Expats Rachel Kandji and Crystal Dixon are co-owners of the United Arab Emirates‘ first and only soul food business, Soul Sistahs. Hailing from St. Petersburg, Florida and Jacksonville, Florida respectively, the ladies met as educators working at a Dubai private school, where Crystal is the school’s counselor and Rachel is a primary teacher. 

Both married with young children (Crystal is the mother of a 5-year-old daughter and Rachel has a 3-year-old son), the two became fast friends.

When she arrived in the UAE three years ago, Crystal recognized that there was a desperate need for soul food in Dubai and the other emirates. She and Rachel shared a passion for the beloved cuisine, and both had fallen in love with cooking at a young age.

Photo courtesy of Crystal Dixon and Rachel Kandji

Coming from a family that is big on parties, BBQs, crab boils, and get-togethers, cooking is something that comes natural for Crystal. Likewise, when Rachel’s mother would host dinners at their house, she would be right next to her in the kitchen, learning how to cook.

“When Thanksgiving or other major holidays came around,” said Rachel, “I always wanted to learn how to cook the main dishes that my mother and aunties made. As I grew older, I continued practicing and getting better. Now the torch has been passed to me. I am able to bring the same sense of joy through food that my mother and aunties did during holidays.”

Wanting to share delicious soul food meals with their other Black expat friends in Dubai, Rachel and Crystal began partnering to host dinner parties and potlucks, and soon decided to use their talent to launch an official business.

Photo courtesy of Crystal Dixon and Rachel Kandji

“Living abroad as Black expats, it is always nice to have some sense of familiarity of home,” said the ladies. “Seeing the smiles on people’s faces and allowing others to enjoy a piece of home here in the Middle East is the main reason we started Soul Sistahs.”

Soul Sistahs offers soul food staples, such as fried chicken, fried fish, macaroni and cheese, cabbage, yams, and sweet potato casserole. All of their dishes are halal. They host pop-ups in different locations throughout Dubai, and are working towards having their own stand-alone restaurant very soon.

Having been in operation for only six months, the response has been overwhelming. Within their first three months, Soul Sistahs has hosted pop-ups and catered several events. With word about their business spreading on social media, Rachel and Crystal were invited to participate in the All Africa Festival, a three-day festival held in Burj Park to celebrate the African diaspora through music, culture, food, arts, and fashion.

Photo courtesy of Crystal Dixon and Rachel Kandji

“It was the biggest event that we have done so far with over 100 vendors set up in front of the Burj Khalifa.  We were completely nervous when we were asked to be a part of the festival because we hadn’t done anything like this before. But when the day came, we were ready!”

People came from all over the country to get a taste of Soul Sistah’s food. There were even people visiting from other countries who were extremely excited about the opportunity to taste some authentic soul food for the first time. Participating in the All Africa Festival allowed Soul Sistahs to reach people from all over and showcase soul food to people of all different nationalities.

“A large part of our clientele are American expats that miss the flavors of home. But we also have a lot of people from different places that have heard about soul food but never had a chance to try it. For a lot of people outside of America, when they hear ‘American food’ they only think of hot dogs and hamburgers. We are happy to be able to showcase Black American food to the world and educate them about our cuisine.”

Photo courtesy of Crystal Dixon and Rachel Kandji

“Dubai is an extremely diverse country. Everybody is from everywhere, and they bring their food and culture with them. Soul food is Black people’s love language, so why not share that with others? It’s important for people to know that Black culture has a space internationally where we can share our culture through food. Many people are open to learning about our culture.”

Having the only soul food business, not only in Dubai, but in the entire country, is something that feels surreal to Crystal and Rachel.

“We are just two women from Florida that moved here as educators. It is never too late to start over or continue dreaming.”

You can follow Soul Sistahs on Instagram at @soul_sistahs_americansoulfood.

Photo courtesy of Crystal Dixon and Rachel Kandji

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