Ever since I started planning in earnest for our stateside reception, I’ve been trying to think of little gifts/thank yous to leave at each seat, and also to think of ways to bring both of our cultures into this. The restaurant serves hummus, baba ganoush, and tabbouleh, so we’ll be having that alongside crawfish etouffee and muffuletta orzo. And I’ve been picking out a few favorite Arabic songs to play.
My hometown is in Louisiana. And I truthfully haven’t spent a lot of time there over the years, but I’ll hazard a guess that there are bound to be some misunderstandings there about the Middle East. At the least, I think an appreciation for international food is relatively new there. And we’ll be arriving less than a month after the election – so who knows what kind of political climate we’ll be walking into.
I’m slightly obsessed with food when I travel. I like learning about the histories of dishes, and what it tells us about who traded with whom, how cultures blending gave us dishes we take for granted today (like burritos!). I think of it as a unifying factor. Like, if you can sit down and share a good meal with a stranger, you start to think – well, if this culture has food this good, they can’t be that bad! And more than likely, the flavors will remind you of something you had long ago, and maybe it will transport you to a good memory. And “company” literally means the people you break bread with – so food is powerful.
Food is also used to build and destroy narratives of identity. Like people saying hummus and shakshuka are Israeli cuisine (they’re not – call it “Middle Eastern” if you prefer, but this food was around long before 1948 and was cooked by indigenous people). And one of the reasons it’s so successful is food seems like such an innocuous, unpolitical topic.
All of this is probably not enough to counter the kind of vitriol Donald Trump types are spewing these days. And maybe I can’t bring much Arabic food to them. But I had the idea for little recipe postcards – I’ll choose 5 or 6 of my favorites – with a cheesy photo of me and Layth on the back saying thank you. And they can try it on their own or share it with a friend.
And I plan to go to Semiramis and get about 100 individually wrapped rose petal-covered lokum before I leave, to place on the tables for people to try. My mom tried it for the first time when she visited and I think it was almost akin to a spiritual experience for her. They’re that good.
So for the next couple of months I’ve gotta be cooking and photographing these dishes and get the cards off to the printer.
How to stop people from saying hateful things? Stuff their mouths full of delicious food until they run out of bad things to say.