While Orange County has always hosted an embarrassingly small African-American community, actual Africans are beginning to arrive on our shores in waves. Most of them find comfort in Anaheim: You can dine on Ethiopian at Tana, eat Kenyan at Kenya Café, even snack on Eritrean treats at Merhaba.
But the most fascinating restaurant of the bunch is the month-old Gendershe Cuisine in Anaheim, the county's first Somali restaurant. If it looks like a banquet hall—fake roses in vases, bright-red mantles, napkins folded like fans and carefully placed inside glass cups—it's because owner Habiba Abdi has a catering business of the same name, and old habits die hard. It's not the easiest place to navigate—orders usually come out wrong, not all the menu is explained—but the food! I haven't been so satisfied with a meal since Thanksgiving's third helping.
Abdi's suqaars—sautéed chicken or beef on beds of cardamom-spiked rice—are the type of food that makes you eat so much you're likely to stretch something inside that shouldn't be stretched. The sambusas are really samosas, but bigger, flakier and accompanied by a fragrant green-pepper chutney that scalds. Baked in-house is the bur, Somali fry bread as sweet as pan dulce and as savory as a French roll—tear it open to stuff with whatever's in front of you, or use it for sopping. Most of the tables seem to feature one heap of spaghetti (a relic of Italy's conquest of the Horn of Africa), but better is the hilib ari, bone-in goat stew, gamy and glorious and as savory as birria.
Abdi even masters the sweets—her lassis contain almond milk, almond slivers and chunks of mango, while the halwo, silky and strong with nutmeg, is made weekly but usually sells out within days. And then there's the fried mashmash, the nutty chapatti, a crispy dish that looked like a latke but tasted like a green-onion omelet. The riches of Gendershe are many, its charms plentiful, its dishes divine.
This column appeared in print as "Bur, Baby, Bur."