Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Exploring culture through food

The first time I ate at someone else’s house was in primary school. We’d been friends for a while, so our parents grew close enough to let us have playdates or at least to stay for dinner. It was springtime, around her birthday, when I had dinner at hers for the first time.

I was so used to eating either my home food or my family’s food so Jamaican food was completely new to me. Her parents made a grilled jerk chicken platter, with steamed greens and fried plantain and it was magical. It felt new and fresh but at the same time comforting as if I’d been eating it my whole life. Exploring new food is an experience for me that can never be truly matched – it’s like a gateway to different families with a rich history and rich culture.

Image: Shay Solanki

A food experience that has sat with me to this day involved a rainy day and a bowl of pho. After a bad day at school, I ended up at a friend’s house because it was raining and the moment I opened his front door, soaked from the rain, the smell of the food hit me.

London is extremely cultural, especially where I grew up

The steam from the kitchen fogged my glasses as I walked in and greeted his parents. They sat us down and his dad placed a large bowl of beef pho in front of me. The homemade noodles, the tender beef and the hot broth almost had me in tears. After a long, bad gloomy day, the pho made me feel unbelievably better. My friend described pho as his comfort food, that his family always made to relieve his stress, and it truly works.

Image: Shay Solanki

London is extremely cultural, especially where I grew up. I’m lucky to have grown up in Brent as I was always exposed to other cultures and backgrounds which taught me a lot about the world. It wasn’t until my first year of Warwick where I had my first English friend. My schools had always been dominated by a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

When I first met her at university, we connected instantly over food. On our first night in Jack Martin, we made Aglio e olio together, a light herby spaghetti. A few months later she made me my first ever full English roast, and it was beautiful. I’m used to heavily spiced strong food, but the English roast filled me in such a unique and cosy way. The fluffy but crunchy Yorkshires with the crispy potatoes and the softness of the chicken. I couldn’t believe I’d never had an English roast.

The amount of detail and care that can go into cultural dishes is unimaginable

Certain dishes can mean a lot to an individual. For me, a long day warrants a loving chana masala with fluffy pilau rice while a celebratory meal could mean birria taquitos. A friend of mine tells me of the days she feels sick, when her mum lathers her in Vicks and drenches her in lemon ginger tea, she is given a Panamanian sancocho – a rich, meat broth with soft corn and vegetables, which is her cure.

The feeling of home for another friend was lamb and couscous. I remember showing him how I made the quickest couscous and I was berated while he explained how his family lovingly cared for their couscous. The amount of detail and care that can go into cultural dishes is unimaginable, they are laced with the unique traditions of certain families and regions.

The way a person treats their food is very telling of their personality

Food is very sacred. Each culture has its own ingredients, tools and techniques to make their dishes. It is so integrally ingrained in culture that it’s the easiest, most rewarding way to respectfully learn about other cultures.

I’m grateful to have been able to travel to Thailand and eat a real Thai green but then I’m also thankful to have shared Eid food with my friend and her family. The way a person treats their food is very telling of their personality. I grew up watching my family delicately wash and marinate our meat to the best of quality you could get. Sometimes it is perhaps more important to take care of the food and respect the food you eat especially when exploring a new culture.

Image: Shay Solanki

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