Ambula is not just a four-ingredient dish, it carries a whole story behind it – a personal and historic one. Ambula was one of the few Somali dishes that originate from the Medieval period. Legend has it that eating ambula every month, gives you good luck. Knowing that this dish carries history, it a nation’s favourite to eat during Independence Day. Ambula and Ful are one of the few dishes that haven’t fused with Italian or Arab influence. This makes the dish more special to Somali people as it’s a reflection of our history without interference.
Furthermore, red beans are a vital staple. Countless droughts and famine have hit Somalia in the last 50 years. Red and fava beans are one of the few crops that can withstand strong heat and have subsequently became the symbol of hope and prosperity in Somali culture. My great grandmother remembers how devastating the famine was and how everyday she would eat ambula day in, day out. Once the drought cleared up, she told herself never to eat ambula again – at that point she was sick of the taste. A year later she found herself eating ambula again! No one can really escape the taste of ambula. It’s too irresistible.
So far, we have only been talking about the sweet ambula and not it’s savoury cousin ful. Ful on the other hand, is more prevalent in the Northern regions of Somalia (Somaliland and Puntland). Hence, my family are from the Southern regions of Balcaad and Mogadishu, where ambula is much more common. Ful is not exclusive to Somali cuisine and can be found in Morocco, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt, and Oman. However, the spice ‘xawaash’ is unique to Somalia. It merges cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, and black seed powder and has this distinct woody spicy taste that remind of autumn.
I hope you learnt a bit about ambula & ful. It’s now your turn to master these dishes!