By: Camillah Agak K.
Eating in Somaliland
Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991. Twenty-eight years later, the unrecognized country has been able to make fundamental strides to improve its food security.
Somaliland's economy is mostly dependent on livestock trade, local & diaspora resource wealth.
Although, in order to sustain a huge portion of the population, Somaliland largely depends on food imports. The imports come from neighboring countries including the UAE and Ethiopia.
Challenges experienced in attaining sustainable food security are among others: the aridity of the region and drastically harsh weather conditions.
According to Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization (UNPO), acute food insecurity spread across regions of Somaliland in 2017 as a result of severe droughts that hit the country in 2015. The affected regions include: Sool, Sanag, and parts of Adwal.
The Government has since worked to improve skills, training and agricultural techniques used by local farmers so as to enhance food security. This is done through strategic partnerships with multinational organizations and partner states.
Over the recent years, there has been an increased investment in agribusiness that saw the installation on hundreds of greenhouse facilities in Somaliland.
In addition to concerted government efforts, humanitarian agencies also assist in alleviating the situation through support via humanitarian aid and food aid.
The unrecognized country has made numerous efforts to establish an entrenched, distinct identity as an independent state in terms of governance, population and cultural integrity. It however remains undeniable that the cultural origins of Somaliland remain fundamentally intertwined with its recognized southern neighbour - Somalia.
The conviction on independent statehood is undeniable even as aspects of the Somaliland food culture and cuisine remain an integral reflection of the historical connection to Somalia. Like most capitals around the world, Hargeisa is the food culture and cuisine hub of Somaliland.
The other main urban centers are: Burao, Berbera, Boram, Erigavo and Los Anod. Although the standard of living is higher in the capital and the population can access better food items.
Hargeisa also boasts hosting, Chinese, Pakistani, Italian, Indian, Ethiopian and other African restaurants. Since Somaliland remains unrecognized, international food companies such as KFC, Subway or McDonalds do not exist within the country.
Notwithstanding, there are several fast food restaurants all over Hargeisa that offer a similar experience. In addition, other international brands, such as Coca-Cola, have a vast presence in Somaliland.
The company opened a $17 million bottling plant in 2012, as part of its bid to win more African consumers.
The local cuisine certainly grants a diverse experience of the exotic culture and heritage of the country.
In addition to interesting local foods, the war in Yemen has created a wave of Yemini refugees in Somaliland. Many have opted to open their own restaurants, offering tourists and authentic glimpse into Yemini cuisine, without having to go to the war-torn country.
Camel Milk in Somaliland
Recognized Somalia is home to half of the world’s over 14 million camels, a large portion of which are located in Somaliland. Hargeisa hosts the Camel market where buyers and sellers converge from all over the country to trade in live camels.
As a result, camel in one of the cheapest and most common sources of protein for local Somalilanders. According to food experts, camel milk on is reportedly up to three times more vitamin C and 10 times more iron, with significantly less lactose than cow’s milk.
Camel milk can be bought in the several tea shops in Somaliland and supermarkets in Hargeisa.
Camel milk products such as yoghurts, milkshakes, ice creams, milk powder, baby milk formula and even 'camelccino,' a camel milk cappuccino have grown in East Africa alongside the global demand and insatiable appetite for the milk.
Camel Meat in Somaliland
Camel meat is widely available in restaurants and road-side shops. Camel hump, neck, liver or kidneys, among other dishes can be served boiled or stewed. The meat texture may vary from one vendor to another depending on method of cooking.
Tender camel meat is considered the best. The dishes may be served with rice, laxoox, or pasta. Liver or kidneys may be lightly fried in oil but recommended not to be too rare/undercooked. Roast camel or 'hanid' is also a relished dish for both lunch and dinner.
Considered a Somaliland delicacy, when offered a camel meat dish, it would be deemed impolite to turn it down.
Tea shops are outdoor spots in major towns where locals and tourists alike sit and drink Somaliland tea: black tea infused with camel milk. Cloves, honey, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom among others may be added as preferred by customers.
These street-side tea shops provide the perfect opportunity for tourists to interact with locals.
Lahooh & Bread in Somaliland
Laxoox or Lahooh, is a pancake-like bread originating from Somaliland, Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen, which is usually infused with ghee or butter, lime and honey.
Traditionally baked on a circular metallic stove called a 'daawo,' laxoox is readily available in mobile tea shops in Hargeisa and Berbera. Laxoox is typically served as part of a breakfast meal, with tea, porridge or coffee and incorporating various beverages, curry, and vegetable dishes.
It is distinct from the Ethiopian 'injera' flatbread in that, it is less sour, smaller in size and only fermented overnight. Whereas injera is fermented for a couple of days, and contains teff flour.
For lunches and dinners, it’s used as an accompaniment for stews, soups, and sauces - typically enjoyed by pinching off a portion and dipping it in the sauce.
In Somaliland, like other countries in the region, unless cutlery is brought with the food, best to dig in with the bare hands (traditionally, the right hand).
Furthermore, beef liver, diced beef prepared in soup, camel meat and goat meat, generally accompany laxoox when boiled in butter. For children, parents generally mix the pancake with sesame oil until mushy.
In other areas with Somali populations, 'Canjeero' is the term mostly used, whereas the Northerners including Somalilanders call the bread laxoox.
Rice & Meat in Somaliland
'Iskukaris Kabsa' is a Somali rice dish popular for lunchtime. It incorporates camel or goat meat intricately prepared with rice.
Many kinds of meat are a predominant part of the Somalilander diet. These range from camel, goat, lamb (mutton) chicken and beef dishes that can be obtained cheaply around Hargeisa.
'Suqaar' is a traditional chicken dish of cubed chicken tossed with assorted vegetables. This dish is made with a common spice in Somaliland called 'Xawaash,' comprising mixed spices and can be used on its own or infused with other spices such as turmeric, paprika, black pepper or curry powder.
In addition, local authorities are looking for new sources of food for the growing population. As a result of food shortages because of persistent drought in Somaliland, the government has been looking to fundamentally increase fish & fish products to supplement the populations nutritional needs.
Currently in Somaliland, Berbera is the fishing hub and comprises of three main fishing companies: Red Sea, Xeeb Soor and Ximre.
Snacks & Streetfood in Somaliland
Snacks and street food in Somaliland include: sambusa, janeefa sweets, dates, halwa, chicken wrap and kebabs such as goat seekh kebab, chicken seekh kebab, Laxoox Kebab and Tangri kebab are.
Alcohol in Somaliland
Alcohol is strictly prohibited in Somaliland and will not find it served even in hotels. In addition, it is also illegal to bring alcohol into the country from abroad and tourists are told not to do so in advance.
The Somaliland Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture <Available at : www.somalilandchamber.com/som/?page_id=143>
Bob Koigi, East Africa’s Camel Milk Business Revolutionises Food and Health Industries,
Fair Planet, Nov 29, 2019 <Available at: https://www.fairplanet.org/story/east-africa’s-camel-milk-business-revolutionises-food-and-health-industries/ >
Focus on Africa, BBC World Service, Somaliland’s Profitable Camel Milk, Aug 22 2018, <Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06j4nx>
Mark Hay, How Do You Like Your Camel Meat? Roads & Kingdoms, Sept. 06, 2013 <Available at: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2013/09/somalilands-camel-market-could-camel-meat-be-this-unrecognized-nations-path-to-riches.html>
SomalilandBiz, Somaliland Beverages Industries (SBI), April 06, 2018 <Available at: www.somalilandbiz.com/success-stories/somaliland-beverages-industries-sbi/ >
Xawaash: Somali Food Blogwww.xawaash.com