SPRING 2022: Foodways

Moyo Kitchen: Cooking from the Heart

Hi, my name is Mwana Moyo. My business name is Moyo Kitchen. Moyo means is “heart.” Why I choose heart? I choose Moyo because I love to cook and I love people. And when I cook, I cook from my heart, that means I call my business Moyo Kitchen. I was born Tanzania on island, Zanzibar. My mom and my dad, they born in Zanzibar. I lost my dad last year, 2021. Right now I have only my mom.
When I start to love cook. So I start love cook since I was teenager, maybe around 10 or 12. I have my uncle, he's doing the decoration all the time. He make cake, like catering cake, cookies, and he make decoration for the wedding and other thing, like events. So always I go there and see what he's doing, and I say, "I want to cook, I want to help you," and he tell me, "No, you don't know, you cannot." I said, "No, I want to try." He keep letting me, "No, no, don't do it." Okay. I said, "Okay, that's fine."
So I went school, I finished my school, and when I'm done I went back to my uncle and I say, "Now it's time to try to cook with you." And he say, "Okay, just come here and I'll give you everything and try." I try and I made it. Yeah, I know how to make everything, and one day I make my first cake I make is for my kids, after I get married. So I show off for him. I say, "I want to do this, don't help me." And he say, "Okay, that's fine." So I make the cake, I decorate the cake, and I just make big birthday party for my kids. And I made it. Everybody loved the cake, and my uncle came and see the cake and he was so, so happy. Yes. This is my road from cooking, when I start.

What were those cakes like when you were a young girl? What were the smells, what were the flavors, what were the ingredients that you remember?

So I remember the ingredient since, if I cook cake here, I don't get it. That flavor, I don't get until now, I don't know why. That flavor from back home is natural, because we use our own vanilla, own cardamom, our own cinnamon. Yeah, we grow over there in Zanzibar, because then we are close to the India, We are around the Indian people, Indian Ocean.

So those are the spices and the flavors you remember as a young girl.

Yeah, everything, Yeah.

It's cinnamons.

Yes, yes, clove. We have big farm for clove, my dad. My grandfather has it, big farm for the cloves, so we used to go there and pick. Some people they go and... The clove tree is big, so people go there and collect it and we go just grab on the grounds.

And your uncle, with cooking, he was making cakes. Is there special ceremonies or holidays that cakes-

Yeah, for their wedding. Most of that time wedding and birthday parties, yeah. That's why he made all the time. He was popular, but right now he's old, he cannot do anymore. But he's so proud of me.

When I start this business in here, he was so happy and cry. He's saying, "Yes, you made it."

Then I moved here in America 1999. I don't know nobody, but I still, I say I want to do this cooking. So I start cooking on the church. Yeah, I went to the church one day. They have events, small events, and then they say, "Anybody can help us?" I say, "Yeah, I can do that." So I went there and I start cooking for them, and then, "Oh, you know how to cook?" I say, "Yeah, I know, but I know I don't have space, I just do in my house. And my house is too small, I cannot do this." And they say, "Oh, you can come here and you can cook for homeless, or sometime we have events, we can come here, you can volunteer." I say, "Okay, that's fine."

So I went there like maybe couple times or three times, and then one of my aunt, she's out there, you hear her? So she told me, "Go school for the ESL, English, my second language." And I said, "Okay." I went to school, BCC, and then went to Seattle Central and I do the English second language. Then I know Seattle Central, they have color and art class. And I was so [inaudible 00:07:57]. I want to do that. And I went there and they say, "Oh, to go in this class, you need to have some kind of level, like a high level for college level." I say, "Oh, I don't have that college level. But I'll do it." So I went to school, I do all the step by step until I get there. And I have babies, so I didn't make it. I stop. Yeah, I stop.

But my auntie say, "Don't give up, we do something." So she knows Njambi, the one who's in global to local. So she introduced me to Njambi, and then I went to see Njambi and we do interview, and she say, "Okay, we'll do, I'll call you." So she didn't call me for a long time, like maybe one year. I say, "Oh my God, maybe I didn't do right."

And oh, I travel. I went back home and then I see the text mail, email, she emailed me. "Oh, Mona, do you have any availability to come tomorrow." Oh my God, tomorrow I'm not here. Yes, I'm not here in America. What I'm going to do? So I call my aunt. I say to my aunt, "This lady, she emailed me, she say she want to see me this day." Say, "Don't worry, don't worry, don't panic, I'll talk to her." So she called Njambi and talked to her and then said, "Okay." So Njambi say okay. So because it was June, they need people that right away, so I didn't make it. And she say, "Okay, maybe next year."

