Florencia: Tanzanian nurse and chef with a flourishing Swahili cuisine business in Chicago

What you need to know:

  • Most of her clients are Tanzanians who are regular customers, which keeps her business afloat. She still wants to expand her business, and most people wish to see her operate a restaurant.

Her social media is filled with mouthwatering posts of Swahili food, fresh out-of-the-kitchen samosas, chapati, and videos of her cooking pilau, which would make anyone watching wish the food was within reach.

Florencia Mwakilasa Osei, a Tanzanian living in the windy city of Chicago, is a registered nurse and a chef whose expertise in cooking Tanzanian food has earned her a loyal clientele.

Fifteen years ago, she moved to Chicago after she won a green card lottery, the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery program, which the United States Department of State runs.

Having secured the visa that guaranteed her permanent stay in the US, Florence, popularly known as Flo, moved to Chicago, where her brother was already a resident.

Like a fish out of water, Flo’s introduction to American life was a mixed bag of excitement, shock, and challenges as she tried to adjust to her new life.

“Everything in the US is different; it was very hard to adjust to everything,” she recalls.

Despite the presence of family members in the US, Flo felt very lonely; unlike Tanzania, where it’s normal to mingle with strangers and spark a conversation, the US is quite the opposite, but she had to adjust.

Most notable was the American food, which tasted differently from the food she was accustomed to in Tanzania.

“I think American food has too much sugar,” she said while laughing.

This would prove to be a blessing in disguise as she took this opportunity to launch her own Swahili cuisine business called ‘FloKitchen,’ Many Tanzanians who longed for their ugali and chapati would soon become her clients.

Back home in Tanzania, she used to cook for the family but not as a business; she only turned it into a lucrative enterprise after seeing the demand grow.

Flo noticed she attracted many people whenever she posted on ‘Tiktok’, and the encouraging feedback made her consider getting serious with her cooking.

The first time she shared her video of cooking some West African food with Ugali and okra, the video received so many comments: “ I shared the African way of cooking okra; it went viral, and I thought maybe I should share more of my African recipes’’ she said.

Besides amazing social media users with her cooking skills, Flo tended to cook for friends whenever they visited, and she pulled out all the stops to make exceptional meals for each occasion.

That is when she realised this talent she has could be a source of income, and that’s when it became her part-time business.

When she first arrived in America, Flo did many other jobs. Her first job was as a certified nursing assistant, and she later became a dialysis technician working with kidney patients.

She then moved to work in surgery as a sterile processing technician.

She later decided to go back to nursing school and graduated.

The idea for Flokitchen as a part-time business was meant to cater to those who enjoy African food, and she decided to cook all types of African food because there is a commonality that African food shares’ “You see, in Nigeria, they call it fufu, and in Tanzania we call it Ugali; it’s almost similar,” she said.

Flo is married to Ghanaian American, Mr Prince Osei, who remembers introducing him to Tanzanian cuisine and how his taste glands responded: “Prince, as many West Africans, they are so much into their food; they don’t want to eat anything outside their cuisine, but at some point, I told him, since you live with me, you are going to eat my Ugali and try my food,” she laughed.

That was easier said than done. Her husband initially thought Ugali was tasteless. “You know, their Ugali, they add salt,” she revealed.

 “He even said Chapati has no taste,” she shockingly said.

But when Prince went to Tanzania, he adjusted well and was able to eat everything. Flo took her husband to Tukuyu in the Mbeya region, her home village, and surprisingly, he came around and loved all the food they found there. Florencia’s primary job is still nursing, as she continues to maintain FloKitchen on the side.

Both jobs are demanding and time-consuming, but that is how Flo likes it: “I hate being idle; I have no time, but I am used to it,” she mentions.

She still finds time to travel outside Chicago to clear her head and rejuvenate; she loves going to Indiana and Wisconsin.

Most of her clients are Tanzanians who are regular customers, which keeps her business afloat. She still wants to expand her business, and most people wish to see her operate a restaurant.

“Doing nursing and operating a full-time restaurant is such a huge task, but God willing, I will do it one day,” she said.

She had a word for any Tanzanian who would like to move to the US: “There are a lot of opportunities here in America if you are serious about what you want,” she cautioned.

“It’s not as easy as it seems; what you see people sharing on social media and it seems like they are having fun, that’s not the full story they share’’ she added.

“Everything you get in America, you work for it; nothing is easy; you have to be determined and work so hard, otherwise you will be disappointed,” she concluded.

Florencia Mwakilasa Osei is part of a growing number of Tanzanians who have managed to pave the way for themselves in the US, joining the diaspora community.

As the years go by, she has always remembered to keep her connection with Tanzania by visiting home whenever she can, if it’s not for that, and she is using her cooking as a way to pay homage to her motherland.