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Somali Food: 11 Must-Try Traditional Dishes of Somalia

Somali Food: 11 Must-Try Traditional Dishes of Somalia

The country of Somalia is located on the most eastern corner of Africa. Its West and South sides are bordered by the countries of Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. It has the longest coastline in Africa. On its entire north coast is the Gulf of Aden and its entire east is bordered by the Indian ocean. Somalia has a population of 16 million people and the official languages are Arabic and Somali.

Most Popular Somali Dishes

Somali cuisine is a fusion of Indian, Italian, Arabic, Persian, British, French and East African cuisines. Due to its role in the spice trade, spices are a part of every Somali dish. Some of the more popular spices are cardamom, turmeric, cumin and black pepper.

Staple foods of Somalia include flatbread influenced by Indian and Arabic cuisines, pasta from its history of Italian colonization, rice, meat and bananas. Primary meats eaten are mutton, beef, lamb. Camel is mostly eaten amongst the nomadic groups and seafood is eaten mostly in the coastal regions.

Somalia is a Muslim nation so the consumption of pork is generally forbidden. The use of bananas in a Somali cuisine may be odd in Western culture but in Somalia, once the largest producer of bananas in Africa, a ripe banana is eaten with any meal. The banana is not eaten before or after the meal but simultaneously, no matter if the dish is rice, pasta or meat.

So without further ado, here are the absolute must-try traditional dishes of Somalia along with recipes to try for yourself.



Sambusas are a stuffed pastry which is deep fried. The dough for the pastry is made from wheat flour. It is rolled out into a large circle then cut down the middle into 4 pieces. Each piece is folded into a cone, and while sitting in the palm of the hand, filled. The top part of the cone is folded down giving the sambusa its signature triangle shape.

While sambusa can be filled with vegetables, the most popular type is filled with meat. Sambusa is similar to the Indian snack Samosa.

Bariis Ishkukaris

Bariis Ishkukaris
Photo Credit: labelleauberge

Bariis Ishkukaris is a dish of rice, meat and spices. The rice is very flavorful because it is cooked in a spice blend called xawaash which contains spices like nutmeg. The raw rice is cooked in a broth. Food coloring is added to the cooked rice to give it a bright orange color. Bariis Ishkukaris is a Somali staple and is often served with ripe bananas.

Suugo Suqaar

Suugo Suqaar is a spicy pasta dish. The spiciness comes from the use of the xawaash spice blend and not spicy peppers. The xaawash is added to the beef while it cooks. The beef is then added to the red tomato sauce. The spicy sauce is served over regular wheat pasta.

Suugo means sauce and suqaar refers to the small pieces of beef in this dish. This is just one of the many pasta dishes enjoyed regularly in Somalia.


Photo Credit: Hadiyo1997

Canjeero is a pancake like bread related to the even more popular Injera from Ethiopia, however Canjeero has a mild, less sour taste. This is due to the addition of yeast in the Canjeero batter.

Fermenting Injera introduces a naturally occurring yeast which gives the pancake its airy texture and strong flavor but because yeast is already added to the Canjeero batter, it does not need to be fermented for as long as injera. Canjeero is cooked in ghee and is typically eaten for breakfast.



Sabaayad is a flatbread which has a crispy outer layer and soft flaky inner layers. The bread is very thin since it has no raising agent like yeast making it more similar to an Indian flatbread than a Middle Eastern flatbread like pita or naan.


Nafaqo is a fried snack food. It’s the Somali version of a scotch egg. Spiced mashed potatoes are stuffed with boiled egg and rolled into a ball. The ball is deep fried until gold brown.


Cambuulo is a bean dish. Adzuki beans are cooked until tender then served mixed with oil and sugar or butter and sugar. Cambuulo can also be made with a combination of other beans like lentils, rice or corn. Cambuulo is eaten for supper.


Oodkac is a preserved meat somewhat similar to jerky. The meat is cut into small cubes and cooked in various stages in oil with onions and xawaash spice. The meat is cooked and spiced until it loses all it juices and the pieces are shrunken and dark. With all the moisture removed from the meat, it can be stored without refrigeration for several months.

Oodkac is popular amongst nomadic Somali groups and was traditionally made with camel meat because, due to the size of the animal, it cannot be eaten in one sitting or even over a few days so it was necessary to preserve the meat to eat at a later time and to make it easier to transport. Today, it’s made with beef. It’s also prepared for long trips and weddings.


Photo Credit: Alantheman12!

Malawah are Somali crepes. The batter is made with the usual crepe ingredients like flour, milk and eggs but it is flavored with cardamom. Some Malawah recipes contain sugar. Others omit the sugar but serve the crepe with honey. It is eaten for breakfast.

Somali Malawah is not the same as Yemeni Malawah which is a thick, unsweetened flatbread.

Kac Kac

Somali Food: 11 Must-Try Traditional Dishes of Somalia 1

Kac Kac is a fried pastry with a dough made from a mixture of milk, fat, sugar, flour and eggs. It is flavored with cardamom. The dough is rolled out then cut into square or diamond shapes then deep fried. The use of milk, eggs and fat means this pastry is quite soft.

Kac Kac is popular during Ramadan, the period of feasting that marks the end of Ramadan.

Camel Burgers

Camel burger

Camel burgers are, quite simply, burgers made from camel meat – most popular in countries where there is a large population of camels.

The meat from the hump is considered to be the most delicious but all of the meat is quite lean, rich in protein and contains less cholesterol than other red meats. The taste is comparable to beef with a slightly more sweet aftertaste.

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