There hasn’t been too many times in my years of food adventures where I have left a restaurant and felt like I had just visited my Aunt and Uncle down the street. Leaving stuffed to the gills and sharing a few laughs is A-OK in my book.
After slurping down some oysters and indulging in a bit of day drinking in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle; a friend of mine reminded me that Safari Njema was close by.
As we made our way through the parking lot, we were greeted at the front door by the smell of some down right home cooked goodness wafting through the air. The smell brought back instant nostalgic flashbacks of growing up in the Fiji Islands. Fried fish and greens simmering on the stove were the two that I could make out right away. Our mouths already salivating, we were invited in by George who cracked a few jokes as we looked over the menu. We decided that we wanted to try a bit of everything per usual, and left it up to George who said, “I got you guys, you won’t be disappointed”. There have been times where leaving my fate in someone else’s hands has gone terribly wrong and I leave wondering why I continue to be a glutton for punishment. But oh no, not this time…
A short while later, Jane, the owner of Safari Njema brought out a silver platter of love, fit for a king. Actually, fit for two kings: goat meat, fried Tilapia, sautéed cabbage, greens, chapati, and ugali- which is a staple food in Sub-Saharan Africa, usually made of maize flour, millet flour, or Sorghum flour.
Forks and spoons were provided but you have to push those aside and do it the right way, roll up your sleeves and dig in with your hands. There is something about eating with your hands that always makes your food taste better, especially when it’s an accepted method while you are in public. This meal allowed all of my senses to work together to truly appreciate every bite I took. Let’s just say, there was a lot of moaning and groaning and a lot of head nods in approval during the next 30 minutes. The fried tilapia was one of the best, if-not, THE best fried fish I’ve tasted anywhere (sorry Dad). The goat meat… fall apart tender, paired with the fresh made ugali and a dollop of their house made habanero hot sauce. The flavors and textures worked exceptionally together.
While we were eating, we noticed that there were a lot of working class folks picking up to-go orders of the fried tilapia along with a large number of Somali transplants via Kenya, who now call Seattle home. A man wearing a Bluetooth ear piece came in exclaiming to whomever was missing out on the other end, that he had been relapsing after having the fried fish two days earlier, for the first time. He added that he gladly made the trip over from Bellevue, because he couldn’t stop thinking about it.
After devouring every morsel of our food, Jane brought out a complimentary fruit salad which was a nice touch to top off our meal and it really helped ease the effects of an exceptionally warm Seattle summer day.
George and Jane are serving up good vibes and love at Safari Njema. Wash your hands and get ready to be spoiled by your favorite Aunt and Uncle for a very satisfying comfort food experience. Safari Njema is the hidden gem of Columbia City.