EveryEvery year during Ramadan, Samira Mohamed, the owner of Montavilla food cart Mira’s East African Cuisine, gathers with her entire family — her nine siblings, her cousins, her aunt — for Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast after sundown. Before her family prays together at the mosque, they eat ceremonial dates and prepare a massive feast. Her aunt makes mashmash, a pancake-esque fried snack, and her cousin handles the shorba, a silky lentil soup. By the time everyone is able to eat, the Mohamed family is surrounded by food: crispy black eyed pea fritters called bajiya, sambusas, filled potato croquettes named nafaqo, fluffy doughnut-like puffs known as mandazi, large platters of lamb and chicken. Much of the food was made by her aunt — muufo, little spongy flatbreads, and “feast rice,” as Mohamed calls it.
However, in her family, Mohamed is the person cooking professionally. Her food cart, at the edge of the Yard at Montavilla, has accrued a stable of devotees, thanks to dishes like her chicken mandi, fragrant with cumin and cardamom, or her chicken suqaar, raisins, peas, and rings of onion tossed in a lightly sweet sauce over rice. She stuffs sambusas with cumin and coriander and ground beef, and fills flatbreads with braises and stews. Mohamed opened Mira’s last August, which means this Ramadan will be her first as a food cart owner; to celebrate, she’s going to spend the month making the Iftar dishes she loved growing up for those who can’t spend their Ramadan with family.
Mohamed moved to the United States when she was eight; she left Somalia for Kenya before landing in Oregon. But even considering how young she was when she moved to the United States, she still remembers Ramadan in Somalia — the sound of the call to prayer, voices melting together, reverberating across rooftops. “In a Muslim country, everyone is celebrating,” she says. “Here, families have to really bring that alive.”