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May 4, 2007 12:58 PM

Marwa Somali

Following an airport run today, I stopped in at Marwa Restaurant in Tukwila, 15035 Pacific Highway S. I had heard they serve Somali food, which I knew little about except that it is typically quite different from Eithopian or Eritrean, and this tip proved true. Most of the small menu read almost like that a small town diner in the american midwest, with fried steak, chicken cutlets, spaghetti. Apparently, the european colonials imbued the Somali diet with staples like pasta and meat cutlets.

Upon the counterman's rec, I selected "KK Chicken Suqaar", reasoning that the item with the most unfamiliar name would reveal most about the cuisine, and wandered around while waiting. Marwa's immediate surroundings fascinate a newcomer. Many of the shops populating a nearby strip advertised their halal status (including an inviting place selling "afghani shishkebab"), and the lot was flooded with cabs. Adjacent to the restaurant is a market where there convened many female patrons in dresses and head coverings ranging in color from all-black to beautiful, vibrant combinations of shawls and veils, called hijab. It seems the market serves as a social scene as well as a grocery. A counter inside was selling two sorts of pyramid-shaped fried sambuus, a Somali take on S. Asia's samosa, and the shelves were stocked with produce, beef and goat meat, huge sacks of basmatti rice, and middle eastern juices, like the rose and red orange drinks I copped.

I returned to Marwa to watch Al Jazeera on a large flat panel in the sporadic company of all-male cabbies until my order arrived: bits of chicken stir-fried with indian spices, carrots, peas, lima beans, broccoli, and mixed with pieces of chapati, very thin flatbread. It was served with an iceberg salad dressed with ranch, and a lemon wedge, which gave the earthy spices a welcome acidity. The intensity of the flavors was quite subtle compared with ethiopian or indian dishes, but was harmonious and well-prepared, if not capitivating. It was the overall experience, however, that reminds me how much I love exploring seattle and its environs for eats.

Any tips on other Somali spots? I read that as of 2001 there were an estimated 12-15,000 Somalis in the area, so I assume there must be other dining to be had. Comments from any Somali hounds are especially appreciated.

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  1. Thanks for the report - I'd love to see more people post on places like these.

    1. A little background: Gerard, our developer who has lived all over the world and speaks eight languages, currently lives in Montreal but was spending six weeks in the Factoria office. He’d been working about 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

      To give him a break, I invited him to Clay Jenkinson’s performance as Thomas Jefferson at the Tukwila Performing Arts Center (Foster High School) on Wednesday, October 10th. We’d already had some success using Chowhound recommendations – we had lunch at Top Gun three weeks ago and yes, he ordered in Chinese – so I searched on “Tukwila” and came up with Halal Marwa, a Somali restaurant.

      We met at the restaurant at 5:30 and Ahmed, one of the nicest waiters I’ve ever met, explained that they weren’t going to begin serving until dusk (7:00pm) because it was still Ramadan. That night, we ended up at El Rinconcito, another Chowhound recommendation and yes, Gerard ordered in Spanish.

      Tuesday, October 16th, we met again at Halal Marwa. The parking lot was pretty full but many people may have been at the Halal grocery store next to the restaurant. About half the restaurant was full. A different Ahmed was our waiter.

      Although I would consider Gerard a “foodie” by taste and by experience, I grew up about 15 blocks down the highway in a meat and potatoes family.

      The menu isn’t lengthy and is divided by breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are ten dinner entrees, ranging from $6.95 (quarter barbequed chicken) to $10.95 (T-bone steak). Only one item on the menu had an unfamiliar name – suqaar (su-CAR). Ahmed said suqaar is stew.

      I’d never had goat before so I ordered Roasted Goat Meat. Gerard ordered Steak Tenderloin (and no, he didn’t order in Arabic).

      We each had mango juice – about 14 ounces for a dollar – and Ahmed brought a small dish of green sauce for the table. Gerard tried a little and immediately went for the mango juice. Pretty hot, I’m thinking.

      Ahmed brought out salads on plates almost as large as regular dinner plates. Nothing exotic here: lettuce, tomato, onion and green pepper with a small pot of dressing.

      Dinner came on the largest plates I’ve ever seen; had Gerard and I placed our plates directly across from each other, they would have been wider than the table. And they were full of food. The roasted goat was cubed, very tender and very tasty. Gerard’s entrée was thin-sliced pieces of steak; he said it was not only very good, it was very healthy! Accompanying the entrees was the best rice I’ve ever tasted; it was actually sweet which sounds weird as I write it but it was delicious. Gerard identified the sweetness as cinnamon. I asked Ahmed what other ingredients were in the rice and he said it was a really long list and it takes almost an hour to cook.

      We watched Al Jazeera during dinner and, although he didn’t order in Arabic, Gerard was able to follow each news story and explain what was happening on screen.

      We ate incredible food and lots of it for about $22.00. Fortunately, Ahmed brought to-go boxes.

      I had roasted goat and rice for dinner the following evening (it tastes just as delicious warmed up in a microwave) and still had rice left over. Gerard went back to the office and finished his dinner as a midnight snack.

      There were lots of available parking spaces in the lot when we left around 6:45.

      It’s so much more interesting to eat at an independent restaurant instead of a chain.

      -- Suzanne