So what the hekkah is dukkah?
There are a number of spice mixes that are so closely associated with their place of origin, they're practically synonymous with the cuisine—say, jerk seasoning and Jamaica or garam masala and northern India. Others, such as curry powder, have become truly global forces, spread far and wide by inter-continental exchange.
But some blends transcend the line between regional speciality and internationally beloved ingredient. Dukkah, the Egyptian nut, seed, and spice mixture that has found its way onto genre-pushing menus, is a prime example.
Dukkah (pronounced DOO-kah) gets its name from the Egyptian Arabic word for "to crush" or "to pound," which is precisely how it's made. Recipes vary but generally consist of cumin, coriander, sesame seeds, salt, dried herbs, and nuts . The ingredients are put into a mortar and ground into a coarse powder, releasing aromatics in the process. It's a versatile thing, both fine enough to sprinkle on as a garnish yet chunky enough to grab by the handful and eat as a snack, with a flavour profile that is specific to its place of origin yet thoroughly adaptable.
If there is any logic to dukkah's hodgepodgey, bits-and-pieces nature, it would be in its humble origins as scrappy peasant fare. In his book The Manners & Customs of the Modern Egyptians, first published in 1836, British scholar E.W. Lane wrote, "there are many poor persons who often have nothing with which to season their coarse bread but the mixture called dukkah," noting how eaters would plunge pieces of thick flatbread into it. Rich in protein and fats, the nuts and seeds would have provided sustenance. Even today, dukkah remains popular as a street food, usually doled out into paper cones, with each and every vendor laying claim to their own unique recipe.' - Excerpt from Serious Eats
The Story of Mutha Dukkah
Ever since I set off on my first backpacking trip to Europe at the age of 21, I’ve loved to travel. It is engrained in my DNA. I’ve been to over 25 countries in 5 different continents in my 40+ years of life, with plans to explore many more. I’ve always felt inspired by other cultures, felt a pull to a simpler way of life and drawn to the sunshine. So for my 40th birthday, I realized that I was living in a hamster wheel. I was disenchanted by my career in the fashion industry. I was stuck in the day in, day out of commuting to work in Vancouver. I knew I wasn't going to achieve the things that mattered in my life by staying where I was. I wanted meaning. I quit my Canadian life to live out my vision of a life in Central America. Read about it in my personal blog LiveTheSaltyLife.com
. It was a good plan at the time. I felt brave and empowered. Instead, I came back to Canada pregnant and solo. My plan didn’t work out the way I had envisioned it. The Universe had other plans. My daughter was born in September 2016. I found the meaning the Universe intended me to find.
She is my everything.
Travel is a passion I wanted to share with my daughter Bowie the moment she was born. She has already been to 4 countries and on 10+ plane rides before the age of two. She was on her first flight at 3 months old. At 7 months old, I took her on her first long flight - 16 hours to Melbourne! I had a few different countries in mind, but I decided on 2 months in Australia. I chose
Australia for a few reasons. If I had been travelling without her, I would have selected a destination that was a bit more ‘exotic’ than Australia, and a travel style that was more dirtbag than debutante. However, with the babe I was a bit nervous, because she was still so young and because I was travelling solo. It was hard enough travelling with a baby back in Canada. I wanted to make this trip as easy as possible. I wanted to go somewhere that was different enough from home, easy to get around, that spoke English and had access to medical care if needed. Also, at 7 months, my daughter hadn’t had all of her vaccinations, so I didn’t want to risk her getting sick in a country where food, water or mosquito-borne illnesses exist. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture and the neighborhood, as if I was a local.
