Addition to East Boston: Tawakal Halal Cuisine
Tawakal Halal Cuisine, featuring East African and Mediterranean food opened a few weeks ago in the Orient Heights section of East Boston, 1004 Bennington Street (catercorner from where Zafferano used to be). It is above Victory Pub, the former location of Italian-themed Top of the Pub. Open 7 days/11a.m. – 10p.m.
They have a somewhat small menu right now. Appetizer choices include meat, vegetable or fish sambusa, kabab, nafakha, bajiya & basbaas, and a mixed platter. Lunch/dinner choices are vegetable, chicken, goat, fish or beef biryani, a couple of pastas (?), some wraps, a couple of soups and side orders, and bread choices are chapati, muufa and anjera.
1004 Bennington St, Boston, MA 02128
i really like the chapati wrap
the options are usually beef, chicken, fish, or veggies but sometimes they have lamb as a special. that one is my favorite. tender shredded lamb, curried potatoes, red onions, green peppers, red peppers, and greens wrapped in what is probably the most delicious and flavorful chapati (sabaayad) i have ever had. light, fluffy, slightly crisp around the edges, and tastes faintly of cumin
it's served with two homemade sauces. one is a spicy sauce made with three kinds of peppers and the other is a garlic sauce made with pureed garlic, olive oil, and a little fresh lemon juice. they're really good and provide an additional level of flavor when added to the wrap. the owner said that his mother makes another spicy sauce flavored with mango but i haven't tried it yet
I've been to Tawakal Halal Cuisine a few times, and just went again last night. What a find!
Not everything is perfect, but I would say that three items on the menu are "bests of Boston":
(1) Beef Sambusa. This has been my favorite every time --- just terrifically spiced ground beef encased in a delicate, light and flavorful puff pastry. I don't know whether to compare these to samosas, beef patties, puff pastries, or what, but they are my favorite expression of this general genre. They are also available filled with chicken, fish or vegetables.
(2) Avocado shake. Oddly no longer on the menu, but happily made for us just last night, this is the best avocado shake I've ever had. There's definitely more than avocado in there --- certainly milk, and I think some kind of melon (honey dew?) and perhaps banana, and some spices? But wow. More like a dessert, but fine to have with the meal. While we often think of avocado as a savory vegetable, I've found it used more like fruit for dessert or smoothies both in Somali food but also in Vietnamese cuisine, for instance.
(3) Grits. I'm no expert on grits, but the Soor (maize flour grits) here are the best grits my very Northern self has ever tried. They are topped with spinach and several with a protein on another plate.
We also had the bajiya --- black eyed pea fritters that were nothing special, but served with a terrific coconut sauce that reminds me of a sambal, and also "The Federation", which we had with goat topping rice and spaghetti. The rice was a little dry, and the spaghetti was totally ordinary (which I gather is indeed quite authentic), but the goat was flavorful if a little stringy. (As an aside, Rincón Limeño does a terrific stewed goat that's equally humble and inexpensive, but brings out more flavor with a still goaty but more pleasing texture). The chicken that came with the grits was excellent, with wonderful caramelized onions and a nice mixture of spices. Save the sauce that comes with the sambusa, as it can provide a nice kick for the entrees. Chipati bread was excellent ---- thin, flavorful but yet flexible. The muffa bread is hard to describe, as I also haven't had anything quite like it. It almost reminds me of a Chinese mantou, and it great for sopping up juices. I wish there were more juices to sop up!
There's also a dessert sambusa which is tasty, if a little heavy after a full meal. I might prefer to go around the corner to the International Food Market and have a couple dates stuffed with almonds or some other Middle Eastern sweet as a dessert.
So Tawakal Halal Cuisine isn't perfect, but it's extremely inexpensive, and the sambusas and the avocado shake alone make it easily worth the trip. I really hope they get some more business too --- I've never seen anyone else eating there the few times I've been. Also, cash only, but you won't have to bring too much cash!
International Food Market
984 Saratoga St, East Boston, MA 02128
Tawakal Halal Cuisine
1004 Bennington St, Boston, MA 02128
One takeaway meal that I thought was very good, and with some adjustments could have been outstanding. The meat sambusa were great, the fish less so due to over-seasoning. Both the chicken and beef biryani were very good and had a nice flavor profile, though the meat of both were overcooked, and both had a superfluous small side of mixed vegetables that was likely from a bag, topped with raisins. Chapati bread was super-thin, greasy and too chewy (for my taste), but the muufa was unique; described as “spongy bread made from corn flour,” I haven’t had anything quite like it.
At $1.50 per sambusa, ~$10 for the biryani and $1.50-$2 for breads, the prices certainly can’t be beat.
This is the kind of endeavor I would like to see succeed, so we will try and frequent them. It is a tough location, though, and I’m not sure the menu will have wide enough appeal. I thought the same thing about Café Orient Heights next door, though, and they have survived for years now.