Abderazzaq, a proud Somali man living in Melbourne, and his wife are behind The Somali Kitchen blog, where the richest parts of Somalia’s culture are shared throughout the world. The couple also wishes to pass on the culinary traditions to their children and grandchildren wherever they are so they know that the deep roots of the family are ingrained in Somali tradition.
Talking about the one thousand and one spices of Somalia, Abderazzaq converts himself into a storyteller, even a History Teacher pointing out that Somalia was colonised by three European countries. The three colonial administrations established the French Somaliland which became independent and renamed Djibouti in 1977; the Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland until Somalia became independent in 1960. Despite colonisation and the different waves of immigration, Abderazzaq is very clear about it, “essentially Somalis are one group of people“. He affirms that Somalis “look similar, we speak the same language (Somali), we share the same culture, we dress the same way with only slight regional differences. When we are here [Australia], it doesn’t matter where we come from, we are all Somalis. Boundaries are very artificial because they were created by colonialists”.
With the exception of North Africa, much of the continent is located far away from the rest of the world. But Somalia, in the very east of Africa, and with more than 3,000 kilometers of coastline on the Red Sea, faces the Arabic Peninsula opening it up to influences from Yemen and Oman. Abderazzaq’s family is from the coastal city of Bosaso on the very Horn of Africa. For him, Somalia resonates with a land of ancient rich history with cities like Mogadishu and Kismayo that were built before many European cities.
Abderazzaq was born in Kenya as his parents migrated there and grew up in Tanzania for a few years. However, he will always remember his vacations spent with his grandparents back in Somalia. From these occasions, he is today very proud of what his grandparents have taught him and he wishes to share this with the world and his grandchildren. One thing, among many, that makes Abderazzaq proud is the strong oral tradition where stories are passed on from father to son and mother to daughter. “We are known to be a nation of poets and poems are a form of communication to speak about social or political issues in the country”, he adds.
‘Buranbuur’ are poems written and sung by women accompanied with drums at special female gatherings or sung for encouraging men before going to war. Similarly, male poets write and sing poems called ‘gabay’ that share similar purpose as buranbuur. Abderazzaq explains that old messages sung through these poems tell the history of the Somalis and today’s messages have become subtle political poems. Today, it is still essential that a few poems reside in each Somali village.
Here is a video of Fatouma Ahmed, a poet from Djibouti, recites her poem “Afrika”. It’s about Africa’s colonial struggle, particularly that of Somalis. It gives a glimpse insight into Somalia’s past. “This poem has moved a lot of Somalis”, says Abderazzaq.
It is their pride in the Somali culture that Abderazzaq and his wife, Shukri, have opened their kitchen literally to the world. Their successful blog The Somali Kitchen would make anyone’s mouth water and it has been the written history of their country, family and childhood in Africa. Abderazzaq takes pride in the blend of cultures in Somalia and how these cultures have interacted very well. “Somali food is a fusion and can be very familiar to a lot of people because for centuries we had interaction with many peoples such as the Indians who brought spices, with Arabians and the Italians who brought their pasta which has become almost the Somali national dish”, says Abderazzaq.
He defines food as “a universal language”, the stories of his recipes allows him to share “a bit of Somalia with others”. Not only Somalis but many non-Somali people around the world have succumbed to their delicious dishes. And if you were not convinced by the attractive photos of these traditional dishes, the story behind them will definitely whet your appetite.
The culinary storyteller recounts that “fried coffee is fresh coffee beans grounded and fried, is intrinsic to our culture. It is made for spiritual gatherings as people recite prayers with a bit of fried coffee in the palm of their hand and chew it. This ritual leaves an oil that is spread on the faces of prayers as it is believed to make them stronger to face the day”. This custom is also practiced at ceremonies conducted by women where they use the oil to massage their hair and face. Coffee is not only of particular importance throughout Somalia but coffee brings involuntary memories of the 8-year old Abderazzaq who used to share a pot of ginger-flavoured black coffee with his father after their morning prayers.
Abderazzaq comes from nomadic ancestors and he shares a glimpse of his family history in the recipe of dried camel meat. The meat of the animal is cut, dried in the sun for 2 or 3 days until the dried piece of meat is thinly cut and then mixed and preserved with spices, ghee, raisins and stored for up to one year. He recalls, “this was made by my grandparents who grew up as nomads. Back then, the meat was sun dried on a tree and children threw stones to deter birds from eating it. At my time, the branches of the tree became the washing line to hang the meat. I had then the same job as my grandmother to look after the meat by throwing stones at the birds”.
Abderazzaq cherishes the diversity in Somali culture. As many cultural influences reached Somalia, Abderazzaq says that a part of him has become Australian but he asserts that he will always be African.
He and his wife arrived to Australia 14 years ago, “we didn’t know if we could get a job, we just had two suitcases and a bit of money”. They felt easily at home in Australia where they found similar British influences as in Kenya as well as the language, the climate and the vegetation. “Nairobi has a large European heritage and is a very modern city”, he describes.
Curious about Australia, they came as they were looking for a change, now we thank them for the delicious Somali influence they are bringing to us.