Moyo is a Tanzanian, Kenyan, and Somali cuisine
Written by Denise Miller and Lily Rybarczyk
Immigrant and refugee chefs are cooking up a world of cuisines at Spice Bridge, the newly opened food hall and commercial kitchen in Tukwila. Operated by the nonprofit organization Global to Local, Spice Bridge is the cornerstone of their Food Innovation Network (FIN) program, which helps aspiring entrepreneurs launch and build food businesses.
Eight food vendors rotate through four stalls in the sunlit food hall, offering a new dining experience every day. With indoor dining currently restricted, the initial group of eight women-owned businesses are currently offering takeaway meals and making use of outdoor seating in the new Tukwila Village development. Entrees ranging from Congolese to Afghan are priced from $8 to $16, served every day but Monday.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll introduce you to the five Spice Bridge businesses that are owned by African and Muslim chefs. Today we’re kicking off the series with Moyo Kitchen co-owners Mwana Moyo and Batulo Nuh.
Mwana originally hails from Tanzania. Batulo, a Somali, was raised in Kenya. Here in King County, they bonded over their shared love of food, cooking, and celebrations. The two neighbors have used both their similarities and differences to create a unique combination of authentic East African food at Moyo Kitchen.
Dedicated to their craft of cooking and to their community, Mwana and Batulo also work as a caregiver and a social services case manager, respectively. Although Mwana has previously provided small-scale catering, FIN’s Food Business Incubator is helping to scale Moyo Kitchen, which continues to offer catering while finding a new home at Spice Bridge.
In addition to being Mwana’s last name, Moyo is also Swahili for “heart,” which the partners definitely bring to the kitchen. Their hope for Moyo Kitchen is to continue growing, sharing love and culture with people through good food!
We spoke with Mwana and Batulo about how they learned to cook, the Zanzibari spices they use, and what it’s like to start a food business.
What type of cuisine do you offer?
Batulo: Mwana is from Tanzania. I’m Somali but raised in Kenya, so we have these three cultures combined that makes us unique.
Mwana: We offer catering and will also have a kiosk at Spice Bridge. Through catering we’ll be able to offer more options, depending on what customers want. Everything will be halal. We’ll have a lot of options for everyone! I know for sure people who try it will want to come again.
Can you talk about what makes Moyo Kitchen’s food special?
Mwana: The spices are from my country, Zanzibar, which we import: cumin, cloves, black pepper, garam masala, tamarind masala. All of those spices we are going to use at the kiosk. The way I cook, the way I mix together the food, it’s the way I learned to cook from my grandma.
Batulo, where did you first learn to cook?
Batulo: I learned from my mom, which she learned from her mom and her older sisters.
Can you talk about your personal story?
Mwana: I’m from Zanzibar, Tanzania. I came to America in 1998 with my two children. I have lived in Washington since then, never moved. When I came here my goal was to open my own restaurant, but it was hard. At that time I didn’t have anything. I went to school and asked people how to do this. In 2019, my auntie introduced me to Njambi [FIN’s Cultural Outreach Specialist]. She told her, “She knows how to cook, maybe we can put her in our program.” So this year I made it into the program and started.
Batulo: I started helping my mom cook when I was 10 or 12. My mom cooks a lot, all the time, at least three times a day. Me, being the oldest girl, mostly helped prepare the food. I would see her mixing all this food together without measuring. It is hard to follow what she does because there’s no measuring, it’s all eyeballing. That is how I got introduced to cooking. And whenever we had a multicultural day at school, I used to love sharing the food. I’m Somali but raised in Kenya; I have the Kenyan culture but also the Somalian culture. I speak both languages, I cook both foods in the house all the time. And Tanzanians and Kenyans, they have the same language as well, and our food is also similar—with a little twist.
How did those conversations start about having a business together?
Mwana: I’ve been thinking about this for a long long time, and I’ve been cooking for a long time, 20 years.
Batulo: We would cook for parties and celebrations, and we started sharing our food. Then we talked about how similar it was. We talked about being in business together for some time. The financials and finding a place was hard. It is very expensive to find a place and then to pay each month is a lot. I just recently got married, so I am still starting my life. Mwana is a single mom. We both work. It is hard to stop working and focus on our dream, because at the same time we have to pay the bills. Last year Mwana informed me about the Food Innovation Network, and we said we were going to do it. When we got this opportunity it was perfect because FIN is helping us and guiding us with each step we have to take.
Visit Moyo Kitchen at Spice Bridge
Spice Bridge is located at 14200 Tukwila International Blvd. Suite 141, Tukwila, WA 98168. Free parking is available between Spice Bridge and the Tukwila Library.
Moyo Kitchen is open at Spice Bridge on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Learn more and order online: https://moyokitchen.square.site
Spice Bridge has takeout and outdoor dining from four vendors available from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.