Where chef Bashir Munye eats Somali food in the burbs
We're going on the road with some of the city's top chefs to explore their favourite suburban restaurants. Bashir Munye, chef and owner of My Little Dumplings in Leslieville, tells us what's good in Rexdale
Born in Mogadishu, Bashir Munye spent his youth in Italy before moving to Canada in 1994 and enrolling in George Brown’s Culinary Management program. When he isn’t making dumplings, he goes in search of Somali restaurants and stores. “There isn’t great Somali food downtown,” says Munye. “Toronto is home to a large Somali population, but they all live out near the airport in Rexdale.” He took us to some of his top spots.
Seif Halal Food Market
2371 Weston Rd., 416-244-8248, no website
Munye frequents this supermarket for a variety of things—samosas and injera, for starters. The store has a halal butcher counter, and also carries a mix of imported products, like Somali coffee, and hard-to-find cookware.
Go-to item #1: Oodkac.
Tasting notes: These cubes of beef preserved in butter and oil are a snack food traditionally eaten during long journeys. Think of it as Somali beef jerky.
Go-to item #2: Injera.
Tasting notes: This spongy bread is made by a local woman who delivers her product to the store almost daily.
Go-to item #3: Samosa wrappers.
Tasting notes: “Somali food has been heavily influenced by Indian and Italian cuisine over the years,” Munye says. The fridges at Seif are filled with samosa wrappers, frozen pastas and curry kits.
Go-to item #4: Banadir One coffee.
Tasting notes: This imported coffee is Munye’s favourite brand because it’s very aromatic.
235 Dixon Rd. Unit #13, 416-247-5624, istarrestaurant.com
This is Munye’s favourite place for a sit-down traditional Somali meal. (It’s also a 24-hour operation.)
Go-to item #1: Goat with rice.
Tasting notes: Braised bone-in goat meat (mixed with banana for sweetness) is cooked in a variety of spices and served with a mound of rice and coleslaw. “It’s normally eaten with your hands,” Munye says. “First, you pick apart the meat, then scoop it up with a dollop of rice.”
Go-to item #2: Bur shub shub.
Tasting notes: The goat dish is usually accompanied by an assortment of fritters including these sweet little beignets.
2130 Queen’s Plate Dr. Unit #1, 416-747-7222, xawaash.com
This family-owned Middle-Eastern restaurant serves up a number of Somali dishes, some with modern twists. “This is where you come for dinner with a large group,” Munye says.
Go-to item #1: Chicken shawarma plate with rice and salad.
Tasting notes: “The shawarma is the most popular item here,” Munye says. The restaurant also makes a poutine version of the dish.
Go-to item #2: Muufo platter.
Tasting notes: Muufo barawe is a traditional bread from Brava, Somalia made from dehydrated corn kernels and cooked in a clay oven. Xawaash serves theirs with suqaar (stewed beef and onions) and mbogga (a stew of carrots, spinach, potatoes and tomatoes).
Go-to item #3: Graffe.
Tasting notes: Munye’s favourite dessert are these fried doughnuts coated in sugar and stuffed with a custard cream. Xawaash makes Nutella-filled ones, too.
Go-to item #4: Somali spiced tea.
Tasting notes: This milky tea spiced with cardamom, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon tastes similar to Indian chai. Munye says it’s the perfect accompaniment for the graffe.
383 Albion Rd., 416-746-4089, no website
Al-Aruba is known for its grand Ramadan celebrations and its house-made dessert xalwa, a sweet made by cooking down ghee (clarified butter) and oil with cornstarch, sugar and a myriad of spices (cardamom, nutmeg, saffron and some secret ones). “We Somalis love our xalwa,” Munye says.
Go-to item #1: Xalwa.
Tasting notes: Al-Aruba makes 40 kilograms of xalwa every single day. The decadent treat is akin to a much sweeter and denser Jell-O. Munye likes his with Somali tea.