Boston, MA - When it comes to West and Northern African cuisine, Boston’s historically had its fair share of choices. Tangierino in Charlestown. Downtown’s long-standing Senegalese fixture Teranga. The numerous Ethiopian specialties (and more seem to be opening up every other month) from Malden to Dudley Square. But when East Boston’s Tawakal Halal Cafe closed in 2011, Boston was left with an unfulfilled void when it came to authentic Somalian food.
Outside of the Midwest, which is currently home to the largest Somali population in the U.S. (Minneapolis alone is estimated to have some 25,000 residents,) the nation’s cuisine is sorely underrepresented. Despite similarities to popular cooking styles, both East African as well as traditional Middle Eastern, Somalian food remains fairly undiscovered in America.
Locally, Tawakal’s reopening just might change that. “Growing up in Somalia, one of the only things we had was cooking,” owner and chef Yahya Noor told Eater in 2017. “Something I’ve always enjoyed therefore is good home cooking. I’m enjoying all of this great food at home, and I’ve always wanted to get my family’s food out there into the world.”
Noor—who immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 in the aftermath of the Somali Civil War—first opened Tawakal in 2010, garnering rave reviews from the likes of the Boston Phoenix (who referred to it as a “food-nerd nirvana”) as well as a small but devoted following. It closed a year later, as much a victim to Boston’s rising rents as its hard-to-find location.
Tawakal’s new location will be in the Jeffries Point neighborhood of East Boston. The space will offer both seasonal patio seating, as well as rotating exhibitions from local artists. Noor indicated he plans to open this Monday October 29th and offer service daily from 11:00 am - 11:00 pm, with a limited menu to start.
“We want to see how the community reacts initially,” he said. “Maybe we’ll shorten the hours on one of the days that is less busy, to retain some sanity for ourselves.”
Somalian food can best be described as a regional fusion cuisine, incorporating elements of Ethiopian, Mediterranean and Indian cuisine into its own native cooking style—yet still maintaining its own singular identity. Think biryani. Roti. Goat soup. Fish samosas. Injera. Lentils. All heavily laced with a familiar yet strangely unique blend of cumin, cardamom and other spices. And of course, the omnipresent aromatic tea.
“My reason to open the restaurant was to showcase what Somali food is all about and to be part of the community and bring people together with the goodness of food. East Boston is where I call home. It’s where I graduated high school. I’ve met so many great people here,” said Noor.
Tawakal Halal Cafe opened on Monday, October 29th at 389 Maverick St in East Boston. Hours are expected to be daily from 11:00 am - 11:00 pm. For more information, visit their Facebook page: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/TawakalHalalCafe/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"www.facebook.com/TawakalHalalCafe