Sudanese Kitchen: Omer Eltigani
Food can be a tool for change, a way to educate and a bridge between cultures and communities. Omer Eltigani tells Rebel Food the story of how his project, The Sudanese Kitchen, came to be and the role he thinks food can play in starting conversations and opening up new worlds, teaching us about ourselves and others in the process.
"FOOD SO GOOD YOU'LL WANT TO START A REVOLUTION"
“Back in my uni days, and like many other diaspora kids, I realised that I missed my mum’s fantastic home cooking from our family’s motherland. I longed to change my own cooking, so I spent time with my mother and aunts, collecting their recipes and stories. I learned that Sudanese cooking is about ancestry, love for the family, community and catering to personal preference.”
The Sudanese Kitchen cookbook:
· Preserves recipes passed down through generations and shares them to a wider audience.
· Objectively educates the reader on the Sudan, its cuisine and cultures.
· Appreciates Sudanese women for tirelessly making these delicious meals and supports their fight for equality.
· Supports the fight against political oppression by the tyrannical government.’’
excerpt from www.sudanesekitchen.com
Over the past couple of years I’ve been compiling Sudanese recipes, facts and stories to aid cultural understanding of our all too often misjudged country. The Sudanese Kitchen is a cookbook project with my objective, first hand version of events about our country and its food.
I grew up solely on Sudanese food, it was all I knew until we moved to the UK at the age of 6. After then my brothers and I had our fair share of fish fingers, burgers and pizzas, though our mother mainly cooked Sudanese food for the family's daily meals. A decade later I found myself preparing to leave home for University and separated from Sudanese food for the first time. Those early student meals are a rough time for most, including myself who was new to cooking and it took me some time before I was happy with even a simple pasta dish. I'd return home every couple of weeks, mainly to stock up on my mum's home cooked meals and to take back food parcels with the intention they would last me the week. These parcels would hardly last a day, as my roommates and I made it a ritual to feast on my mum's Sudanese foods when I arrived home on Sunday evenings. This soon lead to more longing throughout the week but I noticed a shift in how I related to the food. I found the food profoundly comforting, making me feel more satisfied than with other foods and made me feel good about having it back in my life. I knew then I needed to somehow incorporate this food into my daily life.
I'd decided enough was enough as I couldn't wait a whole week or two to have this amazing food again so I'd ask my mum how to make a couple little things to keep me going. This was around the same time when I was feeling more adventurous with cooking and was trying out new meals from a variety of different origins. It also needs to be stated that there aren't any cookbooks or blogs about Sudanese foods in English. There was some content online at the time but I was more concerned with making foods my mum's way, the way I knew I'd like. So I began to learn to make fuul, fava beans, cardamom rice, peanut salad and many other simpler dishes. When at home with my mother I'd help her out in the kitchen as her assistant, often being asked to do more and more complex work such as mince the chick peas to make ta'mia, Sudanese falafel, and deciding what seasoning some dishes should have. Collecting recipes became a pet project for a couple of years in which I spent time with aunts, other family members and a variety of Sudanese communities to complete my recipe collection.
While collecting recipes, I noticed a huge portion of relevant cultural information was being left out. We have a thriving food culture in Sudan that is rarely talked about or explored. After this realisation it felt crucial to include this information to document and celebrate our culture which is often unrepresented in such a positive light. I began to document this food culture and look back at food anecdotes from my past. Like refusing to eat okra in the dish bamya, since their slimy texture made us dub them go-onja, the Sudanese Arabic for frog. I often recount when we ate with our grandparents, I wondered why I still remember this, how food memories worked and in what contexts. Most days in Sudan I'd wake up to the sound of ligeimat, fried batter balls, crackling in hot oil attended by aunts and my grandmother, we'd spend the day together in close quarters and share the common mealtimes of Sudan, usually eating together and on shared plates, a typical dining etiquette in Sudan. At the end of each day my grandmother always prepared a light supper for my grandfather of simply yoghurt and honey with torn pieces of bread from the local oven. This became our bed time routine as we'd sit with our grandfather and eat the yoghurt and honey with him as he told us old stories and fables before bed. I've tried to include some of these fables in my upcoming book, The Sudanese Kitchen, as well as well known proverbs related to food.
I would like this book to be a comprehensive collection of recipes, stories and culture that introduces readers to Sudan its fascinating relationship to food. I'd like our stories to be a testament to the beauty of a country often negatively portrayed.
It’s time to shed light on a place marred by a troubling recent history though boasts an underplayed illustrious past with, hopefully, an inspiring future. Through solidarity with our fellow Sudanese on both sides of the boarder, acceptance of our past and diversity, we can rebuild the country we were always meant to be. Encompassing Africa in one country, the largest and most diverse place on the continent, a place where hopes and dreams come true by looking at our plates and at ourselves.
Food can be the tool that helps us understand ourselves in a way we haven't before. Food can open our minds and the minds of others, often sparking a conversation and usually ending on good terms. We could use a lot of these conversation not just in Sudan but everywhere. Providing food for body and mind to heal and grow, together, stronger.
If you would like to support the Sudanese Kitchen or join the waiting list for the book visit Omer’s website here.