You can only find it after sunset prayer, salat maghreb, at nighttime, they told me. And you must eat from the best places, no mediocre substitutes. Aha. Elsewhere in the world, where nearly any food is available at any hour, a uniquely-timed dish is a bit hard to swallow (pun fully intended).
But so it goes: Somali fadiirad, a hastily- and expertly-assembled street food, is prepared under the cover of night in the hustle-bustle of downtown Hargeisa, next to shawarma stalls and ersatz pizzerias. The first time I ate it, a couple of years ago, a friend simply ordered and handed it to me to shovel in my mouth in the car; we were running late and I was very hungry. I loved it, asked a lot of questions about it that weren’t satisfactorily answered, and promptly forgot about it. A few weeks ago, riding in a taxi through town, sounding out the names of shops and words on signs and billboards to practice my language skills, I spoke it slowly: fa-diiiiiiir-ad. What’s that? I asked Faysal, friend and driver.* As he explained the dish, my memory slowly returned – I’d eaten it before! And must have it again!
It took some time to find time to make time for fadiirad. But it was, as expected, worth it. Apologies in advance for lousy mobile phone photography at night; an aesthetic sacrifice for a good cause. No apologies on behalf of the super-grumpy cook who insisted no one had ever taken a photo of him in his life, and wouldn’t believe I only wanted photos of the food, and not him. And gratitude to his more amiable co-worker and boss who seemed to get what I was going for. We arrived just at prayer time, and were in line for the very first fadiirad of the evening.
In my estimation, fadiirad (fa-DEE-rad) is, ethnocentrically speaking, the local equivalent of a Tex-Mex burrito bowl, eaten from an aluminum take-away box on the street. The base of it, literally and figuratively, is a grilled bread called sabaayad, according to The Googles it’s similar to India’s paratha – a flat, flaky, oily, simple combination of flour, water, salt. Beneath the prep station, a gigantic washing basin full to the brim with balls of raw dough was covered in plastic wrap.
Once the griddle was hot and humming, the cooks pulled out a few balls of dough and threw them on the counter top and began tossing and stretching them one by one to create very thin, very large, square-ish sheets. They sprinkled the dough with salt, and folded it in half once to create a long rectangle. On one side of the rectangle, they dropped a few spoonfuls of raw egg mixed with sliced purple onion, and then folded the dough in half again, enclosing the egg mixture. Then with a spatula, they lifted the rectangles of dough and placed them on the oiled griddle.
Once well-browned on one side, the rectangles were flipped to the other, and browned again. I would’ve eaten them just like that, maybe with a cilantro dipping sauce, but the cooks were only getting started. Mr. Grumpy Cooks then threw—and I really mean threw, with true
annoyance vigor—the cooked sabaayad across the stall to a corner of the counter. His coworker picked things up from there, placing the grilled bread on a cutting board and having at it with a knife, chopping it wildly into super-small bits so that the cooked egg, onion, and bread fell into a uniform mixture. This went into the aluminum dish, Layer 1.
Then, atop the sabaayad: diced tomatoes, diced white onion, sliced chili peppers, all raw.
On top of that: a generous helping of well-browned, ground goat meat kept in a dish at room temperature on the counter.
On top of that: the finest ketchup and mayonnaise from traditional squeeze bottles.
Around 15,000 Somaliland shillings, or $1.50 later, I took the dish to go. Twenty minutes covered for the ride home did no harm—fadiirad is a jumble of chewy, oily, meaty flavors the don’t suffer from mingling. If I somehow managed this at home, I might add shredded cabbage or lettuce, maybe sliced avocado. To Faysal’s great dismay, the cooks had forgotten to include the crowning and oh-so-Somali element: sliced banana. I promised him I would add it at home. This may have been a white lie.
Courtesy of Somaliland Restaurant, downtown Hargeisa in the middle of everything, next to the Canadian Dentist and across from the bus depot.
*Driver, and generous Somali language teacher; reading aloud, and trying to make sense of, articles from the Geeska Africa (Horn of Africa) newspaper while sitting in traffic with Faysal has become a preferred pastime.