Arawelo Eats by Fozia Ismail will be hosted at Chef’s Table star Asma Khan’s Darjeeling Express
Celebrated Somali supper club Arawelo Eats will make its London debut on 7 October at Asma Khan’s Soho restaurant, Darjeeling Express.
Fozia Ismail will bring her expression of Somali cooking and identity to London not just as a three-course menu, but as a conduit to asking questions of food’s intersections with identity and belonging. In Ismail’s words: “a platform for exploring East African food in exciting ways; not just what’s being served on the plates at my supper club but what it means for our understanding of belonging in a post-Brexit world.”
Those dishes, on this occasion, will include sambusas — the Somali iteration of the samosa, a reflection of 16th century trading routes between India and east Africa as much as thousands of years of Middle Eastern influence on the country. Ismail’s mother, Jinow, is the architect of the lamb and coriander version. They will be followed by maraq hilib ari, a slow cooked lamb stew, or shigni ooberjiinka, aubergine prepared with yoghurt, tahini, and tamarind — shigni a traditional spiced tamarind Somali chutney.
The entire meal will be accompanied by bisbas, a ubiquitous condiment made from green chilli, coriander, spices, lime, and more yoghurt; desserts include basbousa and xalwa — cardamom and orange blossom semolina cake; and a traditional saffron spiced gelatinous sweet, its name resonating with Middle Eastern influence again (halwa.)
Ismail set up Arawelo Eats in Bristol after moving there in 2014, as a response to the politics stifling her expression of Somali identity: Brexit, Bristol’s segregated demographics, and sexism within her own community. The result — guided by “making my mum’s food as way of solace and as way of connecting up to my Somali culture that was mine as much as anyone else’s,” was not designed to be just a supper club. Ismail “didn’t want to just cook food for people in a straight forward commercial way,” but instead “explore why we look at food and consumption of world foods in a particular way.” She also wants to avoid the trope-laden responses common to African cuisines and cultures in the western world:
“I didn’t want to just pander to this idea that white people can just gaze and expect some kind of authentic African performance at the supper club,” she said. “I didn’t also want to justify my humanity through the food.”
Ismail recently wrote, and gave a paper at The Oxford Food Symposium, entitled: “A Way of Seeing Which We Learn: Food as Resistance,” which was picked up by the BBC for The Food Programme. The paper will be published later this year; listen to the podcast here.
The supper club is named for Arawelo, a semi mythical Somali queen. In Ismail’s own words:
Arawelo was a semi mythical Somali Queen who fought for female liberation and defied gender roles. After becoming destitute following the death of her husband, Arawelo formed an army of misfit women.
They lived in the wilderness in independence until their matriarchal community was threatened by male bandits. She led a series of successful raids and eventually brought peace by becoming the first queen to rule Somalia over 2000 years ago.
This is one version of the tale, there are many others.
May all misfit women continue to forge their own paths.