Thursday, 6 February 2014

Food Peace

 The Middle East is not known for its strong relations with the West. However, just as in any conflict, there are the civilians having to live day to day trying to maintain peace and normality in their personal sphere as opposed to becoming the faceless, violent mass synonymous with the 'Middle East' in the Western media. Through food, people encourage the strengthening of societal ties amidst the ongoing animosity encouraged by political motives. Focusing on two cookbooks, I will be looking at migration and the positives of communal eating.
      Egyptian Cooking: A Practical Guide (1984) written by Samia Abdennour does not disappoint in its practicality. Whether "you are a gourmet cook with a taste for experiment, or the disconcerted new arrival in Egypt faced with a hungry family and unfamiliar ingredients, this book is for you" (Abdennour). The book is concise in listing ingredients and methods. Only very few recipes have contextual information such as the aubergine section: "There are three types of aubergine, purple-brown round […] ones called "Roomy" (Greek), purple-brown slender ones called "Aroos" (Bride) and white, slender […] ones called "Abyad" (White)" (Abdennour, 54). Every ingredient shared is seasonal and widely available, again highlighting the book's practicality. The simple layout and non-digressive lists evoke images of a busy hustle and bustle, this book is for the everyday person with no time to waste, and the food is not presented as high standard specialty dishes. The dishes are easy family meals, suggesting more time left to sit with others and eat the meal, as opposed to spending a ludicrous amount of time preparing the food. Its fast pace and simplistic syntax makes it suitable for a new migrated family who need to adapt to their new life as soon as possible, as Abdennour mentions. 
      The notions of migration are further reflected in the Egyptian cuisine which is a combination of Mediterranean and Eastern foods: "mainly Turkish, Palestinian, Lebanese, Greek and Syrian" (Abdennour, 9). The hybridity of the Egyptian cuisine demonstrates that it is easy to integrate in to the Egyptian community because ultimately, there really is no major difference between anyone. The cookbook conveys a humanistic outlook. With a neat glossary consisting of Arabic and English terms, the book is highlighted as a uniting text, helping people integrate through food. Emigrants are encouraged to meet local inhabitants by buying "locally [grown] and sold" (Abdennour, 9) vegetables. The "recipes mentioned are those prepared by the average middle class Egyptian and do not reflect the more sophisticated recipes copied and adapted from Western recipes" (Abdennour, 9). The book is flimsy and yellow-papered, bound by plastic rings, exuding its intention of being used as opposed to simply displayed. 
      Arabian Flavours: Recipes and Tales of Arab Life written by Salab Jamal is interesting because not only is it an Arab cookbook targeted at a Western audience but it has been written by a male cook which is a rare occurrence within the Middle Eastern cookbook range. Already the book represents the breaking down of stereotypical barriers and highlights the accessibility of becoming a cook. The book provides the readers with enchanting dishes that are simple to produce yet are so large, the equipment needed seems impossible for today's average wage family. For example a dish intended to serve "nineteen people" (Jamal, 1) requires an oven equalling the size of a range oven if not bigger. In the sizes of the dish the reader can infer a sense of unity and community. The author reminisces about his childhood in Nablus, Palestine, which is now overrun with conflict. The recipes serve almost as a rewriting of current events in the Middle East as they force people to eat together and in general, to be together. As well as suffering international invasions, the Middle East is rife with civil wars which are discouraged by the harmonious food of Jamal's book. The very title incorporates a folkloric element which invokes images of community spirit: "Tales of Arab life".

Abdennour, Samia. Egyptian Cooking: A Practical Guide. American University:Cairo, 1984. Print.

Jamal, Salab. Arabian Flavours: Recipes and Tales of Arab Life. Souvenir Press Ltd: London, 2005. Print.