So next year, then it was 2020, I went. When I come back, I call and I say, "Oh, I'm back, so is any space for me?" I say. "Oh no, not yet. We don't start yet, but I will give you a call, I will put your name on hold." I say, "Okay, yeah." So I stop, I just do something else. I went to do home care job, so that's why I did that one until last year. I get call again, and they call as many people was there. They do interview, and then-

And this is for Spice Bridge?

Yeah, Spice Bridge, yes, yes. So it was Kerrie, Kara, and Njambi, and they say, "Okay, we need to test your food. You need to come here, you need to cook and bring seven item." And I say, "Yeah, I can do it." And I take everything, I put there, and I serve for them very nice and decorate it. And they eat. They say, "Yeah, this is good, this is good." Yes, this is what I did.

Moyo Kitchen's cookies (Photo by Kelli Faryar)

Especially hearing that in 1999, you traveled here knowing that you wanted to cook.

Yes, this is my dream since I was young, yeah. I like to cook, and I say one day I want to open my own space. Yeah. Yeah, but all of a sudden I get this, Spice Bridge. I'm happy to be here with the Spice Bridge. I open my business, and this is... I am right now, I'm so happy. Yes, so happy.

You mentioned being inspired by your uncle with cakes, and I'm wondering what inspired you in your memories of a child of learning how to cook with your uncle, what are you bringing into your foods today? What are those spices and those ingredients and those recipes that you're developing with Moyo Kitchen?

I bring cookies. First of all, I made cookies, the one I made from my uncle when I start learning from him, and then I met chapati. I think it's popular here in Spice Bridge, people like chapati.

And all ingredient spices I bring from home, back home to here. I don't use anything from America. Some I use, but most I just send.

Vanilla, cardamom, cloves?

Vanilla, is everything. Yeah, everything.

Would you mind sharing a little bit about what goes into some of your cookies or your chapatis?

Yeah. So chapati is like... I don't know. Is like a patty or tortilla, tortilla, but we made different way. What I make, my own way, is I use ghee oil or all purpose flour, and we put salt or sugar a little bit. Yeah, this is the way I made the chapati. Yeah. And the cookies I use with eggs, butter, vanilla, and we call bubble gum flavor. This is very good flavor.

Where does that flavor come from?

I think that one is not from our country, that one is from India. But when you put on the food, it smell like a gum, like a kid candies.

I'm wondering if there's special ingredients that you've incorporated in your foods that are found in Tukwila and in the Seattle area.

Yeah, you can found here. Everything is the same, but I think is flavor, flavor is different. If I use Indian, spicy, is different, and my Zanzibar spicy also is different. So when you combine together, it's kind of... I don't know how what to say, but it's not... I don't like it. I like my own ingredient and my spices from back home. Maybe that's why people, they come to us in Spice Bridge, they like that, yeah. Most I use popular dish in my country is pilau. Yeah, that one we use more spicy, like cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon, this is what we use.

Would you mind describing what pilau is?

Pilau is a rice, fried rice, so you add with... Some people, they add meat in there, chicken or beef. Some people they don't like veggies, so we just put veggie. So it is a rice, spicy, and we put raisins. Yeah, that's the rice we call pilau. And today I have special order for biryani. Biryani is a huge dish from my country, even India, they have biryani. So that one is rice, you have to fry a lot of onions on the big pot, and it stay until tomorrow, and then we add in that rice, and then you make sauce.

So we're here today speaking inside the Spice Bridge, where your business Moyo Kitchen is, and you mentioned that people have been asking for specific dishes. Being here in the Tukwila area, what are some of the dishes in some of the communities that are coming in and asking for food? Or the feedback that you're getting within this neighborhood?

Oh yeah, the feedback I get from this neighborhood, the Tukwila area, most people they come is... I think they don't live in Tukwila, they come from different city, like maybe Renton, Redmond. Because when they come, you just chat with them and ask, "Oh, where are?" "I just come from... Yeah, I just hear from radio or I see you on TV, oh, you guys at Spice Bridge, you're very good." I say, "Yeah." That's why they come here. And other people is from my community, they know, so they just come here.

They come for those ingredients, those spices.

Ingredient, yeah. And some people, also they ask for the spices to buy. Yeah, I have some samples.

