Neighborhood Eats: Safari features Somali cuisine in Harlem

HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- Safari opened in Harlem five years ago, giving New York City its only Somali restaurant. Now the owners hope to keep their dream alive.

Shakib Farah was an engineer. His wife Mona Birjeeb worked in finance. But, they loved and missed the food of their homeland.

"I had friends who always asked me what type of food do you eat, what is Somali food like?" Birjeeb said.

"I'm a foodie person in general," Farah said. "I'm like, I know that New York needs Somali cuisine."

Their restaurant at 219 West 116th in Harlem has fostered a sense of community over food like roasted goat, mango curry chicken, and sanbusas.

"Customers would come enjoy the Somali food, the Somali music, the atmosphere was very well, we could connect with our customers, we could just sit down and talk, and then from nowhere boom," Birjeeb said.

The virus forced them to shut down for two weeks. Then, they started deliveries and takeout and donated to local hospitals. They now offer outdoor dining, but have just 12 seats.

"It's really a challenge in terms of where you had a sitdown restaurant to where it was the culture of someone bringing their wine and sitting with the family, that's just gone," Farah said.

And as their customers continue to support them, it may not be enough.

"The food is delicious," said Sabrina Martinez, a customer. "I hope they don't close. I hope they can stay afloat and soar again."

"When you see a customer that says, 'I never had a Somali cuisine, it's the best food I've ever had.' That just stays with you. Like we got to to push it however we can push it," Farah said.

Safari is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday.

"Harlem Serves Up!" supported by Humana airs on WABC-TV Channel 7 at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 18, from executive producers Marcus Samuelsson and Herb Karlitz.

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