Just saying the name of this restaurant will have you humming the song from The Lion King. I’ve had Timon and Pumba in my head for the past three days: “Hakuna Matata…aint no passing craze. It means no worries, for the rest of your days…” Now that winter is here, I’d like to have no more worries for the rest of the long cold days ahead.
I was a little worried when I walked into this Somalian restaurant on 118 Avenue at noon on a weekday. The room was quiet, cold and cavernous. We were the only people there for the entire lunch hour which surprised me especially after we tasted the food. Why aren’t Edmontonians partaking of this home-made East African food? What I heard from one person on Twitter was that everytime she walked by the restaurant, it was closed. That’s not good; Halima, one of the women who owns the restaurant told me they’re open from 10 a.m to 10 p.m. every day.
My take is that the owners are struggling to find their foothold in the dining scene. Halima, who acts as lone cook and server until later in the day said they tried offering a buffet when they first opened two months ago, but the demand wasn’t there. The decor is not a priority, the room is too big, and maybe the name is just a little too kitchy to entice Edmontonians in for a serious bite.
So, let’s get to the food because that’s really where this restaurant’s strengths are.
Halima brought us a bowl of soup as soon as we sat down. She is shy and softspoken so we didn’t understand that this was complimentary and only learned of the ingredients after we asked. Not sure if something got lost in translation, but the soup is a “bean soup” according to Halima although it has the consistency of pureed lentils and an onion garlic earthiness combined with citrus and pepper: delicious and much appreciated on a cold day.
The menu is odd. Everything from malawah (Somalian pancake and liver) for breakfast to beans for dessert. There’s even spaghetti–which I scoffed at until Steve “The Walking Encyclopedia” informed me that Somalia was an Italian protectorate from the mid 1880s to the mid 1940s and was actually called Italian Somaliland for a while. As a result, Somalian food has a smidgen of Italian influence.
The bajiya appetizer is 5 fritters made of ground beans (again I suspect lentils or chickpeas), mixed with peppers and served with a spicy dipping sauce. These could be addictive and would go well with beer although there is no alcohol served at this restaurant.
The samosas were also very tasty. Called “sambosas” here, they were typical of other cultures’ samosas: deep fried dough filled with a flavourful filling of ground beef and onion, and served with a hot pepper and mayonnaise dip.
We passed on the chicken steak and spaghetti with fish and ordered the Firdhis Sampler Combo, a platter of food good for 2 people to share, at a cost of $24. This was a great way to taste a variety of dishes including rice, chicken and beef suqaar (a stew of meat, peppers and onions), tender hunks of goat meat, salad and…spaghetti. Seems we were going to get that pasta whether we wanted it or not.
There are more interesting items on the menu like muufo (spiced corn bread), mandhasi (sweet bread) and that dessert made with beans just begs to be tried. If you’re looking for something unusual in your next dining experience, stop in at Hakuna Matata and visit Halima, but maybe call first (780-756-6884) just to make sure they’re open.
My CBC Edmonton AM restaurant review with Rick Harp can be heard here.