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Elma Miranda-Mirza moved to New Brunswick from Ontario in 2009. She hails originally from India, but spent most of her life in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Miranda-Mirza had known her now-husband, Hasnain Mirza, since they were kids. He’s originally from Pakistan, but spent 17 years in Dubai as well. He came to New Brunswick in 2001 to study Electrical Engineering at the University of New Brunswick while Elma was still living in Mississauga, Ontario, where she had been since 1996.

“During those six years [of school] I never had the taste of home,” said Hasnain. “That’s when I decided we needed to do this, the food.”

From this, Dash of Spice was born. It started off as a simple kebab store, but has now grown a considerable fan-base in Fredericton.

Hasnain says some people have called his kebabs “a burger with a kick, an attitude.” The beef, chicken or vegetarian potato patties are spicy—as close to authentic Pakistani kebabs as you can get. He says some people still mistake his kebabs for more traditionally known kebabs you’d see from a street vendor, but Dash of Spice’s are different.

“A big man like me can have two of these burgers and I’m full,” says Hasnain, adding the importance of both quantity and quality merged together to appeal and appease the taste buds of clients—especially students who are far from home can still enjoy the taste of their culture.

“Our prices might seem low because we want to make it low enough that students can afford it. That’s the whole reason why we started this thing,” he says.

emily mcphee dash of spice
Every Saturday morning the Mirzas are ready to sell the acclaimed kebabs and corned rice at the Cultural Market. Photos by Emily McPhee.

Another big part of the business is the availability of halal meats – which in Arabic means ‘permissible.’ Halal food adheres to Islamic law and must be slaughtered accordingly. Most meats processed in American or Canadian facilities do not fall under these requirements.

The Mirzas struggled with acquiring halal products on a regular basis up until a few years ago. Hasnain’s mother eats only halal meats- so they understand all the obstacles of getting their hands on these products in a city like Fredericton.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle to get halal meats, but we’ve found over the last few years it’s been slowly building up,” says Hasnain. “For us to find halal food and not have it be overly expensive is a big feat in itself – for us to find that now at places like Wal-Mart or Victory Meat Market and Sobeys – it’s been amazing.”

Acquiring seasonings and spices from their home country can be a bit of a hassle – Hasnain mentions that border customs and clearances are time-consuming and it is often easier to make a road trip to Toronto for them. Visiting the big city reminds the owners of their love for Fredericton – “rush” hour is really only minutes here and getting downtown isn’t a stressful endeavour.

“Moving from Ontario which is all hustle and bustle – and then moving here and having everything laid back – when my parents come to visit they are baffled at how quickly we can get downtown,” laughs Elma. “For us it’s a big difference.”

Dash of Spice sets up at the cultural market on Saunders Street in Fredericton every Saturday at 9 a.m., with their kebabs flying off the shelves. The owners say their hot-ticket items and best sellers—kebabs and corned rice—don’t last long. They also offer chickpea salad and now, sauerkraut from Lewis Mountain farms out of New Brunswick.

“I’ve been here long enough to call this my home,” says Hasnain. “The city has grown and with it we have too.”

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Mary Albert moved to Fredericton 13 years ago from Chennai, South India to pursue a degree in Computer Science at the University of New Brunswick. Chennai is ranked as one of the best places in the world for food, so Albert was exposed to a great diversity of it since she can remember.

“Growing up, it was all about food. Food is a really important thing for us,” said Albert. “No one is ever supposed to leave [our house] feeling hungry.”

The Cultural Market gives the community the opportunity to share its different cultures. Photo by Katelin Oulton.

Leaving behind her family and friends was tough for Albert. She had no friends at first, but she says this helped her focus on her studies.

“It was hard, I always lived in big cities and when I came it was really small. It took me a year
to get used to it. And I always said I was graduating and leaving here, but I got a job…and I kind of fell in love with the city,” said Albert.

Food became a way of sharing a small but crucial piece of her culture with people she met.

With Albert’s help, her brother, parents and uncle were able to move to Fredericton. Now, the Alberts get to share their culture at the Multicultural Association of Fredericton’s Cultural Market.

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The Alberts are experts in Indian style flavours and offer a wide selection of home cooked meals. Photo by Katelin Oulton

They sell Indian food every Saturday at the market but Thursday is when they prepare most of it. They cut the meat, vegetables and marinate them. Alarm clocks go off at 5a.m. on Friday mornings in order to finish what couldn’t be done the day before.

“There are a lot of people from my workplace who come down here. And they actually keep asking for us to start up our own restaurant,” said Albert. “But it’s hard. We are just trying to expand this food and see how it goes. We have a much bigger selection than we did when we started though.”

Albert and her family have a wide variety of meat and vegan products at their stand. Everything is home cooked and done with spices that they buy from India, Dubai and Toronto.

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Mary Albert calls this meal the Indian styled stew. It has Indian spices, curry, potatoes and vegetables. It’s a best seller at their vendor. Photo by Katelin Oulton.

All of their meat based meals are cooked differently. Their chicken for instance carries a coconut base. Also, their stand has a wide selection of rice based meals. A favourite among regulars at the market, is their fresh lemon rice.

Albert says people have been very welcoming when it comes to their food, and have recently been asked to set up a vendor at Oromocto.

“When people say thank you so much for your food, or when they say they’ve been waiting all week to buy some food, I think that is the best experience for me,” said Albert. “The way I see it, is you aren’t just getting people to come here to eat food, you’re getting culture.”

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Mary Albert and her brother Emmanuel Albert. Photo by Katelin Oulton.

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