1785 Washtenaw Ave., Ypsilanti
Open Monday thru Saturday,
10am-10pm Sunday 11am-8pm
“Where is Somalia?” I asked my hairdresser as I sat down for a hair cut.
“Near the Philippines? India?” she suggested.
“Maybe Africa?” I guessed without confidence.
Later that night my family would learn much about Somalia as we dined at Samosa House, a Somali restaurant in Ypsilanti. Somalia is located on the horn of Africa, east of Ethiopia and Kenya. Its cuisine is redolent with spices and reflects East African, Middle Eastern and Indian influences. It was an Italian colony for decades, too, which inspires pasta dishes.
Samosa House, located on Washtenaw Ave. in Ypsilanti, opened in late 2011. Owned and operated by two sisters, Amina and Hawa Hassan, the restaurant is a two-woman show. One sister works the front of the restaurant while the other does the cooking. The interior is part diner, part living room. Less than 30 can sit at tables and booths pushed against the walls,
which are painted violet and are adorned with art, seashells and wooden bowls from Somalia.
There is no kids’ menu and I was curious what my children, ages five and nine, might like. There were items like samosas (fried turnovers with savory
fillings), curry entrées, Somali style spaghetti, and sandwiches such as the minato (ground beef, carrots, onions, parsley and egg wrapped in bread and baked). No pork is on the menu, reflecting Somalia’s roots as a Muslim country.
Amina Hassan suggested smoothies ($3.29) and samosas ($1.29) for the kids. The smoothies were huge, thick, and fruity. Our kids liked their presentation in big glasses as much as the flavor. The samosas were less popular. “I don’t like it because it’s got green stuff and carrots in it,” said my nine-year-old. They turned their attention to a non-Somali dish of fried cheese sticks.
Meanwhile, I sipped the most flavorful chai tea I’ve ever had ($1.29). I made my husband order his own so he’d stop sipping mine. Then, we started with beef and vegetable samosas plus spicy potatoes. The mixture of potatoes, onions, carrots, peas, garlic and spices in my vegetable samosa carried a hint of coconut. The spicy potatoes were like fried dumplings of curried mashed potatoes. They were delicious and interesting. A side of jalapeño sauce provided a sweet, yet hot, kick.
“This is awesome,” my husband stated through bites of beef samosa. “I could eat six of these.”
Because a large party had been in earlier, the restaurant was out of main dishes such as the Somali spaghetti and minato sandwich. I decided on lamb sukhar, a curry entrée, while my husband selected beef sukhar ($9-$12). These were offered with Somali rice or chipati, anjeero, or muufo breads. Hassan explained their differences, just as she explained them to every other customer that night.
I picked muufo. This tasty pancake-shaped chewy bread made from corn and rice flour was perfect for sopping up the cream-based curry. My 5-year-old enjoyed hunks of it, too. My husband tried the Somali rice, fried with cinnamon and other spices. The meats in our sukhars were tender; the onions, peppers and potatoes satisfying and scrumptious in the curry sauce.
A caveat to dining at Samosa House is the wait time. It was 20 minutes until our appetizers were served; 35 minutes for the entrées. Every meal is made-to-order by the Hassan sisters. Our kids were old enough to endure the wait, but still moved on to dessert, Somali cookies ($2.99), while we ate our curries. The small, flatbread cookies tasted of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Other dessert choices included coconut and peanut scones, baklava and brownies.
I learned a lot about Somalia and its cuisine that night. Specifically, I learned that fragrant, exotic Somali food is worth the wait at Samosa house.
THE SHORT COURSE
Kid-friendly More yes than no, but see below.
To avoid wait You may not have to wait for a table, but you will have to wait for your food, as it’s cooked to order. Parents of toddlers, consider yourselves warned!
Noise level Low to medium
Bathroom amenities No changing table in the restrooms.
High chairs No, just a booster seat.
Got milk No. Kids can choose from fruit smoothies or soda.
Kids’ menu No, but there are many interesting choices and the owners are helpful.
Anything healthy for kids Fruit smoothies and veggie dishes
Food allergy concerns They can identify ingredients in each dish; there are no peanuts except in some desserts, which are prepared in a separate area.
Katy M. Clark is a freelance writer from Saline.