I have a friend in Melbourne, so we were fortunate to land a housesitting gig in the Northcote
area of Melbourne for 3 weeks. Melbourne is home to some of the best baristas and cafes in the world. Melbourne residents take their coffee very seriously. As do I, a self-professed coffee snob. It’s okay, I won’t be offended if you roll your eyes at that statement. It seemed only natural to go on a cafe and food tour of Melbourne. A friend suggested I check out local Vancouver food blogger and influencer Erin Ireland’s
blog post, as she just returned from Melbourne with her young daughter, who was about the same age as mine. I wasn’t familiar with Erin Ireland, but I knew about her company, To Die For
. I added her list of spots
to visit to another list I had curated from the Espresso Melbourne blog
and plotted it all into my own list on Google Maps. Here is that list
. I’d pick a neighbourhood on the map, then we’d eat and sip our way through that neighbourhood. My daughter at 7-9 months was the perfect age for this type of travel. I could plop her down in a highchair and that was that. Let’s just say, at 2 years of age and in full toddler terror, we won’t be getting on a plane for a little while.
Little did I know that we set off on a plant-based tour of Melbourne, since Erin Ireland is a plant-based foodie. I didn’t know that when I wrote down all the restaurant recommendations. I was pleasantly surprised. I ended up having some of the best food I’ve ever eaten and it shifted my diet to include more plant-based foods. It’s also where I learned about dukkah. It seemed like everywhere I ate at, it was somewhere on the menu. Turns out it is a common pantry staple in Aussie kitchens. It is on the grocery store shelves. Commonly it is seen on a vegan or vegetarian dish in restaurants. This totally makes sense. Nuts and seeds in a vegan diet do not only provide essential nutrients to prevent deficiencies, but also provide an enrichment in flavour, texture and variety. Vegan diet or no vegan diet, nuts and seeds are good-for-you, and so are spices.
Back in Vancouver, dukkah was almost impossible to find. Not on grocery shelves and very little evidence of anything online. So I found some recipes and started to make it myself. It proved to be a tasty enhancement for my boring busy-mom meals and an easy nutrition boost for my fussy-toddler meals. I figured that I couldn’t be the only person in Vancouver looking for dukkah. Turns out I wasn't the only person on the hunt for dukkah. And so, voila! Mutha Dukkah was born. I can’t contain my excitement when someone tells me how stoked they are to now find dukkah in Canada! The 'Doo-kah' pronunciation is loose in Australia, as it is in Canada. So say it however you prefer 'doo-kah' or 'duk-kah' or 'do'a'. (Say 'Mutha Dukkah' fast over and over again and you'll understand the name.)
I want you to love Mutha Dukkah much as I do. I want it to be the first thing you reach for to jazz up your meal. I want North Americans to know what dukkah is. I want everything about the brand to make you smile. I want you to share it with the people you love (and even the people you don't!) This business, for me, came out of love as a means of giving my daughter the best life possible. I will tell you that being on my own with a toddler is not easy. Neither is starting a business. Mutha Dukkah is my strength. Mutha Dukkah is made with love. In Squamish. In small batches. With thoughtful ingredients. By a single mother.
I believe that good-for-you and tasty and easy can be one in the same. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice nutrition for flavour. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice flavour for nutrition. Never should you have to sacrifice flavour! It is important to me, to make Mutha Dukkah using raw, organic, good-for you ingredients, ones that are ethically and sustainably sourced wherever possible. I’m working with a supplier that shares my values on sourced ingredients and I am to do even better. Mutha Dukkah will work towards having direct relationships with suppliers in countries of origin - that is my goal. Step-by-step I will get there.
As I mentioned, travel has always been a big part of my being and it is something that I want my daughter to experience as she grows up. I want her to see how other people live. I want her to know that we are extremely privileged to live in Canada and have the life that we do. Education. Free healthcare. Business owner. These are privileges that simply wouldn’t happen for a lot of other single mothers in the world. I am very much aware of that and I don’t take it for granted. I started this business as a means to support my family as a single mother. It’s hard enough being a parent with a partner, even harder to get a leg up in the world as a single parent. I want Mutha Dukkah to give back to organizations that support woman’s empowerment, specifically single mothers, both locally and in developing nations. I’m not sure what that looks like yet, but this is a big goal I'm working on. I welcome any ideas on what this could look like.
Peace and love, you Mutha Dukkahs
Bridey Payne (The Mutha)