Treasures from Ethiopia power business enterprise
When Ayalnesh Dubale was growing up in Ethiopia, her mother made breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, from scratch.
And meals were usually intimate affairs.
“Our food is meant to be eaten together,” the Southampton resident said. “We have a big platter and everyone puts their hand in to eat.”
And traditional Ethiopian food is rich in aromatic spices.
Now, Ms Dubale is bringing the Ethiopian food experience to Bermuda with Mudai, a line of homemade Ethiopian spices, and special teas. Mudai means treasure box.
The Southampton resident is used to Bermudians sometimes being a little hesitant.
“Try it!” she says often.
When she started the business a year ago, she really wanted to get her products sold at Miles Market.
“One day I walked in with my products,” she said. “I caught the manager on the floor. I said you need to have my product in your store. It is good for people.”
The manager agreed to try her spices.
“He said these are good,” she said.
They are now not only sold in the store, but used in the Miles’ kitchen.
When she first moved to Bermuda from Ethiopia with her Bermudian husband, she struggled with western food. It tasted bland.
“Also, organic food is where you find the most flavour, and it was very expensive to purchase,” she said. “You have to have a certain level of income to afford organic food for everything.”
It took her a year to adjust. To make her feel more at home, her mother in Ethiopia, sent her spices she had made herself.
“They take about three months to make,” Ms Dubale said.
When she divorced, she found herself a single mother struggling to support herself. But while working in the lifestyle department at Brown & Co she found she had a real knack for sales. She grew more confident.
Last December she decided she was done complaining about her situation. It was time to help herself.
She wanted to start a business, but was not sure what kind.
When she heard the quote ’start from where you are, use what you have, and give what you can’ she knew what she wanted to do.
“I thought I will start with what I have on hand, and what I truly believe in, the spices my mother made for me,” she said. “We all eat.”
Her mother was only too happy to make up spice blends and ship them to her.
Now one of her most popular items is berbere, a spice blend consisting of herbs such as garlic, paprika, onions, basil, fenugreek, all spice, cinnamon and chiles, among other things.
It is used to season everything from beef, fish, chicken, marinades and stews.
“It can be added to your tacos or scrambled eggs,” she said. “A small pinch can make a difference to the flavour in your food.”
She also sells hand ground turmeric, black seed, ajwain, beso, and fenugreek.
She said turmeric is very popular right now because of its healing properties.
“In my country we use it everyday,” she said. “Instead of treating it as a medicine, why don’t we just use it in food. You can enjoy your food and get the body benefits.”
In addition to selling spices and teas, Ms Dubale also caters.
“I try to infuse Ethiopian cuisine into a modern or western style so people don’t have to go out of the box completely,” she said. “I think in the meantime they can enjoy their new experience.”
She said, so far, the feedback has been good.
“People are really willing to try my products, especially when it comes to the spices and seasonings,” she said. “When it comes to the food they are not sure.”
But she said once people try her offerings, they often like them, and feel like they have been missing something their whole lives.
One of her challenges is the high cost of getting the ingredients and packaging to Bermuda.
“You have to pay thousands of dollars just to bring three or four kilos of spices in,” she said. “It has to go through American customs and clear the Food and Drug Administration, before I bring it here.”
But she felt it was all worth it to see her dream turn into reality.
Her products are available at Miles Market, Lindos and also the Tuck Shop, Middle Road, Southampton, and through her website www.mudaiethiopis.com.