Fredericton store caters to craving for African foods

The University Rite Stop, a corner store in Fredericton, started carrying African food staples this week, along with Canadian and Korean items.

Store owner estimates about 5,000 Africans in Fredericton now, UNB says 125 students every year

Busungu said he struggled with Canadian dishes when he first arrived in Canada eight years ago, because they are a lot sweeter. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

When Pascal Busungu craves his native Congolese food, he usually visits his mom in Moncton.

But now that his workplace, the University Rite Stop, a corner store in Fredericton, carries some of his favourite African food staples, he may just try his luck at cooking more often, he said.

The store on University Avenue already sells Korean and Canadian foods but added African ingredients to serve a growing population from the continent, said co-owner Yousouf Ibraham.

"With the amount of people who are coming to work and study here, someone has to do it, and try to help them, try to make them comfortable," he said.

Catering to African tastes

Ibraham's immigrated to Bathurst from Mauritius Island off the southeast coast of Africa in 1985.

At the time, only few Africans lived in the province, and no ingredients from their native countries were available, he said. 

That's since changed, with Baobab, an international food store in Moncton, that also caters to African immigrants.

The store also carries chilli oils and a paste made from crushed peanuts, which Busungu said is a popular ingredient in African cuisine. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Ibraham, who also co-owns that store, said it's frequented by people from across the province, which is why he decided to introduce African staples in the Fredericton store now.

"There were a lot of people travelling from Fredericton and Saint John, and even Edmundston, coming here to buy their African international product, food, so one day we decided that it would be a good idea to have one in Fredericton," he said.

The most recent data from a 2011 Statistics Canada census showed that 375 Fredericton residents reported Africa as their birth place. 

And the University of New Brunswick welcomed about 125 new students from the continent every year since 2012, a spokesperson said.

Yousouf Ibraham said he had the idea for the international food section after seeing a news report about a Tim Hortons' coffee shop in Iraq. (CBC)

Ibraham said the idea for the African food section came about after he saw a news report about a Tim Hortons' coffee shop in Iraq.

Canadians crave their regular food when abroad, as much as immigrants to New Brunswick miss their native cuisine when they arrive here, he said.

He added that this addition to the community may contribute to keeping people studying and working in the province.

"For what I went through 32 years ago, these people need a comfort level, and that's what I'm trying to bring for them," he said. "This is a good combo taking care of people."

Not yet fully stocked

Ibraham said University Rite Stop caters to Africans from all over the continent, and is not yet fully stocked.

These people need a comfort level, and that's what I'm trying to bring for them.- Yousouf Ibraham, store co-owner

He said it will take another four to six weeks before all the items he imports from Toronto, Montreal and abroad are in.

Eventually, he also plans to introduce non-edible items, such as cosmetics, he said.

"We are taking care of the food side first and then we will move on to something different," he said, adding that the store will continue to carry Canadian and Korean items.

"We have to respect everyone and we have to blend that together," he said.

The new co-owner of a store in Fredericton describes some of the items from Africa available alongside Korean staples. 0:45

For now, the Fredericton store already carries one of Busungu's favourite ingredients - fufu, or cassava flour, made from the root of the yucca plant, which is also used to make tapioca starch.

He also pointed out chilli oils and a paste made from crushed peanuts, which he said is a popular ingredient in African cuisine.

Busungu said he struggled with Canadian dishes when he first arrived in Canada eight years ago, because they are a lot sweeter.

"We are used to eat salty food, and when we eat a meal that has sugar in it, it's so hard," he said. "Salty and spicy, that's what we eat in Africa."

With files from Catherine Harrop