How food enriches cultural awareness
Food is an integral part of one’s cultural identity. The dishes that are native to a country or community are passed from one generation to the other. Immigrants transfer their idea of a traditional dish within the countries they reside in. Consequently, this preserves their culture in the foreign land they habit; through the food they make. Many people learn to associate the food from their childhood with positive feelings and wholesome memories connected to their friends and family; each country has a unique food palate which reflects its values, beliefs, and history. Not only does food act as a mechanism to embrace culture but also helps smoothen the globalisation of cuisine and increasing interconnectedness – thereby enriching cultural awareness.
The university’s ‘International Day’ event always had food as its protagonist; a special occasion to spread cultural awareness, and for each person to learn about different cultures. Sukayna Kazmi, third-year Journalism student at Middlesex University Dubai affirms: “Allowing oneself to explore foods from various countries brings in different perspectives, deepens our understanding of these places and their cultures, and of course, tempts our taste buds to try some mouth-watering dishes.”
Additionally, the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) stated: “The food we eat is not only a quantity of proteins or vitamins, but it is a diversity of foods that forms the basis of our different civilisations.”
So, what are some of our favourite meals that take us back to our cultural roots? Middlesex University Dubai students and faculty share their ride-or-die foods, originated from their home countries.
Coming from the UK, a special dish suggested by Media Lecturer, Stephen King, is bangers and mash (read in a British accent for effectiveness, please). This dish is a serving of mashed potatoes topped with sausages and onion gravy.
Law student, Hugo Sandee, coming all the way from the country of tulips, windmills, wooden shoes, and canals, stated that his best Dutch food pick is boerenkool, translating to ‘farmers cabbage hodgepodge’. Intriguingly, the dish consists of sausages served with mashed potatoes and kale. Although, one would have expected cabbage as the main ingredient considering the translation.
German Media student Sophie Genth recommends spätzle, an egg noodle dumpling specialty, ideal for pasta lovers. It utilises homemade pasta made with fresh eggs and flour. The dish has a wonderful chewy texture, a sweet taste, and is very easy to cook (always a bonus)!
Taking a trip to the Southern part of Europe, I, Lydia, am Greek. Two of my top Greek dishes are the Greek salad with feta cheese, tomato, cucumber, olives, onions, and extra virgin oil to dip your bread into. Another dish that I enjoy is gemista, meaning ‘stuffed vegetables’. It is an oven-baked dish with colourful veggies, reflecting the resonance of Greek culture, such as tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, and zucchinis stuffed with rice. The rice that is soaked in the juices from the cooked veggies elevates the dish up a notch.
A delicious indigenous Nigerian dish proposed by Law student, Khadija Lawal, is amala, ewedu with gbegiri. Amala is a smooth dough made of yam, cassava flour, or unripe plantain flour. Ewedu is also referred to as a green (like the Nigerian flag) ‘jute leaves soup’ and gbegiri is a bean soup complementing amala.
Law student, Aya Osman, who believes that trying food from different cultures speaks a lot about how various communities live, suggests trying out her favourite dish from Sudan – Molokhia. It is a meat-based soup made of molokhia leaves that gives off a strong garlic fragrance and is eaten along with kisra, a type of thin, fermented bread made from wheat. Another dish is fasulia– beans cooked with lamb and tomato stew. Often prepared during Ramadan, the stew is served hot and has an amazing, healthy, soupy flavour.
Journalism student, Hashim Riyan, mentions a must-try if you are ever to visit Egypt – musaqa’a. It is an oven-baked casserole dish encompassing layers of aubergine, ground beef chilli, peppers, and served with either tomato sauce to give it some sweetness, or with béchamel sauce on top for some creaminess! Full of flavour, this dish is guaranteed to give one a “melt-in-the-mouth” feeling.
