by Tarik Abdullah
Savory, spicy, crunchy, oily (at times). These are the characteristics that I expect to get from a sambusa. A triangular shaped piece of dough that is prepared from east Africa to India to Turkey and others, each country with different ingredients but have the same goal fast and cheap. Now mind you I did not forget about the samosa but that will be for another day on Indian cuisine.
Fried or baked dough. Delicious. How can you go wrong with, a great filling, dipping sauce and a napkin if you really think you need one, and all in a matter of minutes!
So the question is, who really makes the best sambusa? No I’m not basing this on how great the service is or the ambience, this is about the cook. The middle-aged woman or man with years of folding these fried morsels to any and everyone. So let’s begin.
The Central District, all the way down to the Rainier Valley has had a very large east African community/presence for 30 plus years ,which brought great food, beautiful textiles, and some of the best coffee and tea to an ever growing and gentrified “Soufend”.
My favorites in this order:
On the corner of Graham and Rainier Avenue S., Mawaddas is a family owned spot with the occasional little one hanging in the kitchen. Known for great gyros, baklava and their signature garlicy sauce. I placed my order of three sambosas (that’s how its spelled on the menu) beef, chicken and a veggie. Damn they did not disappoint! Lightly crispy, not oily, and the flavor was on point! For $5 it’s a great deal and I recommend going here all the time.
Located on the corner or Rainier Avenue S. and Mead within a commercial building you can find Hilal coffee nestled between clothing store, grocery store, and a barber shop. It’s a small café with pictures of black artists, athletes adorning the walls. Conversations between older men consume the room, while some place orders of drink or snacks.
In the warmer I see what I came for and as a special the chef suggested I try the fish ones. I order two each (beef and fish). The beef was spiced perfectly with flavors of garlic and onions, while the dough was moist yet crispy on the corners which I like. The fish was moist with similar spice flavor and fried just fried right and not too oily. No sauce was needed and a great deal for $2!
On the corner of Rainier and Orcas there is a brightly colored café that is warm and welcomed by the always-smiling always-cooking Haimi with her “How are you my dear?” greeting, and of course I want the usual. Her sambusas are the biggest and filled with lentils and onions. Crispier skin with a subtle flavor of spice but if you ask for her hot sauce add a bit for that added kick! Also $2 each, so grab yourself a couple right when she opens around 11am.
To recap, Mawadda’s sambusas are the best because of their consistent flavor and crunchy texture.
Adu Café’s sambusas however they can sometimes come to you ice cold, and a little too dark. But when Adu’s cook is on, their sambusas go from good to great..
All three of the restaurants I mentioned offer vegetarian sambusas, with Cafe Adu serving the largest size out of anyone. In my opinion, size greatly impacts the temperature inside a sambusas, the larger, the cooler.
Chef Tarik Abdullah is a Hillman City resdient who appeared on ABC’s “The Taste,” a competitive cooking show on which he spent six episodes winning over Anthony Bourdain. He has earned a reputation as an artist and innovator, and his pop-up brunches in South Seattle have a cult-like following. He has been juxtaposing cooking and entertainment for as long as he can remember. Abdullah was also recently featured in Ebony Magazine.
Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to Ernesto Andrade/via Flickr