Experience Southwest // Back to ones roots

A culinary journey: part one

When I asked Moussa Doualeh, owner of Goda Café, 34th & Nicollet, about his start in the restaurant business, he thought carefully and said, “When I was young, I was going to be my own man, make all my own choices — at the end of the day, I’ve found the choices one makes in life are influenced by how one is raised. It all comes back to one’s roots.”  

Doualeh grew up in Djibouti, a former French colony in the Horn of Africa, where it was traditional for women to do the cooking. Doualeh’s family, however, was different. It was his father who was always in the kitchen. “My father’s love of cooking gave me a chance from childhood to be in the kitchen. To this day I can still feel his tug at my collar as he instructed me on what to do next.”

Doualeh came to Minneapolis via New York, Tennessee and Georgia and worked in a number of Twin Cities restaurants. When Doualeh wanted his own restaurant and found no Djiboutian food in the Twin Cities, he opened up Goda Café’ a year ago on April 5.

What makes Goda Café a special experience? It starts with Doualeh’s warmth and hospitality. You are immediately greeted with a piping hot bowl of fah-fah, his grandmother’s soup of chickpea, celery and onion. After sampling sambusas, the African pastries stuffed with ground beef or veggies, there are a number of entrees that showcase Djibouti cuisine. Barris iyo digaag (grilled chicken seasoned with spices, served with fresh vegetables on basmati rice) and Kaluun iyo Barris (traditional grilled fish marinated in spices and olive oil) are favorites. And the spices? More cardamom, less cumin. Cinnamon, fennel and fresh ginger are added to round out an aromatic flavor profile.  As we finished our conversation over the best chai tea in the Twin Cities, Doualeh smiled and with great wisdom said, “It’s where you come from that dictates who you are as a person and what you become.” So true. So true.  

Following one’s dreams

Emilio Gadea had a dream that was different and much bigger than most 13 year olds — leave Mexico for the United States and start his own business. At 15 years, Gadea left with his older brother to make that dream come true.   

When the opportunity presented itself seven years ago this month, Gadea said to his partner, Mary Daub, “Let’s open a restaurant.” After refinancing his house, Gadea achieved his dream as a business owner and opened El Paraiso, located at 35th & Nicollet.

Seafood takes center stage in El Paraiso’s most popular entrees. The Tostadas de Ceviche de Camaron is reflective of Nayarit cuisine on the western coast, and the “7 Mares” (or “Seven Seas”) is a soup with  shrimp, octopus, crab, clam, fish, mussels and vegetables. And for a grand showcase, there is Parrilla Del Paraiso, a combination of meats and seafood often shared by families on the weekends.  

Gadea also has another dream.

As an accomplished Mariachi singer, Gadea is hoping to make the finals of the Pepe Anguilar contest. The “King of Mariachi,” Anguilar wants to take an active role in the career development of a singer who has talent and the ambition to succeed. Gadea has made it to the first round of what some have called Mexico’s version of American Idol.

Doualeh and Gadea both chose paths at an early age that differ from the cultural norms they grew up with. To the benefit of those who enjoy their uncommon hospitality and unique food, it is this very independence that led them to Southwest Minneapolis to share a piece of their culture and dreams.