The French have wine, the Scots whiskey and we have ugali
When one is in a far, far away land, missing home, the quickest way to find Kenya would be to visit friends from home and if you are lucky, family. For those not so lucky, the closest thing to it becomes food. You walk into a store and look for ingredients that seem closest to home, make a meal and feel a little bit closer to your roots.
For Phoebe Matesha that longing for Kenyan food almost became a passion, the transformed into a business.
Ms Matesha, a Kenyan went to Germany through the Au Pair program in 2005 after completing her studies in Cultural Tourism here in Kenya. She spent a few years in Cologne, Germany doing corporate jobs before fully moving into her passion, cooking.
Savoring the East African palate and a passion for cooking, she took out all her savings and invested in her business, Malaika Soul Food, buying big sufurias, machines that knead flour and cut vegetables and all that. She found this as a way to keep exploring her own culture but at the same time still blending with the German culture. How so?
Initially, most of her customers were Africans who just wanted a taste of home or any African food. Later came in the foreign market of exploratory people who want to taste the African cuisine. This brought exponential growth that she had to take a couple of business lessons to learn how to effectively communicate about her business and the food she was making.
While countries like Scotland have branded and marketed their rare whiskies and France placed a stamp on wine, and Japanese sake traditional brew, African cultures are yet to seize the potential of African cuisine in a largely bland global menu. Those who venture here are swarmed by demand but the effort lacks broader brand recognition.
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For Ms Matesha the business then grew further that she created a website for her business which acted as an e-commerce platform to get people to see her menu and order directly through that. She now sells meals all over Germany through DHL.
Best of all, the socio-cultural diversity is seen best when she offers catering services in big events. There is a lot of interaction that takes place in those events as people from all over Germany and the world at large converge to perhaps enjoy music together.
She however agrees that the growth did not come without challenges as doing business in a foreign country comes with a lot of bureaucracy, paperwork, rules and requirements. Language barrier is also a huge issue where she had to take more lessons to refine her German language skills.
For these reasons, living abroad is both a boon and a bane, just like everything else in life. All you do is take it with a pinch of salt and keep it going. Then you enjoy all the beautiful moments.