For this 50th “what’s to eat” post, something celebratory is in order, and I don’t mean roasted goat meat and camel soup, no. It’s a moment to appreciate the colorful, the saccharine, and the joyous. Enter: Mogadishu sweets.
On a recent trip to Somalia’s capital I was inundated by requests from Hargeisa for xalwad, a wickedly sweet confection made of (goat) ghee and sugar, with additional spices. (For more on this staple treat, check out this link).
The best of the best, or so they say, comes from Mogadishu, to the point that xalwad produced by the same business (shout out to Xaaji Ciise) in the north is considered inferior (even by northerners!) to what’s churned out in Mogadishu.
Truth be told, I’m not a fan of xalwad. The sweetness is overwhelming and the ghee flavor too strong. However! There are other sweets out of Mogadishu that I devour enthusiastically, an array of crunchy, colorful, cookie-ish treats that generous colleagues managed to haul to the office for me during a recent trip. And when I write haul, I mean it: in total I carried more than 10 kilos of sweets back to Hargeisa. I daresay no one takes sugar as seriously as Somalis, and after four years, it’s rubbing off.
So what’s in this collection? A range of warm flavors and texture for days. The most delightful, in my opinion, are the wildly colored “cookies” reminiscent of pasta shapes, whose form was likely inherited from Italians who began occupying southern Somalia in the late 19th century. I’ve been told that some of these are still produced today using hand-crank pasta machines, and then shaped by hand before frying. I see tortellini, farfalle, maybe a radiatore, and they go by equally fun names like shushumow and balbalow. I can’t put my finger on why, but these are truly addictive.
A few different sandy squares flavored with cardamom or coconut round out the assortment, known as caano baraawe and kashaato, made with powdered milk, and perfect for dunking into coffee or tea. They melt in your mouth, if you can wait that long.
And lastly, neat stacks of peanut and sesame brittles.
In Hargeisa, I diligently repackaged and called friends and family for pick-up and further distribution, along with the liter bottles of freshly-pressed Mogadishu sesame oil that does wonders for the skin. And yes, I kept a small mountain of cookies in a kitchen corner for myself, nibbling with tea in the afternoon, and sharing with visitors.
Wishing you a sweet summer, in all the ways you need.