Collaboration for Cultural Dishes: Somali Flavors in Elementary School Menus
Rochester Public Schools

Last month, Chicken Tikka Masala took over the high school lunch menu and received rave reviews. This dish was chosen as part of Student Nutrition Services (SNS)’s mission to offer more unique menu items that reflect the diversity of our Rochester community and have meaning to staff and students. What would it look like to continue this trend?


Dale Winham, SNS coordinator, had an answer. He felt that despite the large Somali population in Rochester, they were not represented enough within our schools and decided to introduce a dish from the Somali culture. Sambusas and basmati rice made its debut on our elementary school menus, and we’re hearing it was quite the hit among students.

Like the Indian samosa and the Spanish empanada, the sambusa is a fried, flaky dough wrapped around vegetables, meat (or meat substitute), and spices, and are popularly eaten during Ramadan or traditionally served during weddings other gatherings. RPS partnered with Hoyo, in Bloomington, MN, to provide sambusas and their Tamarind and Date sauce for lunch.

Hoyo, which means “Mother” in Somali, was founded to employ and empower Somali women who could use their cooking skills to provide for their families while sharing their culture through a favorite food. Hoyo started as a group of neighbors that gathered for potlucks. One of the neighbors brought their sambusas, and they were so delicious, that they were connected with a friend in the food business, and then came Hoya.

We’d say our students agreed that sambusas make for a delicious meal. Students in our lunchroom were saying, “What is this?” and “I’ve never seen this before!”, and then other students respond with “It’s a sambusa! It’s so good you should try it!” and “Wow, my mom makes this all the time, I’m so excited!”. Whether our students had eaten them regularly or had never eaten or seen a sambusa at all, the result was the same: empty lunch trays.

All we can say is that this was another successful meal and partnership. So, the only question left is, what will SNS bring to our schools next?