Musakhan is a hearty traditional, Palestinian favourite of Samira Banat, who is a Journalism student. Comprised of melting, tender-cooked chicken with lemon-flavoured sumac and caramelised onions, it is generally served with flatbread. The dish is eaten by taking a piece of bread and adding the chicken, sumac and the onions – like a small, rich and flavourful burrito!
Mansaf is Advertising student, Alaa Smadi’s favourite Jordanian dish. The food is made of seasoned lamb cooked with broth, Bedouin cheese and yogurt, generally served with saffron-coloured rice to give it a delicate touch of flavour and colour. This 100-year-old national dish is meant to give you a grip of the Jordanian culture.
Are you drooling yet? There is more…
A favourite Kazakh food of Media student, Medina Ashimbayeva, is beshbarmak, translated into ‘five fingers’ – because you need all five fingers to enjoy it. The dish is usually made of horse meat or mutton, served with lasagna noodles, broth called shorpa, and onion sauce.
Another suggestion by Samira Banat, now coming from her Russian genetic half, is piroshki. They are either fried or baked shaped-buns with a variety of fillings; from meat to vegetables, and even sweet ones like jam. In the words of Samira, “food is perhaps the easiest method of exposing yourself to a variety of cultures. Food directly reflects cultural and social etiquette; etiquette being a crucial aspect of cultural awareness. Certain dishes remind us of traditional meet-ups between family members and/or friends, whether we create these traditions ourselves or follow ones built-in by the people of our nations. However, if you look deeper into it and begin analysing each ingredient and what it represents, you start seeing the root of each nation’s story – what, when, why, who, where, and how.”
Journalism student Sukayna Kazmi’s traditional pick is gulab jamun, a desert widely enjoyed in the Indian subcontinent. This dish is also the national sweet of Pakistan. The fried dumpling is constructed out of milk powder with aromatic sugar syrup, and infused with rose water, crushed cardamom pods and saffron threads. Adding a good touch to the softness, the dessert goes well with a topping of chopped pistachios and flakes of almonds.
Law students, Sakshi Soneji and Sachi Goyal, chose the Indian dishes that remind them of their home. Soneji loves vada pav, which is a vegetarian street food made of spicy potato fritter placed in a bun, usually accompanied by mint chutney (an Indian condiment) and fried green chilis. Goyal proposes pani puri; one of the best street food snacks to try in India. It consists of round, crispy fryums filled with a mixture of flavoured water, chutney, chaat masala, chilli powder, mashed potatoes and/or chickpeas – no wonder India is known as the country of spices.
On a sweet note, Media student, Ivana Van Heer, likes to indulge in the Sri Lankan watalappan, an egg-based creamy,cardamon custard dessert, spiced with coconut, and sweetened with jaggery. Jaggery is a hardened piece of sugar that comes from the palm tree named ‘Kitul’. Who does not love the tropical flavour of coconut mixed with spicy cardamom? Watalappan can also be made without eggs, making it suitable for vegans.
Advertising and PR student, Ann Bequizo, recommends the chicken adobo, a Filipino dish. It is a juicy chicken thigh dish cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, and sugar, creating a sticky, glazed, yet tender texture. For those looking for an original Filipino restaurant in Dubai, Ann suggests Manila Grill in Asiana Hotel.
Going all the way to the Caribbean, Student Council member, Abigail Courtney, swears by the Jamaican ackee and saltfish with fried breadfruit. Ackee is a fruit with a mellow flavour and a creamy texture. The dish goes well with breadfruit as a side dish, which a fruit as well, but is starchy and resembles a potato.
As Samira additionally relays: “From a single meal with an individual, you can get to know not only them, but who and what they represent. It is almost like a time travel machine. With every bite, you get a taste of the decades or centuries of cultural development.”
Food is not only good to taste, but acts as a connector between individuals, and serves as a way to break the ice. Do not be afraid to start a conversation with another individual by asking them what their go-to dish is and talking about yours. Not only will you get to know them, but you will also get acquainted with another culture, its colours, smells and flavours.
What is your go-to home country dish?