Food and Diaspora

Monday, October 12, 2020 - 7:08pm

NOSELL

Photo courtesy of the author

We’ve all seen corny tweets by diaspora kids of various ethnicities and origins talking about being made fun of for having weird-smelling lunch by ignorant white kids, and we’ve all probably clowned them a little bit for it — I know I certainly have.

 

And while it can oftentimes be a way to find community with others (arguing about different ways to prepare certain dishes, which takeout place is the best, and yes, even sharing experiences of being made fun of for the food we eat) I sometimes still find myself frustrated with the ways in which my own culture is relegated to certain foods: hummus, shawarma, baklava, etc etc. It’s kind of a mundane thing to be annoyed about, but it got me thinking: Where exactly does this universal connection to traditional food come from?

 

My friends Samia Saliba & Summer Farah ( @sa_miathrmoplis & @summabis on twitter ) recently talked about this in Samia’s newsletter and they came up with a few conclusions. Everyone eats, and therefore food is largely the most accessible way someone can explore their culture. More so than other aspects of culture like language, crafts, traditional clothing, or in some cases, access to the motherland. Food can also be tied to nationalism and the creation of national identity. I’m reminded of how, in the years following the Six-Day War of 1967, it became a crime to raise a Palestinian Flag in Zionist-controlled Gaza & the West Bank and so instead people held up watermelons

 

On the flip side, internal cringing resurges whenever I encounter a trendy hipster-joint that touts their “Israeli couscous” or Sabra hummus being sold across campus. 

 

“Israeli” cuisine is a fairly recent creation, and, at its core, is an extension of settler colonialism by turning traditionally Levantine & North African dishes and passing them off as Israeli. And while I’m fully aware that cultural diffusion exists and certain foods can be found across the shami countries of Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan, there’s a clear difference here.

 

Food is, as I’ve talked about earlier, more than just food. It’s culture, history, loss, tragedy — it’s an expression of the struggle our ancestors faced. And by representing certain foods as inherently Israeli, especially when taking into consideration the decades of settler colonialism faced by Palestinians by Israel, is not just factually incorrect. It’s erasing history & experience.  

 

Anyways, with all this talk about food, I thought it might be fun to include a recipe. My mom’s recipe in fact, for Sfouf, Lebanese turmeric cake. It’s super easy to make & vegan-friendly too!

 

Sfouf (Tumeric cake)

  • 2 cups of flour

  • 2 cups of farina flour / semolina 

  • 2 ¼ cups of sugar

  • 1 ¼ canola oil

  • 2 cups of milk 

  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder

  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder

  • 1 / 2 tablespoons of rosewater ( optional )

  • Tahini/Sesame paste ( optional )

  • Pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts ( optional )

  • Shredded Coconut  ( optional )

 

Preheat your oven at 350. Mix the dry ingredients, then add oil and milk. Add shredded coconut to the mix and coat the pan with oil or tahini. Decorate with any nuts you have on hand, though pine nuts taste the best. Bake for forty minutes, or until the top gets golden. Cut it into squares, serve with black tea or coffee and enjoy!