We all know that food can be a very powerful instrument for bringing people together and breaking down social, cultural and economic barriers. When we travel, in order to be respectful to our host we learn a few words in the local lingo: ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’. The next most important thing, because we all have to eat, is to learn some words for the available foods. Pointing and hoping for the best, whilst it can be fun, can also yield some very unexpected results, as I found to my cost when travelling through Vietnam and Laos over 20 years ago and being confronted with literally a whole duck – head, beak and webbed feet!
The past few weeks we have been engaging with and having interesting food conversations with recently arrived refugees from Syria and Iraq with the help of an interpreter and a few hand signals. Whilst the interpreter has been very helpful with the finer details, in actual fact the language of food is universal, as is the sharing of recipes and meals. All cooks and chefs might disagree as to the exact ingredients for a particular dish, and there were some heated discussions – but also lots of laughter and shared understandings. We are united by a love of good food and its power to bring people together regardless of where in the world we are born and brought up.
We have been talking with Noura, a lady from Palmyra in Syria, and Ryad, a gentleman from Erbal (Iraqi Kurdistan) who are going to create a menu that reflects their culture as well as what they like to cook, using ingredients from the new environment they find themselves in. The menu will be served at a special Syrian Supper Club here at Cyrenians Flavour & Haver Cook school on 7th August. We are inviting members of the public to buy a ticket and come along to learn how to make some perhaps unfamiliar food and recipes. We will all sit down to break bread together and enjoy the 3 course meal cooked as part of the event. The food will be delicious – as they say in Syria “so delicious you’ll eat your fingers by mistake”!
The event will not just support our new Cook School, it will also give experience to the refugees, who wish to go into the food business in the near future. Ryad is an experienced chef and Noura is a home cook who wants to start her own outside catering business. They are currently taking courses to improve their English, and they hope to find work here in the food industry.
The love of food has taken me to many places in the world, allowing me to engage with interesting, inspiring and fantastic people through this shared language. This time I have not had to travel far to meet with these 2 wonderfully inspiring people. I hope some of you might take the opportunity to come and support them as they undertake the difficult process of making a new home for themselves in Scotland.
Sue O’Neill-Berest, 24th July 2018
You can buy tickets for the Syrian Supper Club here.