Even though we have so many dining options to choose from, it can be very easy to get trapped in a routine of formats and cuisines: pub to Italian to steakhouse, with a sprinkling of Chinese or Mexican. Repeat. Yet, it’s surprisingly easy to break that cycle and add some variety. For example, many of us frequently pass right by Fatima’s Café. Why not stop and sample some of the African cuisine?
I don’t know what took me so long to get to Fatima’s Cafe; my first sampling of African cuisine was decades ago in London. On a whim, I stopped at a tiny take-out place and ordered Ethiopian Braised Beef. When I got it back to my hotel room and opened the container and inhaled the rich aroma, my only regret was that I wasn’t staying another week so that I could have it every night.
That same kinda thing happened with our first dish at Fatima’s: the Samosas appetizer.
We ordered a variety of samosas – beef, vegetable and lentil. I’d always assumed this was a staple of Indian cuisine, but at Fatima’s Café, they’re not the teepee shape you might be used to. These samosas were turnover-shaped triangles stuffed with tasty fillings. Surprisingly, the lentil samosa was the spiciest, but the order came with a cup of hot pepper sauce for dipping.
Tasty fillings aside, the samosa pastry was exceptional – golden brown, light and crisp, with no trace of frying oil residue. The appetizer alone made the trip to Fatima’s a success. Then, our entrées were served.
My friend’s entrée, Somali Anjero, was a large plate with three thick stews – eggplant, lentil and beef. It came with another plate of large crepe-like sourdough flatbreads. Instructions from our server: Tear off a piece of flatbread and use it to fold over a portion of the stew. No fork required.
The ground beef stew tasted very light and fresh; whatever it was spiced with contributed an almost citrus edge – beguiling. The lentils were mashed and filling. But the real standout here was the eggplant stew. Dark brown, it had a rich, smoky flavor and thick texture. I couldn’t get enough of it.
A traditional Kenyan meal, my entrée of Ugali with Sukuma was delicious and tactile. Ugali is cornmeal porridge thickened to the consistency of dough and served in a small bowl. It came with a plate of sukuma, chopped collards with bits of tomato, onion, green pepper and spinach. It was a deep, gorgeous forest green and brimming with vitality. I requested mine with goat meat.
So here’s the process: Using your index and ring fingers, dip out a chunk of the ugali and press into it a spoon-shaped indentation with your thumb. Use that to scoop up the sukuma and goat meat and gravy. But allow the ugali to cool a bit; mine started out way too hot for fingers not accustomed to serving as soupspoons.
A word about the goat. I once tried cooking goat meat I’d purchased in an ethnic market. The result was about as palatable as a shredded truck tire. Fatima’s cook knows her way around the simmering pot; she produced goat meat that was perfectly tender, with just a pleasing bit of chew.
We enjoyed our meals with bottled water. Fatima’s menu also features chai tea, soft drinks and fruit juices. It was a surprise to see another party arrive with wine, so I suppose Fatima’s is BYOB – but I’d recommend asking first.
The staff at Fatima’s Café was helpful and friendly in a warm and gentle way. The dining room interior is minimal – a half-dozen tables, a long counter for take-out and large windows overlooking lower West Boylston Street. Other than a couple Africa prints on the walls, the place is whitewashed and perfectly clean. Don’t expect a romantic atmosphere. Go to Fatima’s for unusual flavors and super samosas.
And don’t forget to wash your hands!