Spice City Toronto: Somali Cuisine Smothers the Stereotypes
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Spice City Toronto: Somali Cuisine Smothers the Stereotypes

Toronto's Somali community has been having a difficult time in the press lately, but a Rexdale restaurant provides an eloquent rebuttal.

A meal of goat, rice, couscous and veggie soup at Dabagoye. Photo by Sarah Efron.

If your only information about Toronto’s Somali population comes from the news media, you could easily come to believe that the community is comprised entirely of drug-dealing, gun-toting thugs. A visit to Dabagoye, a Somali restaurant located a few streets over from the infamous Rexdale house where Rob Ford is believed to have posed in a photo with alleged gangsters, reveals another side to this 80,000-strong contingent of Torontonians. 

Dabagoye shares double-billing with an African church on this desolate industrial stretch of Martin Grove Road near the airport. You won’t find the restaurant mentioned on Yelp or Chowhound, but it’s well known to Somali-Canadians living in nearby or coming to the city from places like Brampton, Hamilton, and Kitchener.

My Somali-Canadian friend Maram heard about the restaurant through her relatives at a recent family wedding. The name Dabagoye comes from the nickname of the family that runs the place. It means “tail-cutter,” a reference to their northern Somali grandfather’s practice of cutting the tails of his camels as a way to brand them and avoid having them stolen. Maram explains that it’s common practice for a family to receive a nickname based on its head of household’s traits: for example, you might be called “Crazy Mohammed” or “Ali Big Ears,” thanks to your father’s standout features.

Somali food blends African cuisine with Italian-colonial influences; the results are fantastic. To start, a bowl of veggie soup that has a surprisingly intense flavour thanks to the goat-meat broth.

Enormous platters start coming to the table in quick succession. The goat chops are incredibly tender and fall off the bone with a soft nudge. Seasoned with garlic, lemon, and pepper, it’s certainly much better than the same dish served at some downtown Somali restaurants. A second plate comes with a mountain of dense couscous coated in a wonderful spinach and okra sauce.

Read the rest at Spice City Toronto.

Spice City Toronto explores Toronto’s great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and strip-mall joints serving food from all corners of the world.