Playing Cards and Noshing Sambusas in Little Somalia

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The Stop: Tukwila International Blvd.

The Vibe: In general, this stop lives up to its name, serving up Mexican, Asian, and African fare alongside American fast food chains. But it is not without its ethnic enclaves. One block off of the main road is a mini strip mall catering to the Somalian men driving the taxis that weary travelers fall into after a long journey ending at SeaTac. The row of stores boasts a travel agency, a cleaner, and a grocery/Islamic bookstore.

On a drizzly afternoon, the parking lot of the mall was nearly full. And almost all the men there seemed to be gathered at one place.

The Café: My dining car companion and I followed the men (I never caught so much as a glimpse of a woman) into Kaah Fast Food (15033 Military Rd., 433-2033). Inside, bare concrete walls enhanced the din of twenty or so patrons packed into the tiny place.

Four of the men were seated at a table, surrounded by several onlookers, each with a stack of cards before him. They flippped the cards simultaneously in what appeared to be a version of War. Shouts of joy and dejection by players and observers followed.

"What's the game?" I asked the man behind the counter. He laughed and shook his head.

I pointed: "the card game, what are they playing?"

"I don't know," he responded. I think he meant he didn't understand the question. This being International Blvd., its rare to find a food seller that speaks much English. I gave up on learning the secrets of the card game that drew such interest from Kaah's diners and turned to the deli case.

The food is indeed fast, mostly by virtue of having very few options. Behind the clear plastic sat something that looks like a hush puppy, flat bread, and two kinds of sambusa, Africa's version of the samosa.

"Fish," the cashier said, pointing to one sambusa stack. "Beef," he said, pointing to the other.

Two of each went into a bag, along with the hush puppies.

There wasn't really room to stay and eat. And as much as I like to think I can fit in anywhere, it was pretty clear that Kaah is a place where a specific immigrant population can bond over a game in their native language. No one is unfriendly, but it still feels like we're being intrusive.

Back home, we tucked into the sambusas. They were as simple as the undecorated café where we picked them up. In fact, I'm pretty sure the fish version was filled with canned tuna. But that's the thing about food in the samosa family. You can wrap pretty much anything in dough and deep fry it and its going taste good--the perfect compliment to a game of cards.

 
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