What to Eat and Drink in Somalia

One of the preferred sources of food is the camel, both for calcium (its milk) and for protein (its meat). Though milk from other animals such as goat and cow is drunk, camel milk, Somalis believe, is the most nutritious of all. Southern Somalia has a large agricultural and international trading component to its economy, thus, in southern Somalia diets are richer in green vegetables, corn, and beans. Southern Somalis, especially those in the cities are more familiar with Western foods such as pasta and canned goods. Northern Somalia’s nomadic lifestyle fosters a diet that is heavier in milk and meat. Diets there also have a large component of rice, which is obtained through trade.

Since many Somalis are nomads, back home they often ate a popular type of jerky called otka – preferably camel meat that is dried and then fried in butter and spices. Its preparation allowed the meat to be preserved for a long time, which made it ideal to take on long trips.

The overriding characteristic of the Somali diet is that it consists of halal foods (Arabic for allowable as opposed to haram: prohibited). Somalis are Sunni Muslims and under Islamic Law (or Shar’1ah), they are prohibited from eating pork, drinking alcohol, or smoking cigarettes (Although in practice, there is unlikely a serious aversion to tobacco smoking in Somalia).

Other common foods include a type of homemade bread called anjara (it looks like a large, spongy pancake); black tea sweetened with milk and sugar; and sambusas, which are deep-fried triangular-shaped dumplings usually filled with meat or vegetables.

Black and brown teas (largely imported from China) and a coffee drink that is made from the covering of the coffee beans rather than from the beans themselves.

Somalia is a Muslim country, so there is no alcohol available. If you do find some, don’t show it or drink it in public! Some local people may show anger towards you and you can be sure it’s not good.

Some Somalians give their children chai (tea) and juice.

Chai is usually spiced with cardamon, ginger, cinnamon, and clove. They drink 6 to 8 cups of this daily instead of water.