Friday March 29, 2019
by Jasmine Mangalaseril Waterloo Region Record
Braised lamb with Bariis and salad (left) and Chicken Suqaar with Sabayaad and salad. - Jasmine Mangalaseril
Mild, earthy-spiced meats and flavourful rice makes it worth looking beyond shawarma and wraps.
Basbaas is a green condiment served alongside Somali dishes, a loose sauce packing sharp, citrusy heat. You dribble this blitz of lime, fresh chilies and aromatics on rice and braised, grilled, or sautéed meat. At Yurub Restaurant, this frothy, mossy green sauce pulls together the plate's musky flavours with brightness and bite.
Yurub (sounds like Europe) is about half a block from Kitchener City Hall. With an exposed brick wall and plank floors, its high-ceilinged room is done up in shades of coffee (from cappuccino to espresso) and punches of cherry red. On a quiet Tuesday evening, we grab a booth under the map of Italy. Apart from those who head to the shisha lounge in the back and a couple who check out the menu, we are the supper rush. This isn't my first go at writing about this spot. My previous visit featured a sequence of unfortunate events that made penning a review unfair. We reviewers aren't an entirely heartless lot.
What's on offer is a solid sampling of Somali cuisine. It's meaty, carb-y fare developed over millennia of trade with countries from Egypt to India (and beyond) and decades of British, French, and Italian colonialism. Beyond wraps and shawarma are fried chicken legs (digaag la shiilay), braised goat (bariisiyohilib) and sautéed meats (suqaar — pronounced soo-kar). Apart from pasta and fries, there's rice (bariis) and flatbreads made from corn (muufo) or wheat (sabaayad). A small salad squiggled with garlicky-yogurty dressing regularly appears. Traditionally you eat with your right hand, but cutlery is provided; for those in the know, sorry, banana isn't offered.
Zahuur Abdi and her husband, Shamsuddin Hussein, opened Yurub last October in the old San Francisco Panini location. Abdi, who owned a restaurant in Yemen before moving to Canada about a decade ago, wanted to return to the business. At her eponymous spot — "Yurub" is her nickname — she and her sister prepare and serve the scratch-made Somali foods they grew up with.
The family is as warm as your favourite auntie, but service is bumpy. Ordering can be potentially daunting for the uninitiated: until their revamped menu appears, diners navigate several lists, with minor price differences. Pacing is slow: we're offered complimentary Somali coffee and tea while we wait. Satisfying at first sip, they're hot, milky and spiced — the coffee with ginger, the tea with cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg.
All of our shareable plates arrive with our drinks, fresh-squeezed Lime Juice ($2, each). The Falafel ($7.99) and Vegetable Sambusas ($1.50, each) combine crisp and tender with each bite. Made from soaked-then-ground chickpeas (rather than canned) and mixed with the usual herbs and spices, the burnished falafel avoid the damp squodginess found elsewhere. Our sambusas (samosas) wrap a peppery and loose filling of potatoes, peas and carrots in crisp and blistered pastry.
With succulent fall-off-the-bone meat, the Braised Goat ($16.99) is well-seasoned and simply flavoured. The mound of fluffy, sunset-coloured rice's flavour is like a veggie-less and meatless biryani. Unsurprising, as it's cooked in lamb broth and xawaash (pronounced haw-awsh), a spice blend similar to mild curry powder.
Xawaash also flavours the Chicken Suqaar's ($15) mix of tender cubed meat, green bell peppers and potatoes. At first glance, the accompanying sabayaad looks like a square chapati, but there are paratha-like layers when torn.
The case displays Abdi's handmade pastries and desserts ($1 to $1.50 each; $5 for tiramisu). The baklava, with a coif of phyllo threads, is nutty with pistachios. Often called "Somali doughnuts," the kackac's dense-crumbed texture lies between cake and scone. The shushumow — curled, fried pastry dipped in simple syrup — is similar to Mangalorean kulkuls. All have a light sweetness that would pair well with our earlier coffee and tea.
Service issues aside, exploring Yurub's Somali cuisine reveals familiar flavours in sometimes unfamiliar dishes. With mild and earthy-spiced tender meats, flavourful rice, and divine hot drinks, it's worth looking beyond shawarma and wraps.
146 King St. W., Kitchener
Rating: 2 Forks
Fork rating: (One fork-fair; Two-good; Three-excellent; Four-outstanding)
Open daily, 10 a.m. to midnight
A small family-owned restaurant in a relaxed and modern space in downtown Kitchener. Comfortable shisha lounge in the back.
House-made Somali cuisine. Flavourful and mildly spiced foods include shawarma, falafel, and sambusa (samosa). Dinners feature tender meats or fried chicken, served with flatbread or rice; call ahead for anjero (similar to Ethiopian injera). Selection of traditional pastries and desserts. Takeout.
Not licensed. Selection of pops and juices. Fresh-made lime juice and lassi. Somali coffee and tea.
Warm and welcoming but, with only one or two people working both the kitchen and the dining room, service is slow.
$60.42 (including tax but not tip) for two drinks, two mains, three sides, selection of pastries; Somali coffee and tea: gratis.
In a nutshell
With influences from Egypt to India, as well as Britain, France, and Italy, Yurub offers a taste of traditional Somali cuisine. A warm and welcoming family-owned restaurant, service can be slow, but the meaty dishes and flavourful rice are worth the wait.
Assessing food, atmosphere, service and prices. Dining Out restaurant reviews are based on unannounced visits to the establishments. Restaurants do not pay for any portion of the reviewer's meal. Jasmine Mangalaseril can be reached on Twitter as @cardamomaddict.
Assessing food, atmosphere, service and prices. Dining Out restaurant reviews are based on unannounced visits to the establishments. Restaurants do not pay for any portion of the reviewer’s meal. Jasmine Mangalaseril can be reached on Twitter as @cardamomaddict.