Mile End Summer Flavour--Hibiscus

For several months, I have been walking past an African grocery store on Fairmount that advertises the sale of hibiscus in bulk. I was curious and wondered about the target market for this product. After all, who could drink that much tea.

Through the window of Al-Boutik, the name of the store, I could see a large wooden table at the centre, a map of Africa next to the door, some shelves filled with bags of bulk foods and large swaths of colourful fabric draped across the ceiling. But unfortunately, the store was never open for business.

On Friday night, on my way to the grocery store, I saw that the light was on and walked in. I met Atigh Ould, the charismatic owner of both la Khaima, the restaurant next door, and Al-Boutik. Wearing a teal-coloured turbin and black rectangular glasses, Atigh welcomed me in and showed me around his store. He is from Mauritania, a country with a mixture of North African and West African cultures, and his favourite drink as a child was hibiscus flower tea, which can be served either hot or cold. The owner told me that this drink was in fact brewed and bottled on the premises and could be found in some 100 stores in the greater Montreal area. He invited me back the next day with my children to try the hibiscus freeze pops (see picture below) and invited us to his store's grand opening on Sunday, April 17.

I dropped by with my children a few days later, and the hibiscus freeze pops were a big hit, even with my 2-year-old. I learned from the store attendant that the African store was also going to be a lunch counter, and the big table at the centre of the room was so that people would sit together and talk to one another. I was intrigued by this unconventional approach and wondered if it would be successful. The store attendant also told me that Atigh's inspiration for building his store's business around an artisanal product made on the premises was his neighbour from down the street, Fairmount Bagel.

My husband also dropped by to meet Atigh, whom he found just as charismatic. Unable to pinpoint the source of his charm, I asked my husband what was it that made the store owner so intriguing. It was a no-brainer for my husband.
"The man is happy," he said, "and happiness attracts people."


Anonymous | April 15, 2010 at 4:42 PM

There is a great Ocean between us, so I cannot magically send you some plants.
Yesterday I picked my first ''Rosella'' of the season & this morning preparing to turn into Jam.
Very interesting that the Africans turn it into a tea.
I have an earlier Picture
This Summer we had oodles of rain & with the heat, the Rosella
are growing like weed. It is officially our Autumn - the sun still has a sting to it.
The price for a 'shrub' that is really Annual here as the frost knocks them about,
as well as pests, but so easily grown from seed in Tropics & Subtropics..
I had no idea it was credited to so many healing qualities, still my Jam is in great demand.
Family mostly demand it of me, & friends appreciate when they receive a gift.
[not sure if that is your reference ]
There seem to be an endless variety of web pages one can look at..
They appear to be using the 'bracks' or seed husks. I have my own Recipie on Red Bubble too.
Today I am putting Apple in to make a little sweeter, for myself. Most people prefer the tart
tang of fruit, sugar & water.. /Pamela Ida

Heather | April 16, 2010 at 1:05 PM

I had no idea you could make jam from hibiscus! How wonderful. I also tried the second website you suggested and was stunned to see all of its healing qualities. Check this out:

Traditional Usage:
- Anti-inflammatory
- Antioxidant
- Appetite Stimulant
- Breathing Disorders
- Bronchitis
- Catarrh (respiratory and stomach mucous)
- Colds and flu
- Cough
- Digestive Upsets
- Diuretic
- Gastritis
- Gastroenteritis
- Laryngitis
- Laxative
- Phlegm
- Poultice
- Skin Problems
- Sore Throat
- Urinary Tract Problems
- Vascular Disorders
- Wounds

roseanne | April 19, 2010 at 1:02 PM

i love atigh and la khaima, and i'm excited that the al-boutik is finally open! i can't believe that i missed the grand opening. late one night last summer, as i was riding my bike along fairmount, atigh was working on the store and he invited me in to taste-test a hibicus freeze pop. it was amazing!

atigh and his beautiful little business are among the secret treasures of mile end. the neighbourhood is lucky to have him.

Heather | April 19, 2010 at 2:45 PM

I agree. His store is one of the best kept secrets. I can't wait for him to start serving lunch and brunch. Thanks for stopping in. Heather

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