Opened two years ago, its focus is East African.
Owner Abdi Farah came to this country in 1991, "the first generation of Somalis to arrive in the U.S." he says.
It was always his intention to open a restaurant, since his family had been involved in Somalia with grocery stores and restaurants.
"My mother was always the business brains both there and now here," he said. "She is the force behind Brava."
His five sisters and a brother are here as well, with one sister being a cook.
The restaurant itself is small but carries big flavors in what it offers. The menu is posted on the wall with pictures of the choices, all with numbers.
For customers who aren't familiar with East African flavors, what does Farah suggest? A popular choice is No. 8, jabrati with suqaar, an African-style pita with beef, green peppers and a special blend of spices. No. 9 is another good choice. This is canjerro, a take on a pancake served with chicken or beef, maybe similar to a burrito.
Farah also recommends No. 13, which is a rice dish with a choice of meats including steak, chicken, goat or fish (tilapia).
Studying the menu board, Farah pointed out as especially popular No. 15, a rice dish with steak. As a starch, rice is a common ingredient in Africa, along with pasta and couscous, all of which can be ordered as sides.
Illustrating how varied African cuisine is, Casablanca Creative Cuisine (1208 Seventh St. NW) offers tagine, a popular Moroccan dish. This is both a cooking vessel and a stew. A conical pot made of different types of materials, it has to be the world's first slow cooker. While the food is being cooked, steam rises into the cone, condenses, and then falls back down into the dish.
The tagine itself dates back to Harun al Rashid, a late eighth-century ruler of the Islamic empire. The tagine served by Chef Youness Bojji is a delicious example of this Moroccan specialty, and can be made vegan, with chicken or lamb. He also mixes up his own Moroccan spices which he uses to flavor many of the dishes. His restaurant on 7th Street will move to a new location in Barlow Plaza by the end of March, so be aware of that.
It would be hard to find a cuisine as varied as that in Africa. With more than 11 million square miles, there have been influences over the centuries from farmers. herdsmen, invaders and neighboring European countries. As Farah pointed out, the cuisine in eastern Africa is totally different from that of the western areas — "100 percent different," he said.
What might well be a common denominator in African cuisine are the spices used to enhance the flavors of many of the dishes. In various mixes, these can include ginger, garlic, chilies, cloves, cardamom, pepper and cumin. One that is especially popular in Morocco is a combination of anywhere from 10 to 60 spices, all mixed together. Called ras el hanout (see the attached recipe), it can include coriander, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, chilies and cardamom. Its importance in Moroccan cooking is sometimes compared to what garam masala is to Indian cuisine.
Finally, as I was leaving Brava, I was offered a steaming cup of Somali tea. This is a combination of frothy milk, tea, ginger and cardamom. It was amazing. If you go, don't leave there without having a cup.
Brava Restaurant and Cafe
1217 Marion Road SE, Rochester
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Casablanca Creative Cuisine
1208 Seventh St. NW, Rochester
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday, 5-10 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday
Ras el hanout
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 2 teaspoons ground mace
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Measure out the spices into a bowl, whisk to mix evenly. Pour into a glass jar and store in a cool, dry place. Use to season stews, meats, poultry, fish and vegetables. Use in small amounts.