Food has always been a passion for me – happy memories from childhood, special times with friends and more recently cooking for my own family. As a family we are fortunate to have been able to travel a lot…and a big part of that tends to involve sampling as much of the local cuisine as possible.
On a recent visit to a Syrian restaurant in Montreal, something struck home to me…
In the space of a few years, the place has transformed from a small, local joint in the outer suburbs of the city to become one of the highest rated establishments in Montreal. If you’re ever in Montreal, I seriously suggest you check the place out: www.restaurant-damas.com
Originally, their menu reflected the founder’s drive to recreate and preserve some of the recipes he had enjoyed as a kid growing up in Damascus prepared by his Mum and Grandmother – as a response to homesickness and also to try to preserve some of his country’s heritage in the wake of the atrocities and destruction going on there. It really struck me how important food and drink is to our sense of identity, enshrined in so many childhood memories. But over time, the menu and the concept evolved into something quite unique as he gradually brought new life and colour to these dishes by bringing in other influences from his new world. All of this completely impervious to local emerging fads and fashions, media coverage of mainstream food trends, and online recycling of the same cuisines, traditions and recipes.
In the Western world we spend so much time sourcing ingredients for new recipes, trying the latest ‘superfood’ or researching the best ‘new eats’ in town, but how much do we ever really think about where these come from, the people, their countries and their stories…? Most of us are blessed with an array of restaurants and cuisines on our nearest high street but in a world of almost 200 countries, how many of those are readily to be found? How many offer anything beyond a variety of the standard mainstream dozen or so culinary traditions? How many of us have tried or sought out things from Zimbabwe, Ukraine, or Bolivia? Myanmar? Iceland anyone?
I thought some more and over the last few months I have been researching traditions and recipes from countries around the world, from Yemen to Zimbabwe, from the Ukraine to the Philippines. Rather than simply recycle or take credit for any of these, I have attempted to look deep into these culinary traditions, experiment with the key ingredients and develop my own recipes based on them. (Please note, I am not making any particular claims of ‘authenticity’, but to experiment and build on ideas from different cultures and traditions, rather than to represent literally or appropriate others’ ideas).
In the course my research, I also realised that while we are cooking, tasting and enjoying these cuisines, in a lot of these countries children are going hungry and in many cases dying in numbers. And I want to help… through this blog I want to raise awareness of what is going on in these countries and the struggles they face, whilst creating recipes inspired by them for everyone to enjoy.