I'm not sure when I really started cooking. I think the first thing I cooked as an adult was a vegetarian chili recipe in the book "Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec" by Jean Railla. The section on cooking in that book was short, but very inspiring, and it encouraged me to give it a shot. Despite the inspiring encouragement, for the longest time, the chili was all I made: it featured at potlucks, dinner parties my sister and I hosted, and dinners in front of the TV.
Since then, I’ve expanded my repertoire to include more than just an endless variation of chili. Curries, pastas, a range of baked goods (everything but the active yeast) – recently, even a Ukrainian stew. But the line has been drawn, rather sharply, on Egyptian food. My parents are both Egyptian, and while it’s true I wasn’t raised there, I did spend the last six years there, I speak the dialect, and the Egyptian government has been responsible for issuing every passport I’ve had.
My mother didn’t cook much, relying on our housekeeper for day-to-day affairs and saving her efforts for big ‘izoomas (dinner parties) where she’d go all out for the three days leading up to the big event, and then returning to our largely macaroni-with-red-sauce-centered lives.
Sure, molokhiya (green stew eaten with rice) made periodic appearances, and stuffed vine leaves were always on the menu when the dozen guests were invited for those dinner parties, but I can’t exactly say that Egyptian food is what I grew up eating.
Egypt is not particularly well known for its cuisine (the Lonely Planet described it essentially as being nothing to write home about) – I can accept that – regardless of what the world’s favorite travel guide thinks, I am attached to certain dishes - but it doesn’t explain why I’ve never cooked anything that could really be called Egyptian.
I just finished reading the food memoir “The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family,” yesterday – in which Laura Schenone, the author, undertakes an endeavor to unearth her family’s authentic Genoese ravioli recipe. Schenone recalls the elaborate Christmas dinners her mother would host - describing the meal as being “… the Italian food of American technology and industrial technology” – and pointing out that her family neither desired Genoese staples of times past nor remembered how to make them. Instead, the food at the Christmas dinners had “no direct connection to us. But this does not matter. We all agree in the meanings – that it is good, that it is right.”
Is this direct connection to the food we eat important? And does the connection have to be linked to “ethnic heritage”? What about the place where we live, and the connections that can be formed by eating locally and in season?