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Sa’aadal Kheyr

Neighbourhood: Centennial
164 Isabel Street
Phone: (204) 415-5166
Entrees: $8-$10

Somali cuisine is relatively unknown to Winnipeggers. But thanks to recent immigration from this East African country, locals can now experience its rich, intricate flavours at Sa’aadal Kheyr—the city’s only Somali restaurant.

Keeping with the country’s predominately Muslim culture, all food is served halal (no pork or alcohol). Don’t expect the hearty, lentil-laden stews found in Ethiopia, Somalia’s neighbour to the west. Meat—specifically chicken, beef and fish—is the focus. Sheep, lamb and hard-to-find goat and camel are also commonly eaten in Somalia, but aren’t served at Sa’aadal Kheyr.

Chef/owner Roda Guled prepares all dishes from scratch and often pops out of the kitchen with a friendly smile to check on customers and answer questions. The short but sweet double-sided menu also mirrors the humble eatery’s simple décor. A vibrant sea-life mural and chartreuse walls line the 40-seat room, while embroidered linens covered with clear vinyl decorate tables. The dining room may be bare bones but fresh preparation and bold taste offer diners an incredible culinary experience.

Fragrant basmati rice punctuated with cloves, cardamom and a hint of cinnamon kick olfactory senses into high gear as diners enter. The spices reflect a strong Middle Eastern influence found in Somali cuisine. Spicy salmon fillet is grilled until tender and moist and served on a heaping bed of the golden aromatic rice. A sweet molasses and sour vinegar glaze is spiked with chiles, adding a fiery dose of heat to thrill spice seekers.

More spice is found in the bold green chile vinegar dip accompanying falafel balls. Four deep-fried nuggets, sold for only $1, are presented simply without any garnish so the food does all the talking. An extra crispy coating breaks open to reveal chickpea and onion filling gently spiced with coriander.

Garlicky hummus, peppers, tomatoes and juicy pieces of chicken are wrapped in sabayaa, a flaky yet fluffy house-made bread reminiscent of Indian chapati. Each bite of the saucy, monolithic wrap ignites taste buds with a familiar mix of Middle Eastern flavours that linger long after the last bite.

The Indian influence also appears in samosas, but with a Somali twist. Rather than curried chickpeas and potatoes, a thick bubbling crust encases bits of peppery ground beef, roughly chopped onion and smouldering green chile peppers.

Juicy ground beef is also rolled into balls and speared alongside grilled bell peppers on a kabob. A mound of puffy cous cous and iceberg lettuce salad with tomato wedges and a drizzle of lemon are uncomplicated sides that allow the brawny beef top billing.

Slices of beef tenderloin are stewed in creamy curry sauce perfumed with cumin and cardamom. The meat is served atop basmati rice, a staple in Somali diets.

To cool the palate and satiate your sweet tooth, order a thick, milky mango shake. Sa’aadal Kheyr is open Tue-Sun 11:30 am-8:30 pm.

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