Xawaash is a Somali restaurant in Rexdale. It's also a popular food blog, and one husband-and-wife team run both.
Abdullahi Kassim and Leila Adde started xawaash.com to teach others how to make Somali food. They also used it to preserve a piece of their culture. "We were doing it as a hobby and also to record some recipes," says Abdullahi. Their YouTube channel has more than 70,000 subscribers.
Their fans encouraged them to open up a bricks-and-mortar restaurant and so the two moved from Kitchener to Toronto in order to get started. In March 2015, they opened their doors and Abdullahi says they've been busy ever since. And it's easy to see why.
Xawaash features affordable lunch specials ($4.99 to $5.99) as well as platters piled high with meat, vegetables, rice or fries - like the shawarma platter ($10.49).
A stand-out menu item is the muufo platter ($13.99). Abdullahi tells me muufo is a traditional Somali bread. I eat it with savoury beef suqaar (beef sautéed with a myriad of vegetables), mbogga - a delicious medley of spinach, carrots, potatoes and tomatoes - and salad.
I also can't stop picking at the chicken kofta platter, largely because it comes with two skewers made up of spiced ground meat.
Also on the menu is a chicken kebab platter ($11.99) with an assortment of dips, including mutabbal (or babaganoush) with fragrant pomegranate syrup.
Beef samosas ($1 each) come on a plate with sweet fried bread called mahamri (two for $1) - Abdullahi recommends eating both together.
Thanks to its location on the east coast of Africa, Somali cuisine, Abdullahi explains, fuses flavours from a variety places, including from India and the Arabian Peninsula. Somalia's past as a former Italian colony is also evident in its food.
With Xawaash, Abdullahi says he and Leila wanted to recreate the restaurants and espresso bars they remembered from Mogadishu.
Fittingly, I end my meal with pasty cream-filled graffe ($1.49) and a rich caramel latte ($2.99).
"We don't have any secret recipes," Abdullahi says. "If any customers come and ask us, 'how do you make this?' We direct them to the food blog. But they still prefer to come and eat here."
Photos by Hector Vasquez.