Growing up in Dallas, some of my earliest childhood memories involve trips to my local African food store with my mom. I can picture myself running to the soda fridge for Fanta, which was exciting for the sheer fact that it came in a glass bottle instead of the cans everywhere else. Without fail, I would wear my mom down until she acquiesced and bought me goodies in the small baggies up front near the register: sometimes roasted peanuts and sometimes chin chin, a sweet, crunchy deep-fried snack popular in West Africa. We’d buy yams, egusi seeds, palm oil, and Maggi cubes. Ingredients that were foreign to my classmates in school -- and even sometimes a point of contention due to unfamiliar scents and unrecognizable ingredients -- but represented the tastes of home to me.
Like so many other Nigerian American kids, I grew up eating rice and stew, fufu and soup, and other traditional Nigerian dishes at home. Those things were quotidian to me, but until more recently, they weren’t really represented in the food media landscape at all.
Of course, there are parts of the country where one is probably far less likely to encounter stores catering to certain immigrant demographics than others, but in our digital age, that isn’t quite as much of a conundrum. Not only are there now online versions of the stores so many of us first and second-generation Americans have frequented for much of our lives, but there are also an ever-growing number of food brands reflecting these tastes, too.
Food media has always been incredibly insular, but the lack of recipes, content, and contributors that reflect the food of non-white, non-Western regions can no longer be explained away under the guise of inaccessibility. Ingredients from around the world are more accessible to us than ever before. In the spirit of all us making our kitchens a bit more global, here are seven immigrant owned food companies to check out. They are a small glimpse into the cuisines of West Africa, India, Morocco, Singapore, and Sichuan.
Started by Nigerian-born New Orleans’ chef, Tunde Wey, FK.N.STL is an intervention to the disappearance of traditional condiments from Nigerian kitchens as a result of neo-colonialism. In May, Wey partnered with Burlap & Barrel on a limited release of Iru -- complex, umami rich fermented locust beans traditionally used in Nigerian cooking -- and sold out within hours. Stay tuned for the next drop and give it a try in place of bouillon cubes!
Named after its founder, Nona Lim, who was born and raised in Singapore, the brand is inspired by her heritage and the flavors of Asia. As a nutritionist and former competitive fencer, Lim knows the importance of whole foods and high-quality ingredients. Their product line includes flavorful bone broth to-go cups, noodle bowls, and a range of noodles and broth for Asian inspired meals.
Founded and run by Mumbai native, Sana Javeri Kadri, Diaspora Co.’s mission is to decolonize the spice industry. Unlike many of the spices that make their way into our kitchens, Diaspora Co. products are single-origin, which ensures not only fresher, more flavorful spices, but a more equitable profit margin for the farmers as well. The brand works hard to support their talented partner farmers in India and contributes to the growth of a sustainable, single-origin spice industry.
Fonio, similar to its Andean superfood cousin, quinoa, is a gluten-free cereal grain and superfood found predominantly in Western Africa, and it is at the heart of the brand Yolélé. Co-founder, Sengalese chef Pierre Thiam, has been excited for quite some time to share this superfood with the world, and to support local farmers throughout the region who depend on their farming to make a living. This grain tastes great in everything from salads to pancakes.
Founded by chef Jenny Gao, Fly by Jing is furthering the conversation about the often misunderstood food and flavors of her native Sichuan. The brand originally gained notoriety for its adaptation of Sichuan Chili Crisp which was developed over a period of two years in Chengdu, China. It’s important to Gao to build flavor through natural ingredients in order to challenge common misconceptions about Chinese food.
Born and raised in Casablanca, Mina Kallamni worked as a private chef for the likes of Jackie O. for three decades before starting Mina with her son, Fouad. The line includes Moroccan sauces and condiments, including harissa, tagine, and shakshuka. Particular about showcasing the authentic flavors of Morocco, Mina doesn’t approve any brand recipes that don’t taste exactly like the food that she cooks in her own kitchen.
Essie Spice is a line of vegan, small-batch cooking sauces and spices mixes and an ode to the foods of Ghana, home of founder, Essie Bartel. The products are all crafted in small batches using cooking methods from around the world. With sauces ranging from a sweet, tangy tamarind glaze to a coconut garlic sauce, the flavors are undeniably homages to West Africa. The brand’s sauces help speed up the process of making a delicious meal. They’re great in rice dishes or for marinating chicken, tofu....you name it.
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Nicole Rufus is a food writer and master's student in Food Studies at NYU. You can find her in her kitchen testing new recipes and playing around with West African ingredients. You can follow her on Instagram @norufus