get as close to my mums version. Its been impossible to replicate and has made me more and more appreciative of her malawax.
This article was written in tribute to Hanna Yusuf, a journalist who died last month and was planning to take part in this story. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.