Fell in love with cooking at 16 and started a culinary business at 22, youthpreneur Dk Erfa Afiffah brings together food and flavours through her brainchild, The Taco Ting.
The psychology graduate aims to serve food that packs a punch of flavours with her business, and her love for food and cooking grew over the years, providing for her family and friends which at the same time boosted her confidence and tastebuds.
For her, cooking is her comfort and a coping mechanism when life gets overwhelming. She loves to mingle with people from different backgrounds, learning about their food and culture.
Food is her love language and The Taco Ting’s inspiration has since begun three years ago, shared Dk Erfa.
During the early phase of the pandemic, the youthpreneur had the chance to come up with many new dishes.
It was in September of the same year when she made her quick and easy student-friendly meal chicken wrap that she received positive comments and suggestions to sell.
“I see cooking as something so intimate and is my safe space. The thought of sharing it with people other than my friends and family, up for judgment, was scary,” said the youth.
Fast forward to July 2021, the 22-year-old was planning to pursue her Master of Clinical Psychology, but things did not go as planned just yet. With the extra time she had in her hands, she then began to brew ideas to start her food venture.
After several discussions with her peers, she decided to make wraps or tacos as her core product, the comfort food that she wants to share with everyone.
“Plus, there’s so much you can do with tacos! Not gonna lie, the movie ‘Chef’ was the sole reason why I dreamt of having my own food truck,” said the 22-year-old.
With the motivation and push from her friends, she was able to execute her ideas and started planning out The Taco Ting in July 2021 followed by the launch of her food profile on Instagram.
She further said that the taco scene in Brunei is still quite small, and The Taco Ting aims to bring in flavours the Bruneian market has yet to try. Dk Erfa puts her own personal touch on the Mexican street food, combining flavours from other dishes to suit local tastebuds.
Her first batch of tacos was out in August, the same day when the movement restriction of the second wave of the pandemic happened.
“After discussing with my friends about selling tacos, I developed a timeline to work on. It was a lot of research and development that went into the whole process of building the menu,” she added.
The flavour profiling and perfecting of the recipe took her up to two to three weeks to complete which became her focus in the beginning. She, later on, looked into sourcing ingredients, packaging, logo development, branding, trials, food costing and building the menu.
The online-based business debuted two taco options; the beef-based ‘Carne Clasico’ and chicken-based ‘Santo Pollo’ that are wrapped in tortillas made from scratch by Dk Erfa.
The food enthusiast decided to start with the two basic proteins catering to general food preferences in the local market. The beef has a smoky and tangy flavour while the chicken is spicy.
“The Carne Clasico is our take on a classic beef taco. You’ve got the pulled beef seasoned with eight different spices including pico de gallo for the freshness, crunchy lettuce topped with the tangy cilantro crema, cheese and cilantro,” said the entrepreneur.
Whereas the Santo Pollo is their chicken taco with juicy marinated chicken, pico de gallo, and purple cabbage topped with their spicy mayo cheese and cilantro.
A month after their first sales, The Taco Ting came out with their DIY Taco Box, a fun idea that the entrepreneur did not expect to be well-received by customers.
The DIY Taco Box has eight pieces of tortillas initially, but she increased the portions for more pax to enjoy.
“My inspiration came as I was assembling the tacos for collection and I thought, what if people do it themselves and wouldn’t that be fun? I even had one customer telling me it was the first time her parents, who were picky eaters and never really enjoyed these kinds of food, devoured my tacos,” shared Dk Erfa.
She further said that the next taco menu will be the Shrimp box which consists of one piece of Crunchy Camarones and one piece of Tomyam Taco.
The Crunchy Camarones consists of panko fried shrimp on a bed of creamy tangy slaw drizzled with sweet and spicy sauce garnished with cilantro – her personal favourite.
Meanwhile, the Tomyam Taco has tomyam shrimp made using their homemade tomyam paste using the freshest ingredients from her home’s garden’s lemongrass, galangal, chillies and kaffir lime leaves paired with fresh Thai salad with tomatoes and red onions, garnished with coconut cream and cilantro.
“At first, I was unsure how will people take it because it is not like the usual taco but I really wanted to test people’s taste buds. During research and development, I was nervous about the taste but to my surprise, the flavours work very well together,” said the youthpreneur.
The price ranges from $8 to $12 for individual tacos while the DIY taco kits are sold at $35.
As for the brand image, Dk Erfa put a lot of effort into making it attention-grabbing for customers while at the same time representing her identity.
With the help of her friends, she was able to execute her ideas and came up with the colour palette which is electric blue and lime green.
“I had my good friend, @janetsincostan, a freelance graphic designer, help me execute my ideas for the logo! For some of the illustrations and posters, my friends @_sinarsenja and @junji1toe did a great job executing my ideas,” said the founder.
For now, The Taco Ting is operating from home and taking part in some pop-up events such as Tampd’s sahur sessions during Ramadhan.
Operating during the pandemic, the first month was a challenge for her due to the influx of orders every week and with little help, the job took a toll on her physical being leaving her to be burnt out.
“Things got easier when the restrictions eased. I was able to get help from my friends. My customers are also the root of my motivation really because after a very tiring day of making tacos, hearing their feedback warms my heart and keeps me going,” said the food enthusiast.
Dk Erfa aspires bright future for the new business and eyes to bring in new ideas to further grow the initiative however for the moment, she will be focusing to continue her studies.
Give some support for this small taco business by checking out their Instagram @thetacoting and showing some love by getting their fresh and unique tacos.
This article was first published on 14 May 2022 in our Weekly Epaper issue 193 | More stories here
THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN