People from different nationalities in the diaspora are deprived of not only being close to their home countries. But also deprived of the uniqueness of their communities especially when it comes to food. If you ever meet someone living abroad away from their home country. Ask them what they miss the most, they would probably say food first. It is the case for Libyans abroad, too. Living abroad means that you will probably miss out the authentic Libyan taste in your food. This is due to the lack of spices. Oea

For Libyans,

Spices are crucial in the food making process. I personally struggle with it being a Libyan in France. Whenever my father came to visit, he used to bring a variety of spices. However, with the outbreak of COVID-19, I no longer have access to Libyan spices. It has been almost two years already! Given the fact that not a lot of Libyans live in France. There isn’t a vibrant community like the Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian communities here for easier accessibility.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered an online business which provides fresh Libyan spices in the UK. I knew I had to give it a try. For me, it was like finding a gem. I ordered some to try out and the quality was excellent. It was obvious how freshly made the spices were. So I realized that I must interview the owners to know more about their story. So I reached out to them and they gladly welcomed the idea. In this article, you will get to know the story of the Libyan spices business, Oea, through the founders.

Oea & The Founders

The founders of Oea, Ahmed Gatnash & Nadine Dahan

Oea, a Libyan online business based in the UK, is run by a lovely Libyan couple, Ahmed Gatnash and Nadine Dahan. Officially launched in December 2020. They share their passion for the Libyan cuisine through making fresh Libyan spices. Through this business, they want to introduce the diversity of Libya through its cuisine to foreigners but also to keep the Libyan spices available for Libyans in the diaspora worldwide.

Nadine is a former journalist and is currently studying law to become a barrister. Her two passions in life are Libyan food and her hometown, Zwara. Her husband Ahmed Gatnash, born and raised in UK, is an engineer by education. Now, he runs a human rights organization called Kawaakibi Foundation.

Inspired By The Lack of Availability

The inspiration to start this business was from the struggle of getting Libyan spices. Especially with the outbreak of the pandemic last year and the unbelievable expensive shipping fees. It was about time to look for an alternative with the same quality. Also, Whenever Nadine and Ahmed went home before, they would come back with suitcases filled with goodies. Mainly spices, dried meat (Locally called Gedid), dates syrup, you name it.

”We compliment each other in this business”

Nadine Dahan

At the same time, they realized that they were not the only Libyans abroad struggling with this. Therefore, they bought a grinder and they did their research by asking relatives and friends. They asked grandmothers and aunts. Also, they reached out to people in Libya in order to collect different recipes for different Libyan spices. Both Ahmed and Nadine made spread sheets and compared the portions used in the recipes they collected. Ahmed is the scientist as Nadine described him and she is the expert by instinct.

Experimenting Phase

The interaction and feedback of people is what made them very excited about launching this project. They sent samples to close friends and family members in the UK and all over Europe. Nadine was excited to have a heavy Zwarian influence in the recipes. Then they both realized that most of the Libyan east and west share similar mixes of spices.

In addition, they noticed that differences in terms of recipes are also present in every household in Libya. In other words, there isn’t one fixed recipe for every spice. After endless tests; they now have their own unique recipes of spices mixes. These recipes are influenced by all over Libya from east, west, to south. People were requesting different things but they started off with three main mixes.

The Official Launch of Oea

The first three Libyan spices Ahmed & Nadine started off the project with

After receiving positive feedback from friends and family members abroad; they launched the website. They got a lot of advice from people who owns online businesses and it made it easier for them. Also, they started official pages on social media as well. The hardest part was coming up with a name for their business. Finally, they settled for the name Oea.

One of the biggest fears they had was that people would not find spices relevant to what they are used to. But this wasn’t the case once they started selling. So far, they have received good feedback and lovely messages from Libyan mothers abroad. This made all the worry they once had to fade away.

They started off with making the mix once it is ordered. Now they make larger quantities. Packaging is done on the day before sending orders off for delivery to preserve the freshness. Small little changes helped through this learning experience they are both having with Oea. They found out that customers looked for freshness and not the recipe as Ahmed and Nadine first thought.

Limitations & Challenges

For the owners, marketing remains a challenge in order to make it reach as many people as possible. Ahmed stressed on the preparation time. They struggled a little, in the first few months, given their very busy schedules. At first, Nadine was following the Instagram business mentality. But they thought that it is not necessarily the case. So they went for Twitter and Facebook to cover different levels of users. However, Nadine is more comfortable with using Instagram and she added ”I get the trend on Instagram”.

The packaging of the spices

In terms of limitations, they still feel limited in terms of full accessibility to the recipes. Since they only get them through their connections inside and outside Libya. They had so many requests for eastern Hararat. Nonetheless, they realized that the recipe is doable and now they are meeting the demand. Ahmed expressed that through Oea, they want to discover more recipes. Moreover, to dig deeper into the Libyan culinary for its uniqueness.

Oea is Not Only Reaching Libyans Abroad

Bseesa
Zmeeta

They have received orders not only from Libyans in diaspora but also foreigners from Greece, the UK, and the USA. They reached out to one of the Greek customers because they were curious to know why he ordered Libyan spices. He said that he was born in Benghazi and he was the third generation of his family in Libya. In fact, there used to be a huge Greek community in Benghazi. They are also looking into the Jewish influence in Libyan food. he has spoken with some Jewish Tunisians for some background information.

Getting to know each other’s traditions is how we heal the divide and tie our communities together”.

Ahmed Gatnash

Through my interview with Ahmed and Nadine, we discussed how Zmeeta is eaten in different ways in Libya. We discovered that there is now a debate between sweet and savoury Zmeeta. People from Zwara consume it with Harissa and tomatoes alongside a cup of tea. While others consume it sweet. Being an Amazigh from Nafusa Mountains, I have been used to consuming it sweet by adding some sugar to Zmeeta alongside a cup of tea as well.

Through this journey so far,

Ahmed and Nadine shared the key learnings from starting this business. Marketing is key in this process no matter how good your project is. Business owners must learn the craft of excellent marketing to make their business a success. But mostly, be open to experiment new things and enjoy the process a long the way.

Oea is not only providing Libyan spices but they are trying out things outside the box. They created the Libyan soup kit which allows non-Libyans to learn how to make a Libyan dish from scratch by providing the dry ingredients. Not only making the Libyan spices available on Oea but they want to make it available for foreigners too to introduce the Libyan cuisine to an international audience.

You can check the variety of spices they make on Oea’s official website: Oea – Oea. (oea-libya.com). Also, you can follow them for updates on social media platforms: Oea – أويا لمستلزمات المطبخ الليبي في الغربة | Facebook, Oea (@oea_foods) • Instagram photos and videos, and Oea – أويا (@Oea_foods) / Twitter.

1