Finding acceptance and successfully integrating are not easy tasks for immigrants to Colorado, who can face ignorance, fear and hostility. But food can be a bridge to understanding and sharing culture, and often leads the way to acceptance of people whose customs are different from those of the majority. Immigrants from Somalia, many of them refugees from a war-torn land, have found their way to Colorado in large enough numbers that a couple of restaurants have opened to serve the community.
I visited Kin Restaurant at Parker Road and East Mississippi Avenue last spring and found the employees there eager to share information about the food (a meal is incomplete without a banana, for example). A little farther east in Aurora, Maandeeq East African Restaurant serves a menu very similar to that of Kin in what was previously a Chinese restaurant (the dragon-themed ceiling tiles are a giveaway). In the wake of Trump's immigration edict, I stopped by Mandeeq to see how the place was faring.
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At lunchtime, Maandeeq sees a steady influx of mostly Somali customers coming in for stews, rice plates, chai-style tea and other foods typical of Somalia and the Muslim regions of bordering countries (including Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya). The lone waiter tells me the goat is very popular, so that's what I order, along with rice, a cup of soup and some tea, which comes creamy and frothed like a cappuccino. Sounds of Nuggets basketball highlights can be heard from a television on the opposite side of the dining room.
The waiter explains that business has been down since Trump was elected and that times could be tough for the restaurant in the coming year. But the deeply spiced goat, stained yellow from a lime-heavy marinade, could easily override any lingering doubts that potential customers may have, if only the aroma could be wafted over enough of Aurora. The long-grain rice, sporting a scoop of curried potatoes on top, shares a kinship with Indian biryani, so is a good stepping stone into Somali cuisine. And if goat is a little intimidating for some (Maandeeq's is as mild as goat comes, however), there's also lamb, beef and chicken in similar preparations — or a safe shawarma sandwich robed in chapati-style bread.
Maandeeq, which has called South Havana Street home for more than eight years, is not a polished operation intended to draw food tourists; it's mostly there for Somalis in need of a taste of home. The community has been steadily growing, but that could change as the result of recent federal directives. And even without being subjected to fear-mongering with little basis in fact, Muslim immigrants are often not given a chance. In Fort Morgan, Somali newcomers who have moved to the small town because of job availability have had difficulty establishing a permanent mosque and even now face public accusations that they are unwelcome "infiltrators."
Maandeeq and other restaurants serving the city's immigrant population add richness and knowledge to our culinary landscape. We can petition our elected officials to fight what's happening in Washington, D.C., but we can also show compassion and acceptance by learning about the food of other cultures — and get a pretty good meal in the process.