Columbus’ Northland neighborhood is home to thousands of immigrants, and the diversity of backgrounds brings a cornucopia of ethnic varieties to its markets and restaurants.
International restaurants have popped up by the dozens in the past 20 years as New Americans have continued to settle around Morse Road between Interstate 71 and Easton Town Center.
Mexican, Somali, Ethiopian and Chinese are just a few of the options for a meal. With names like Little Dragons, African Paradise and Xochimilco Taqueria, the eateries serve all manner of authentic cuisine.
With the winter holidays approaching and the American Thanksgiving table full of familiar eats, we’re highlighting five dishes from the traditions of other nations — and you can find them all in the Northland neighborhood.
African Paradise: Chicken kalankal
African Paradise is thought to be the first Somali restaurant in Columbus. The small diner at 2263 Morse Road is somewhat out of the way, sitting in a small storefront just south of a service road and tucked behind another African restaurant and a marketplace. But it’s one of the neighborhood’s many hidden gems.
The chicken kalankal is one of the restaurant’s most popular selections, according to online reviews. Served with cooked onions and carrots, the strips of chicken are seasoned with savory spices in a plentiful portion.
It’s a colorful, tasty dish served with soup and the option of lightly spiced Somali rice.
Fiesta Jalisco: Mole sauce
Traditional Mexican mole (pronounced as MOH-lay) sauce traces its venerable roots back to the indigenous Mayans and Aztecs.
The rich, dark brown chocolate-based sauce has many variations, but with its important cultural history, there is rarely a celebration or gathering anywhere in Mexico where some form of mole sauce isn’t an integral part of the menu, said Victor Sandoval, a native of Guadalajara (the capital city of the Mexican state of Jalisco) who opened Fiesta Jalisco in the Northland Plaza 18 years ago at 2700 Northland Plaza Drive.
Often, the thick and generally sweet mole is served atop some meat or main dish, such as enchiladas, on a plate with rice and beans. Chicken is probably the most common, Sandoval said, and in Mexico whole chicken legs would be covered in the mole sauce and served.
Each of the dozens of states in Mexico has its own favorite regional recipe of mole, Sandoval said. Chili peppers and chocolate are generally at the root of the complex and layered sauce, and variations are made with fruits, nuts, cinnamon, cumin and other spices.
At Fiesta Jalisco, chefs start with a mole concentrate that they blend with milk, sugar, chocolate and salsa.
Sandoval doesn’t eat mole — he says it is too sweet for him — but he appreciates its cultural significance to his home country.
“Every wedding, every celebration, mole is a part of the dishes and on the table,” he said. “Every state has its own customs and tastes but mole is always a part of it.”
Wycliff’s Kitchen: Karanga mbuzi
The Kenyan population in Columbus may not be as large as its Somalian and Congonese communities, but the flavors of this East African country are strong at Wycliff’s Kitchen, 2492 Home Acre Drive.
The warm yellow and orange walls and soft natural lighting reflect the welcoming atmosphere and homestyle Kenyan fare served at Wycliff’s.
Meat eaters will enjoy hefty portions of ng’ombe (Swahili for beef) and mbuzi (goat) on the menu, as well as kuku (chicken) and whole fish.
Karanga mbuzi, a bone-in goat stew, is a staple in Kenyan kitchens. The meat is cooked until tender in a blend of spices, ginger, garlic, tomatoes and onions to create a savory gravy-like sauce.
Meals are often eaten with one’s hand, so order a side of chapati, a Kenyan flatbread, to scoop your dish and sop up all that delicious sauce. Just make sure you use your right hand –– not the left, which is considered unclean.
Order some traditional side dishes to round out your meal: ugali (a cornmeal mash), kabeji (fried cabbage), ndizi (plantains) and sukuma wiki (collard greens).
Namaste Indo-Nepali Cuisine: Chicken and jhool momos
One of the most popular dishes at Nepali restaurant Namaste Indo-Nepali Cuisine is the momos, or dumplings. The name is derived from the word “mome,” which means cooking by steaming in the Nepali language, Newari.
The history of momos goes back as early as the 14th century, as it was a Newari food in the Kathmandu valley. It was later introduced in Tibet, China and Japan by a Nepalese princess who was married to a Tibetan king in the late 15th century.
Dipen Adhikari, a waiter at the restaurant and brother of co-owner Ramesh Adhikari, said customers from out of town come to Namaste just for momos. The restaurant is inside the Saraga International Grocery store at 1279 Morse Road.
The chicken momos are steamed and then filled with marinated chicken. They’re served with a side of tomato chutney, made out of coconut spices and other ingredients part of a secret family recipe. Jhool momos can be made with chicken, pork or vegetables, which are steamed and served with a spicy soup. Adhikari said the soup consists of spices often used in Nepal, Bhutan and India.
Namaste also offers deep-fried momos and chili momos, which are made with capsicum and onions.
“Because of our background, we gathered all those spices and we managed to merge it into one thing,” he said. “I think that makes it really special.”
Adhikari said momos are usually eaten once a month in Nepali culture since they take time to prepare. He said the dumplings can take between 20 and 25 minutes to cook.
“It’s an art, especially when you’re dealing with all of these interesting spices from different countries,” he said.
Layla’s Kitchen: Chicken curry
Curry is a staple Indian food and it’s a popular dish at Layla’s Kitchen, 6152 Cleveland Ave.
Chicken curry dates back to the 17th century and originally started as a vegetarian dish with potatoes. Chicken was introduced to India when British traders came to India, and thus chicken curry was born.
“People probably just mixed and matched all the spices together and that’s what it was made as a curry,” said Tulsi Kafle, the owner at Layla’s Kitchen.
Chicken curry sits on a bed of rice and is typically eaten with a side of naan bread, a type of flat bread.
Curry includes spices such as ginger, turmeric, garlic, pepper, coriander and chiles. Layla’s Kitchen adds different spices ground together in the curry paste including a little bit of Carolina Reaper, red chilies, dried chilies and fresh chilies.
When customers order the curry dish, they can request different spice levels all the way up to extra, extra, extra spicy.
“When you go into those spice levels, you start to lose the flavor of the dish itself and all you get is the whiff of the spiciness because that totally takes over the flavor,” Kafle said.
All the ingredients used in Layla’s Kitchen come from India, and they prepare the spices in-house with stone rollers.
Layla’s Kitchen first opened five or six years ago and was originally located on Cleveland Avenue near Morse Road. It moved to the current location tucked away at the end of a strip mall two or three years ago.