Guest blogger Abbas Mohamed of the GAMA collective reflects on food, family and community.
Ramadan concludes this Wednesday, and as the Holy Month comes to an end, I am blessed to be able to reflect on what it has brought to me. Ramadan is a month in the Islamic lunar calendar during which Muslims worldwide refrain from eating and drinking from sunup to sundown. For the entire day, even water is off limits. Ramadan is also a time where amazing cooking experiences happen more often and are cherished all that much more since we are deprived of food all day. In my reflections of this Holy Month, I want to explore food, and the role it plays in building community with family and friends.
“Some people eat to live, but I live to eat.”
This simple statement sums up not only my attitude towards food, but rather my attitude towards all of life. Food is a language that loved ones use to speak, it is a vessel for cultural understandings and exchanges. Food is romance, drama, memories; food is essential. Food is what allows me to better grasp my family history and to connect deeper with myself.
When I was getting to know my wife, I asked her what was probably THE most important question I had for a potential spouse: What are your three favorite foods. She answered: “Thai, sushi….anything with shrimp”, and with that my stomach growled, my heart skipped a beat, and I knew that she was the one. Food is what has literally brought us together.
My food journey and self identity started with my mother. I learned about my heritage through the foods that she cooked for us growing up: Saudi Maghluba (1st photo), Punjabi Nihari (2nd photo) with naan, Kenyan Makai Paka with Mahambri(3rd photo).My cultural identity has always been an amalgamation of countries, cultures, languages and practices but food has always allowed me to see myself manifested on a plate. Growing up, I felt the ease with which I could eat chicken karahi one day to mahambri and kuku paka the next. (All images from my aunts website Sabiha’s Kitchen!)
I learned so much in the kitchen from the women in my life. From my mom to my aunt to my grandmother, I have been blessed with some amazing female mentors.
Food just has that power: people gather around food, and once the bread has broken, a bond forms that is unspoken yet understood. Not only with friends, but with family as well, food has often played a central role in our gatherings, such as at our annual cousin’s Iftar dinner, or the massive Naan parties that my family throws at home. A Naan party is exactly what it sounds like: a whole party of people collectively making different kinds of naan’s and feasting on them.
Not only is the naan absolutely delicious, but the cooking process itself is something that involves the whole family. Everyone has a skill that can be translated in the kitchen even if that skill is something as simple as buttering the hot naan as it comes out of the oven. A communal effort for a communal meal, the cooking becomes less of a chore and more of a bonding experience. The newest members who have just married into our family join in too, and this becomes a way for them to understand us and become a part of us as well. We are all one unit when we are cooking naan together.
Eid, the Muslim holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, is just around the corner as I write this and I am excited for the joy and festivities it will bring. Whether we end up eating out as a family, or staying in for some home cooked goodness, there is one thing of which I am sure: food will be central to our gathering. Food will be how we express our love to each other, and how we celebrate our Eid together, just as it has always been.