Twin Cities taxi drivers aren’t nearly as garrulous as their brethren in New York. In fact, among the Somali and Ethiopian immigrants who comprise the majority of local cabbies, many seem to spend their days tuned to Minnesota Public Radio. Such is the perceived cultural divide that I suspect most passengers don’t attempt to engage them in conversation.
Too bad, as in my experience they have an abundance of fascinating stories to tell about their transition to wintry Minnesota. Being a restaurant critic, I also can’t resist talking with them about the universally favorite topic of food.
Asked where they prefer to go for a taste of their homeland, Ethiopian drivers are divided between Addis Ababa, Blue Nile, and Fasika. Somali drivers, meanwhile, are much more uniformly enthusiastic about a small restaurant near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts called Tariq. Motivated to do some cross-cultural exploring by the recent dustup over Muslim cab drivers refusing to take passengers who carried alcohol, I decided to give Tariq a try.
Taxis filled the small lot, and at tables of full of male diners, many were positioned to watch a wall-mounted television tuned to Al Jazeera. A few eschewed utensils in favor of using their right hands. I watched in amazement as one person deftly twirled a portion of tomato-sauced spaghetti over his fingers and plopped it into his mouth.
“Spaghetti?” you ask. Yes indeed, Somalia was once occupied by the Italians and pasta is a common part of a Somali meal. So, too, is a whole, unpeeled banana that’s meant to be sliced over the entrÃ©es of marinated beef, chicken, goat, or fish mingled with sautÃ©ed onions, peppers, and tomatoes. For those who don’t want spaghetti, there’s an amazingly fragrant and good basmati rice pilaf. While a place like this isn’t for everyone, the food is tasty and well prepared. And if you go, the next time you take a local cab ride, you’ll definitely have an ice breaker!