Opening day of the Minnesota State Fair on August 25, 2022. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

If Afro Deli founder and owner Abdirahman Kahin has his way, savory Somali pastries known as sambusas will join the pantheon of must-have foods at the Minnesota State Fair alongside stalwarts like corn dogs and cheese curds.

“We’re looking forward to the next 20-30 years at the state fair, so Afro Deli and sambusas are the staple,” Abdirahman said.

The fair announced Tuesday that Afro Deli will join six other new food vendors at this year’s fair. Two other vendors will also offer ethnic food options.

“It’s a long time due, because there is zero African cuisine at the state fair,” Abdirhamn said. “They have a lot of international [food], but they have none from the African continent.”

Sambusas from Afro Deli, a new food vendor at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair. Credit: Minnesota State Fair

Afro Deli, which will be located at the east wall of the Food Building, will offer beef, chicken, and veggie sambusas along with dipping sauce. It will also sell sweet plantains, Somali tea, and fresh mango juice.

It was third time’s the charm for Afro Deli to finally get the nod from the Minnesota State Fair. Abdirahman applied two other times for a vendor spot but was rejected.

He said he knew he was close to getting the final nod, and was happy Afro Deli got it this year.

“Every time that we apply, I’m very confident. And I always had hope for the next year, because a lot of times they will tell you, ‘Someone has to drop in order for you to get a spot,’” Abdirahman said.

Abdirhman, who was named National Small Business Person of the Year in May and Minnesota’s Small Business Person of the Year in March, opened the first Afro Deli location in 2010 in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. He told Sahan Journal in March that he wanted to fill a gap in the Twin Cities food scene.

The African fusion restaurant serves Somali steak sandwiches, chicken curry, gyros, and other foods at four locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. It also offers “Grab N’ Go” options at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Afro Deli owner Abdirahman Kahin, who was named Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year 2023, wipes a table at one of his restaurants on Friday, March 17, 2023. Credit: Alfonzo Galvan | Sahan Journal

MomoDosa at the International Bazaar

Another new ethnic food vendor at the fair is MomoDosa. Owner Rashmi Bhattachan and her business partner and chef, Sarala Kattel, want to bring a Himalayan taste to the fair.

“It’s our first time, so obviously the butterflies are there. It’s nerve wracking,” said Bhattachan, who is from Nepal. “But I think we’re gonna be good.”

MomoDosa will serve chicken momos and masala dosa, which is a South Indian crepe made of rice and lentil batter and ghee. The dishes will be served with tomato chutney and coconut chutney. Also on the menu: veggie pakora and mango lassi, a mango smoothie.

Chicken momos (top) and pakora (bottom) by Midtown Global Market’s MomoDosa, a new food vendor at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair. Credit: Minnesota State Fair

The business started selling masala dosa as a way to offer something for clients looking for gluten-free food options.

Bhattachan and Kattel have been in the restaurant business for decades but their first joint venture came in 2010 with the opening of Gorkha Palace in Minneapolis. In 2021, the duo decided to try their hands at fast-food with MomoDosa.

MomoDosa has two locations in Minneapolis—Midtown Global Market and Malcom Yards.

Bhattachan said MomoDosa applied to the fair twice unsuccessfully, but got in this year thanks to the lease they signed with the Midtown Global Market, which came with an opportunity to be featured at the fair.

“I would say this is a platform for us to look at more exposure within the community, especially within Minnesota, Wisconsin,” Bhattachan said. “So yeah, we are very grateful for this. It means a lot to us, because of that we can share our culture.”

MomoDosa will be located on the east wall of the International Bazaar in the Taste of the Midtown Global Market booth. It will operate for five days from August 24 to August 29.

Churros & Aguas Fresca from Texas

The last of the newest ethnic food vendors for the Minnesota State Fair is based out of Texas. Brandon Kibby has spent over two decades in concessions. He’s bringing Churros & Aguas Fresca to Minnesota.

Churros & Aguas Fresca will serve bags of churros with caramel or fudge sauce, according to the fair website. Churros can also be filled with strawberry, Nutella, or Bavarian cream. Ice cream is also available for those wanting a churro sundae. 

Churros from Churros & Aguas Fresca, a new food vendor at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair. Credit: Churros & Aguas Fresca

Aguas frescas, a sweetened fruit and water beverage, will be available in watermelon, mango, pineapple, and strawberry lime flavors.

Kibby started his career as a food vendor selling funnel cakes and corn dogs at different fairs, and was accepted into the Minnesota State Fair on his first try.

“You have to come up with something that’s somewhat original or has not been done before,” Kibby said.

Everything sold at Churros & Aguas Fresca will be made fresh, Kibby said. The churros themselves will be made with a machine imported from Spain, where the churro was invented. Kibby said one batch of agua fresca can take hours to make.

Churros & Aguas Fresca will be located on the northeast corner of Lee Avenue and Underwood Street.

A full list of new food options and new food vendors is available at the Minnesota State Fair website. The fair will run from Thursday, August 24, to Monday, September 4.

The food stand for Churros & Aguas Fresca, a new food vendor at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair. Credit: Churros & Aguas Fresca

Alfonzo Galvan is a reporter for Sahan Journal, covering work, labor, small business, and entrepreneurship. Before joining Sahan Journal, he covered breaking news and immigrant communities in South Dakota,...