Somali cuisine reflects the people’s clever use of scarce resources. People usually begin the day with a flat bread called canjero or laxoo, liver, and either cereal or porridge made of millet or cornmeal. The midday meal is the largest and consists of rice or noodles (pasta became very popular under Italian rule) with sauce and perhaps meat. The evening meal is very light and might include beans, muffo (patties made of oats or corn) or a salad with more canjero. Somalis adore spiced tea, but sheep, goat and camel's milk are also popular.

Milk is a staple food for many rural Somalis, and men who travel with the camel herds may drink up to nine litres a day. Stored in either a covered pitcher called a haan or a wooden bucket, fresh milk will keep for days despite the hot climate. By shaking milk, Somalis make butter; cooked butter becomes ghee, which will keep for several months when stored in a leather container called a tabut or kuchey. Camel milk fermented for a month becomes jinow, a solid, yoghurt-like substance.

People on farms in the south eat a more varied diet that includes corn, millet, sorghum, beans, and some fruit and vegetables. Millet is made into porridge or mixed with milk to form cakes. Beans are usually served with butter or mixed with corn, while sorghum, a type of grain, is ground to make flour and bread. People also frequently eat rice, which is imported.

Favourite meats are goat, camel, sheep or lamb, and to a lesser extent, beef. Muslims are forbidden to eat pork or pork products. Only young male animals or females too old to produce offspring are used for food. Camel meat also includes the fat contained in the camel’s gol (hump). A camel whose gol has grown very large (sometimes as high as one metre) may be slaughtered for this food.

  Somali Crabmeat Stew

480 ml white rice
960 ml water
60 ml peanut oil or butter
240 ml onions, finely chopped
1 tsp curry power
1 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp tomatoes cut in small wedges
908 g crab meat or other seafood such as scallops
optional: empty scallop shells for serving


In a saucepan, wash and rinse the rice. Add the water, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil or butter in a deep, heavy saucepan. Add the onions, curry, ginger, salt and red pepper flakes, and sauté until the onions are lightly browned. Add the tomatoes and simmer until soft. Add the crabmeat or other seafood and sauté for 10 minutes. Serve over the rice in scooped-out scallop shells or alone.

  Did you know?
Some nomads drink a fermented beverage called chino, which is made by burying camel’s milk in a leather flask for a week.