The first time I visited Al Shukr Mini Market and Bakery was the day Angle Lake Station opened, September 24, 2016. It was a Saturday, and the sun was mostly out but not bright. I caught the southbound train in Columbia City. I saw the city's trees preparing for winter. I saw traffic on I-5 and a cluster of apartment complexes that were near the highest station on the line, the Tukwila International Boulevard Station.
When I arrived at Angle Lake (a 25-minute trip), I spent a few minutes on the platform wondering about the colorful art installation, admiring the cold and hard whiteness of a prison facility (the Federal Detention Center) that sits on a recently repaved road, and desiring distant cities and countries as jet planes rose into the partially cloudy sky.
A moment later, I was in a crowd of people squeezed between the new station and a massive parking complex decorated with blue alloy ribbons (I learned from a Sound Transit representative that they represented the hulls of "fishing boats" and this was in line with the theme of the station: "environment in motion"). Everyone was here to celebrate the latest addition to Link's expanding system. There was African music and Mexican dancers. Afterward, I decided to explore the neighborhood of Angle Lake.
I did not get far. There was a very lonely bicycle lane, a 7-Eleven, a Chevron, a 76 gas station, and a major and very busy street. This part of the city was about cars.
I was hungry and did not feel like eating at the 7-Eleven or the ExtraMile ("Hot Food, Cold Drinks & Fresh Coffee") at the Chevron. The Bull Pen Pub Bar & Grill, on the corner of South 200th Street and Pacific Highway South, is said to be "unfussy," but it had been ravaged by a fire a week before, and though a team of beefy men were doing all they could to remove and repair the damage, I was certain they would not be done anytime soon. That's when I discovered Al Shukr Mini Market and Bakery.
As I waited to order (a halal gyro), I overheard the conversation between a customer in front of me and the African clerk. The man was bad-mouthing the light rail station. "It must have hurt your business badly, the building of all that," he said, as if nothing good could ever come out of public transportation. The clerk conceded that the construction of the station had hurt some of his business.
As the bell announced the customer's exit, I finally ordered my gyro. I ate it in an area that was decorated with pictures (of African huts, African animals, African trees, African sunsets) and had a view of the new station, whose trains came and went. I was surprised by how good the food was. It had the fresh vegetables of a standard gyro mixed with the richness of an African beef stew. This made the gyro very wet, very messy, very hearty. I also ate bits of chicken on a skewer and then called it an afternoon.
I returned to Al Shukr Mini Market and Bakery on a windy October day. This time I came from the Capitol Hill Station and the trip took 40 minutes. During the trip, I saw that northbound traffic on I-5 was going nowhere—and this wasn’t even rush hour, this was one in the afternoon. This time it was just me and a menu that offered a plate of goat and rice, mandazi (East African fry bread), and sambusas. Because I do not eat goats, wasn’t in the mood for fried bread, and had already tried the gyro, I ordered sambusas. The first bite totally surprised me. I had no memory of eating such flavors in this combination. There was some kind of fish in it, a little Indian flavor in it, bursts of East Africa—all in a crust resembling that of a specialty European baker (beautifully brittle). As I ate the sambusas, I watched the colorful sculpture on Angle Lake Station. It was animated by the wind. It’s little blue, red, and white pieces flickered like the rings of Saturn (the sculpture is by Haddad|Drugan). I had an autumn moment.
When I saw the cook—a woman with a smartphone wedged between her head and hijab and white flour on her fingers—loading more food under a heat lamp, I walked up to the counter and asked what kind of fish was in the superb sambusa. She seemed not to understand what I was saying, and I even thought she gave me one of those smiles that are an expression of fake interest. I asked her again about the fish in the sambusa. What kind of fish is it? This time she said, "I made the whole thing from scratch," and returned to the kitchen.
Didn't god also make the universe from scratch?