Hamdi Restaurant is a perfect example of Toronto's culinary multiculturalism. Specializing in Somali and East African cuisine, the restaurant chain serves as a much-loved East African food Mecca. It offers a little taste of home for those who are abroad and craving a taste of their mother's cooking, as well as a delicious departure from the everyday for the adventurous.
Hamdi has two locations in Toronto: the first is tucked away on a street corner in Cabbagetown, and the second its original flagship in Rexdale, surrounded by South Asian and East African clothing and grocery stores. We arrive on the last day of Ramadan, so the place is packed - and while this restaurant is regularly busy, we were in for a twenty-five minute wait. But trust me when I say it's well worth it.
We begin with mango juice, which for $1 is not only refreshing after our wait, but easy on the wallet. Connoisseurs of mango juices will appreciate Hamdi's, as it's rich and textured, rather than watery.
Starters include meat sans carbs, fish, and bread, all priced between $5 and $10. However, with Hamdi's generous portion sizes, you generally don't have enough room to stomach both an appetizer and an entrée.
My favorite thing about Hamdi is the Bisbas. A hot sauce made of green chili, garlic, lemon and spices, which is definitely not for the faint of heart, but full of some tantalizing flavors.
Hamdi is all about the meat and rice, and occasionally spaghetti--it's definitely suitable for carnivores. The entrées are all priced between $10 and $15, and the plates are huge. They arrive stacked with goat, beef, chicken, and fish, and paired with rice or spaghetti and some salad.
I order the goat stew for $12. Picture this: five huge chunks of goat meat on the bone, cooked to perfection, with steamed golden rice and veggies, and just enough salad to constitute a tad of healthy eating. Spiced and sizzling, the goat is tender, and when paired with bisbas, it creates a rich, layered combination of flavours.
My companions order a variation on the theme. Big chunks of chicken steak with rice, chicken stew with rice, and beef stew with spaghetti - which is a tasty and well-paired alternative to rice. You can also order chapatti with your meat, which is a soft round flatbread. As well, I have it on good authority that Somali food must be eaten with a banana. It adds sweetness to the spicy and tangy meal, and enriches the texture.
Hamdi doesn't overwhelm you with flashy décor, but rather puts its bang where it belongs: in the dishes. Hamdi's one downside is how difficult it is to get your server's attention--it almost necessitates a ten-foot high flame and smoke signal--but you can't get portions this huge for this price in very many places in Toronto, and the flavour is worth it.
Writing and photos by Rehaana Manek