Food and Economy

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Milk from camels, goats, and cows is a major food for Somali herdsmen and nomadic families. Young men tending camel herds during the rainy season may drink up to ten quarts of milk a day. Aging camels may be slaughtered for their meat, especially when guests are expected for a celebration, and the fatty camel’s hump is considered a delicacy. Meat, including liver, from sheep and goats also is popular, but meat is served only a few times a month, usually on special occasions. Durra (a grain sorghum), honey, dates, rice, and tea are other food staples for nomads. Farmers in southern Somalia grow corn, beans, sorghum, millet, squash, and a few other vegetables and fruits. Boiled millet and rice are staples, but rice must be imported. The most popular bread ismuufo,a flat bread made from ground corn flour. Somalis season their food with butter and ghee, the clear liquid skimmed from melted butter. They also sweeten their food with sugar, sorghum, or honey. A holdover from Italian occupation in the south is a love for pasta and marinara sauce. Although fish is plentiful in the waters off the Somali coast, Somalis generally do not like fish. In accordance with the Muslim faith, they do not eat pork or drink alcohol. Milk, tea, coffee, and water are favorite drinks. Carbonated drinks are available in cities.

Among nomads and farmers, cooking is usually done over a wood or charcoal fire outdoors or in a communal cooking hut, because homes are large enough only for sleeping. Grain is ground by hand, using primitive tools.

Restaurants are popular in cities, but women seldom dined out with men until the late 1990s. Arab cuisine is popular fare in many restaurants, Italian at others. Especially in Mogadishu, international restaurants serve Chinese, European, and sometimes American foods.

At home it is customary for women to serve the men first, and then eat with their children after the men have finished. Rural Somalis eat by scooping food from a bowl with the first three fingers of their right hand or with a spoon (as in many other Muslim and African cultures, the left hand is considered unclean because it is used for washing the body). A rolled banana leaf also may be used for scooping. Urban Somalis may use silverware when they dine, but many still enjoy eating with their fingers.

 

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