Dubai-based model and humanitarian, Jessica Kahawaty has joined forces with her mother, Rita Kahawaty to create a brand new food delivery concept. Mama Rita is already delivering healthy home-cooked meals across the city.
At the heart of the concept stands Mama Rita Kahawaty. The former fashion model’s passion lies in the kitchen where she spent years feeding her family and friends with her own simple take on wholesome traditional Middle Eastern and International dishes.
Growing up, Rita’s own mother Nahil taught her how to cook using fresh vegetables grown in the Lebanese mountains by her father Simon. Jessica wanted the world to enjoy the flavours of her home and Mama Rita was born.
The menu of Mama Rita offers three generations of home cooking to the public, beautifully fusing Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and International cuisine.
On the menu of Mama Rita, you can find include Beetroot Hummus the Mama Rita way, a vegan salad selection, Mama’s Fattoush, which combines tomatoes, cucumbers, zaatar, lettuce, mint, parsley and radish.
Some of the more hearty dishes include Mama’s pasta, like the Basil Pesto Pasta, a lasagna layered with béchamel and Bolognese sauce. And even a dish inspired by Rita’s aunt who lived in Africa, the sweet and tangy.
And of course, not to forget their Lebanese roots, Rita’s Homemade Shawarma and Knéfe to end the meal. Gulf News speaks with both mama and daughter to get an inside look at their new foodie business venture together.
What made you choose Dubai as the place to launch Mama Rita?
Jessica: I’ve been living in Dubai for the last few years and found that there’s a big demand for a concept around home-cooked food. Dubai is a second home for me after Australia so it made sense to start Mama Rita in a city I love, has different nationalities and mostly single people and families working hard here.
How long has this concept been in the works?
Jessica: For years, people have been telling my mother she should share her food with the world. About two years ago, we started thinking of writing a cookbook with all my mothers’ treasured recipes. This immediately evolved into an idea for a delivery service as we wanted the people to try the food from my mothers’ hands. We worked so hard on this concept and had the chance to focus especially during the COVID quarantine period as we spent hundreds of hours in the kitchen, working on branding, visuals and the whole Mama Rita experience.
How important was nutrition to you when you were developing the menu?
We cook in a healthy, nutritious and conscionable way at home. We rarely use oil, butter or sugar. We always try to use hormone-free or organic meats and chicken. Our salads are filled with superfoods and our snacks like the popular Fruit Paradise are healthy yet filling. Nutrition is important and we worked with a nutritionist to delve into the many benefits of our dishes which we share on social media.
What is your favourite dish from Mama Rita’s selection?
It’s so hard to choose my favourite dish as I curated the menu myself based on all my favourite dishes that my mother cooks at home. So you could say I created my all-time favourite menu! If I had to choose something right now, it would be the Grandma Meat Pastries, Beetroot Hummus and Original Lasagne. The Mloukhiye and Oriental Rice are also a must. The Carrot Cake is so delicious with hints of pineapple and coconut. See, I couldn’t choose one. I created a menu that appeals to so many tastes and just like myself, I believe that people don’t like to stick to one type of cuisine in life. If you feel like pasta one day, we have the best Pesto Pasta but if you’re in a rice mood the other day, you can have the best Beef Stroganoff.
Why launch as a delivery-only concept?
In this ever-changing world, we believe in listening to the people. Mama Rita is for the busy bees, the mamas who want something for their families and the ones who love to eat good food but don’t have time to cook. Additionally, given the current pandemic, we want to encourage people to stay safe and order healthy homey food. We want to be able to reach those at work and want to give them a lunch break with homey food. We want to reach the people having a night in with friends and want to eat delicious dishes. This concept is for everyone and delivery was the only way to reach far and wide. This model also allows us to be scalable into other markets that are already asking for Mama Rita!
What is the price range of your dishes? Will it be accessible to everyone?
This was the first thing that I worked on. My only condition was low pricing with high quality ingredients for everyone. I don’t care about margins or making profit as much as I care about having people eat my mother’s food. Our prices are accessible to everyone. Our prices are democratic because food is meant to be enjoyed by all. Our prices range from Dh17 to Dh47. We also have combos for one, two or four people that give them an amazing deal and access to multiple items on the menu for a lower cost.
Any plans to expand if the concept is a success?
We are already receiving an influx of demand to expand further into other countries in the Middle East. Firstly I’ll plan to expand further into the UAE then my goal is to make Mama Rita a global brand and a household name. No one has ever successfully created a home-cooked brand on a global scale that provides people with delicious food in a way that is consistent and with superior quality. This is what I aim to do.
Gulf News then got Mama Rita to answer a lightning round of questions
Butter or olive oil? Olive Oil
Steak or Lobster? Lobster
Sit down dinner or buffet? Buffet. I love having so many options.
Favourite ingredient to cook with? Nutmeg.
What is your daily breakfast? Knéfe or Fruit Paradise both of which are on our menu or Simple Oats and Fruit.
What music do you listen to while you are cooking? I love Arabic music or something like Cheb Khalid – lively and uplifting.
Mountains or beaches? Beaches
If you could only eat one thing from Mama Rita for the rest of your life, what would it be? Nouille Pasta!
What did you do on your last day off? I got a massage done because Kitchen life is not easy on the back or neck!
The one dish people should try when they visit Dubai: They must try Oriental Rice with Brown Sauce or Youghurt with Fattouch or Tabbouli on the side. It’s a staple Arabic dish and has tender Lamb inside topped with roasted nuts. It’s full of spices and delicious flavor so it’s an adventure in itself.