“These are fava bean dips. Go ahead - try them.”
Shadia Al Hili is urging a woman passing by her Altrincham Market stall to sample the food on offer.
But there’s a problem.
The woman appears more confused than interested by what’s on sale.
Shadia tries again, this time in Arabic.
“Honestly, it’s authentic ful madamous - give it a go.”
The woman frowns. Real ful madamous doesn’t exist ready-made outside her homeland - never mind the UK. This doesn’t seem right.
She gazes at the pot on the table, sniffs, piles up a spoonful, and raises it to her lips.
There’s a pause.
All of a sudden, she urgently beckons her husband over to the stall. They stand together tasting samples for some time, before the woman turns to Shadia, places a palm on her shoulder and looks her right in the eye.
“Thank you for doing this," she says.
All those endless hours in the kitchen suddenly seemed worthwhile. Shadia felt she might just be the right person to introduce ful madamous to the British market after all.
Ful madamous - a dish of cooked fava beans served with a stash of aromatic spices, olive oil, garlic and a touch of chilli heat - is not just a favourite for Middle Eastern families; it’s an essential part of their staple diet. It tastes like home.
Shadia, a mother of two and entrepreneur from Salford, is the first woman to popularise the magnificent, healthy cuisine in the western hemisphere. And it's making a big impact.
This is how she did it...
“We’re putting ful madamous on the map”
The fact that ful madamous has never quite made it onto British soil as a supermarket snack seems bizarre for two reasons.
Firstly, it’s one of the oldest foods in the world - having been a staple of the eastern diet for more than five thousand years.
Second, it offers pretty much everything the body and mind needs to fire on all cylinders.
Packed with healthy carbs, protein and vitamins, it’s what Shadia refers to as a “little bowl of heaven” - and Shadia is selling it for just £2.95 a pop.
Ful madamous- translated as “mashed beans” in English - is nothing short of a superfood, tasting like a thicker, fuller version of hummus although with 75% less calories.
Among its incredible health benefits is the also the presence of levodopa - a dopamine precursor and chemical proven to fight Parkinson’s disease.
“We’re trying to put madamous on the map,” explains Shadia, who set up her ful madamous brand Cuzena in 2017.
“It has so many benefits for people, it offers a real insight into Middle Eastern culture, and it’s perfect as a meal or snack.
“The fact that you couldn’t just buy it off the shelves seems mad to me. It’s one of the tastiest, healthiest foods in the world!
“I’ve always had a bit of an entrepreneurial mind-set, but when I closed the fridge one day after realising my family hadn’t made ful madamous, I thought - ‘Why can’t you just buy this in supermarkets?’.
“It wouldn’t leave me, and I decided to give it a real go.
“I’ve been very passionate about making it happen ever since.”
“They have hummus now”
Raised by Middle Eastern parents - who’d moved to Salford in the 1950s - Shadia is convinced her dad is looking down on her right now and laughing at the fact she’s introducing a nation to a food that’s reigned humble but supreme in the east for centuries.
“He’d find it bizarre, but I think he would be very proud” laughs Shadia.
“I remember my mum coming home and excitedly telling my dad - ‘You won’t believe it, they have hummus in the shops now.’”
“It was a big thing then. But nowadays, hummus is everywhere. That’s the plan for ful madamous.”
Shadia calls ful madamous the “cousin” of hummus, but this concoction differs in the fact it can be eaten hot or cold. It’s also earned privileged status as ‘SYN FREE’ at Slimming World whilst fitting in a veggie or vegan diet.
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This year is all about the Levantine food trend....so influences from the historical Levant region that geographically encapsulates Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine with wider influences from North Africa and Turkey. Making Cuzena bang on trend! Our unique range of Madamous dips – the ‘spicy cousins of houmous’ – are based on a recipe that has been part of the staple diet in Middle Eastern countries for over 5,000 years. #foodtrends #middleeastern #levantine
So why, until now, has ful madamous evaded British buyers?
“I think for many years, people didn't enjoy the earthy colours of dark food," Shadia explains.
"I certainly think the stars have aligned for us to introduce our bean ranges with the growth of plant-based eating.
“I think a lot of people believe the best beans are grown elsewhere. But we’ve actually had excellent beans growing here since the iron age.”
Not that that made it any easier to make ful madamous, of course.
Shadia had to go through more than 1,000 tests until she found a blend that really hit the spot. But two years ago, she successfully completed the soft launch of Cuzena - which is now available both in Manchester and nationwide.
There are currently three flavours for sale - garlic & coriander, fiery chili, and caramelised onion - with plans in the pipeline to expand the range in 2020.
“ I think the perception of Middle Eastern food is that it's really complicated and contains all sorts of things like rose petal water” Shadia tell us.
"The fact is - it's humble food with magnificent flavour and Cuzena plans to show how thoroughly simple and thoroughly modern the food is. I'm just so glad more people are beginning to discover what it’s like.”
"True happiness must be shared"
Nobody had heard of Cuzena a few months ago. Barely anyone knew what ful madamous was, either.
Yet, Shadia’s Middle Eastern dish is now available at Wholefoods, As Nature Intended, Bents Garden Centre, Unicorn, Ancoats General Store, Sale General Store, two city centre SPARs (Princess St and Oxford Rd), Booths supermarket and Selfridges.
Cuzena is also enjoying distribution from Cotswold Fair and The Health Store.
“It’s been a busy few months, but I’m so glad people are discovering it,” says Shadia.
“At Cuzena, we respect the Middle Eastern tradition to share from ‘one plate’ - we only make food that you can share.
“That’s our attitude: True happiness must be shared...”