So Moyo Kitchen, you have a partner in the business. Would you mind sharing a little bit about how the two of you met and begun the business together?

Yeah, we met, we used to be neighbor in Shoreline, and we lived there for seven years. And when I start come here in Spice Bridge, it was only me. And I went to the interview and I get in, and I say, "Oh, who's going to do with me? I need somebody to be with me." So I asked my neighbor, Auntie, I call her Auntie Hadija, if she want to join with me. And she say, "Oh, it's okay, maybe I ask my daughter and you guys, you can be together." I say, "Okay." And she ask her daughter and she say, "Okay, we can do it." And then she came to me and say, "Oh yeah, Auntie, I want to do that, let me try to do this." And I know before they want to do this, and you know here it's too expensive to afford the space. So I say, "I have global to locals, they have space for me so you want to come and join?" I say, "Yeah, we can do it." I say, "Okay, let's go. And I'm going to introduce you to Kerrie, and then we see what they going to say." And then I introduce to Kerrie and they say "Okay, but you are the owner," and she call and I say, "Okay, that's fine, no problem." Yeah, so that's why we met.

Moyo Kitchen's menu. (Photo by Kelli Faryar)

So you are bringing to Moyo Kitchen your Tanzania culture, and she's bringing forth…

Somali. She's from Somali, born in Kenya.

And have the two of you found dishes that you create together, or just kind of sharing the space and the ingredients?

No, we sharing space and ingredient, yeah. But it is similar, Somalis and Tanzania is similar. All the food is similar, but only maybe the taste or the ingredient different.

You mentioned your story of coming in 1999, and a little bit of that journey. Did you come directly to Seattle that time?

Yes, I came from Zanzibar to Seattle. But I have my brother here, who is the one who invited me to come here.

And from that journey, I know you shared a little bit about the schooling that you went through and making your first cake. And is it true that you've always had in your mind that you wanted to open a restaurant?


And you came knowing that in 1999?

Yeah. That time, yeah, yeah, yeah. I just in my mind, but I know it's not going to happen right away, because you don't know anything that time. But it still... When you stay you know people, you try to talk to people and ask question, so they give you an idea. So for me, it was hard, I know, because

I don't know how to speak English very good, but I say, "I want to do this. I cannot give up because I like to cook, I want to do this, I need to help people. Why do I cook for people? Let me open my own space."

And this was... I don't know what to say. When they called me to come back, I broke my leg, my ankle, and I say, "I don't know if I can do this." So I said, "I broke my ankle, how I'm going to come and cook?" And she say, "You can do this, you can do this. You have one month, try to be stable."


Yeah, now I'm here.

You mentioned Moyo means heart, and what is it when you're cooking? What are you thinking of and who are you thinking of while you cook?

I cook, I think about people. I think about people. When you cook, you just come here and cook. Not for you, you cook for other. Feeding them. Some people, they don't have family, they need in some place to go and eat. So when they come to Spice Bridge, they see us, all women, immigrants. We cook for anybody. They just come here and choose whatever they like. So when I cook, I cook from my heart.

I know people, when they come, they're going to eat. They love the food, they come back. That's what I want. People come, eat, and go, and come back, say, "Oh no, I want to go to Spice Bridge again."

With Moyo Kitchen and with your ingredients, how do you feel you are carrying forth some of that legacy, some of the stories of using the ingredients from the clove from your grandfather's farm? What are ways that you feel your culture is continuing forth through your cooking?

I feel that I feel very good, very good, because I know I use my own spices from back home.

And I know people they ask, "What are your ingredients? What do you put in your fish, what do you put in your chicken?" I say, "I put spices from my father, grandfather." And they say, "Wow, yes. So you bring spices from there?" I say, "Yes, I bring spice from there." And Spice Bridge, they know what we are here, we are here for them, for the customer, for everybody. whoever come from California, when they come here in the airport, when they go, "Oh, I want something to eat," they see Spice Bridge.

Where do you see Moyo Kitchen going? Are you planning to continue being a part of Spice Bridge for years to come, or what are ways that you're looking ahead to the next steps?

The next step is to open my own place, but I know it's hard, but I don't give up anymore. And as I say, I'm going to be here in Spice Bridge until I found space. And I want my space to be big and look good, fancy. When people come, they see traditional decoration.

Well, thank you so much for sharing your story and your passion, and it's been an honor spending this time with you.

Thank you so much for coming.

Thank you to our contributors: