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Radio Field Trip: Finding global flavors in this Nashua spice store

Editor’s note: We highly recommend listening to this story.

The Mola Foods store in Nashua is bright and colorful. Owner LaFortune Jeannette Djabea has painted the walls yellow, set up red tables and chairs and placed green plants throughout the shop. These are the same colors that make up the flag of Cameroon, LaFortune’s home country.

“I’m bringing my culture to New Hampshire,” LaFortune says. “I want people to be able to learn everything about that culture – the food, the music and all of that. So I’m calling myself the go-to place for African culture.”

Bottles of spices and condiments inspired by African countries line one of the walls. There are seasoning blends representing the flavors of countries like Kenya, Burkina Faso, and Ethiopia. And then there are blends from other places, including Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

LaFortune mixes the spices herself. She has a large map in her store that shows the countries where the spice blends are from. It’s like traveling with your taste buds.

“I wanted to bring the authenticity of that country into a bottle,” said LaFortune.

And LaFortune says you don’t have to make a complicated recipe to include flavors from one of these countries on her map. People can add Mola Food’s spice blends to the food they already like to cook.

And LaFortune grew up helping her grandmother in the kitchen – cooking and taste-testing dishes. When she first moved to the U.S, she had a hard time recreating the flavors she remembered.

“And then it dawned on me that we can actually share the same spices,” LaFortune says. “I decided I can actually use what you guys have here and create a flavor from back home.”

Though you can find ginger, cayenne and cumin in the grocery store, LaFortune says spices at the grocery store aren’t mixed in the same way. But it's more than just a lack of availability, she says.

“Some people just don’t use spices because they don’t know how to,” LaFortune says.

So after years of making her own spices and hot sauces for friends, she started Mola Foods to share her love of food and different cultures with more people. And she’s been able to give some of her friends a taste of home.

A few months ago, LaFortune began hosting Taste of Africa events at her store to help introduce her food and spices to more people. She wanted to recreate the feeling of her home city Douala, where there’s a vibrant nightlife filled with food and music.

“When I was growing up, we had the best music in Africa,” says LaFortune. “That era of music, it transcends time.”

LaFortune is hosting another Taste of Africa event this Friday. It’s already sold out, but you can purchase tickets here for her next event in June. Make sure you bring your dancing shoes.

Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.
Cori finds stories, works with reporters, and helps shape coverage of news, trends and issues in the state. She joined NHPR in 2017 after living on the west coast of Scotland for a few years, where she did freelance reporting and community projects. Before that, she worked for 10 years at WUNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, much of that time as a producer and editor of The Story.
For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
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