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September 24, 2013

Alice Eats: Global Burlington International Dinner Series

IMG_6270Community dinners don't have to mean fish fries or chicken pie suppers. At North End Studio's Global Burlington International Dinner Series, they could mean tah chin, momos or, in the case of last Sunday's dinner, nafaqo.

The monthly dinners are a joint venture between North End Studios, the Vermont Council on World Affairs and the Vermont International Festival. And for $15, I got my money's worth last Sunday.

Abukar Mohamed of the African Safari Store and Deli at 78 North Street brought a feast from the market's tiny kitchen to feed the appropriately international group of diners. I sat between guests from Holland, England and the Congo and talked to fellow attendees who work regularly in Norway and South America.

But Somali cuisine was new to nearly everyone.

IMG_6275Mohamed brought more than 10 dishes in two batches. First were a crisp salad and chicken- and cabbage-based sautées ideal for layering over fragrant basmati rice.

Sambusas had crisp-but-chewy jackets filled with a choice of chunky beef with onions and potatoes, mixed veggies, or both.

But the greatest treats came in the second flight.

A spongy flatbread called injera is key to tying together a Somali meal. At the store, Mohamed's mother makes both floppy Ethiopian-style and stretchy Somali injeras, but at North End Studios, there were only the Somali sourdough pancakes.

IMG_6273I used mine to wrap up tender curried goat stew and baked, curried chicken. The latter was served without sauce, simply surrounded by onions, and tasted vividly of spices that I associate with India.

Mohamed explained in his after-dinner talk that Somalia's proximity to Yemen and Saudi Arabia brought strong subcontinental influences to his homeland's food.

Flavors also found their way to Somalia through colonization. At African Safari, I've tried a dish Mohamed calls "busta," pasta with spicy meat sauce — a fusion between native flavors and Italian concepts.

But what of the nafaqo I mentioned earlier? It's the bright-orange dish above right. It likely owes a debt to both Indian pakoras and British Scotch eggs. The fritters are made of mashed potatoes mixed with large chunks of hard-boiled eggs, then fried. The color comes from a roll in liquid turmeric before each ball hits the oil.

In place of dessert, Mohamend brought thermoses of Somali-style chai. The spice tea has strong notes of cardamom and cloves, but who are we kidding? The reason people went up for second and third pours was its milky sweetness.

After the meal, Mohamed answered questions about his culture. Then it was time for a Somali dance party. Watch it below, then get ready for a taste of Scotland, complete with haggis and bagpipes, next month.

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