There’s something about pasta’s bipartite composition of noodles and sauce that takes well to modifications and possibilities. There’s also what writer Hannah Giorgis called a “culinary rebellion” when she wrote about lasagna’s ubiquitous presence among a sea of indigenous fare at Eritrean and Ethiopian gatherings. As Giorgis described it, lasagna in East Africa is a richly spiced, conservatively cheesed version—all revisions that honor the local appetites. It’d be unfair to say all of these choices are political by intention.
At San Jose’s Jubba, the Bay Area’s only brick-and-mortar Somali restaurant, you’ll find a menu reflecting the country’s various influences that drifted in via its ports and trading partners. Blending flavors from South Asia, the Middle East and neighboring African nations, Italy’s coercive history in the region lives in the baasto suugo suqaar on the menu. Jubba’s version features tomato paste, tomato sauce, bell peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro and xawaash, a blend of aromatic spices including cinnamon, cumin and cardamom, among others. “It’s a really robust pasta,” said Jubba cook Antonio Gomez, who worked at an Italian restaurant kitchen before joining the kitchen at the South Bay eatery two years ago. “It’s unique. You don’t get that flavor in Italian pasta.”