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Family, Food & Culture

by Kim Wyatt

Do you have memories of your favourite childhood food? Perhaps you can recall the smells, sights, and sounds of your grandmother cooking in the kitchen. What about all your childhood celebrations that were filled with food and family? There’s no doubt that many of us have fond food-related memories.

Food is an important link to our past and a framework for our future. As expats—whether in Qatar or elsewhere—moving to a new country often means adapting to and rebuilding a new way of life. But food remains an integral part of our identity and helps to maintain a connection to our homelands.

Now more than ever, cooking has become an essential part of our daily lives. And passing down family recipes from one generation to the next is a great way to teach children about family history and cultural ties.

DEEPSHIKHA SAHNI

Originally from India, Deepshikha Sahni firmly believes that “food is an expression of culture and a great point of connecting back to one’s history and background”. It’s clear that this long-term Qatar resident has a passion for the rich cultural heritage and traditions of her homeland. She says, “in India, the common thread that binds the country is [a] love and passion for food. Meals are eaten together. We live by the famous saying ‘a family that eats together stays together'”. Like most families with busy everyday lives juggling work and school, Deepshikha favours her kitchen as the perfect place to bond with her family: “Our kitchen is the heart of the home and the place where our family tends to meet up to discuss the day.”

Like many people, Deepshikha’s childhood food memories revolve around the matriarchs in her family: “I still have memories of my mum’s and grandmother’s meals, and I try to imbibe the same flavours into my own food.” In fact, Deepshikha has a range of delicious recipes handed down from her grandparents, including spiced mutton, mint chutney, and semolina kheer. “My mother is an expert at making parathas (Indian flatbread) and has taught me the art of making them deliciously crisp,” she says.

Naina, Deepshikha’s 16-year-old daughter, has also inherited the family’s passion for cooking. She enjoys whipping up Indian dishes such as curry and scrambled paneer, plus a wide range of global classics.

Evidently, Deepshikha is proud of her daughter’s culinary skills, despite her own interest in cooking starting much later in life: “When I got married, I was completely clueless about cooking! I didn’t even know how to cook rice!”
Deepshikha says she used to spend hours on the phone with her mother while chopping and cooking according to her precise instructions. She says that her mum was the “best available teacher” and that she would ask her questions about the tiniest details. Today, it seems that this family’s culinary traditions continue.

DEEPSHIKHA’S TOP TIPS TOPS FOR COOKING WITH KIDS

  • Make cooking a fun activity.
  • Give children small chores to do in the kitchen.

• Give children lots of praise as this will motivate them to return to the kitchen over and over again!

RANA KHATIB

Rana Khatib’s Palestinian childhood home was full of deliciously comforting meals cooked up by her mother and shared daily with the whole family. “Growing up, my mama did everything! She’s a pro in the kitchen. Fast, efficient, and a proper sit beit—an Arabic term for the ‘woman of the house: the woman who runs the show’! Most importantly, she was the one who always brought us together around the kitchen table, where we shared our stories and memories,” she says.

However, it wasn’t until Rana married her husband Khaled that she finally set foot into the kitchen: “I never had a real interest in the kitchen except for eating my mama’s delicious food! Fast forward to 2016, and I got married. My husband and I had to figure it out ourselves.” But the more Rana got stuck in, the more she realised the importance of cooking. “It’s not only the result that makes it so special but the process of creating something with so much love,” she says.

With an obvious passion for food, does Rana have any family favourites? Her answer: “This is such a tough question—I feel like so many recipes are connected to different memories and seasons. A few of our favourite traditional recipes are maqloubeh, molokhia, and any freekeh (an ancient grain found in Middle Eastern cuisine) dish.” Rana emphasises that she never cooks a traditional dish without messaging her mother and listening to her audio responses. According to Rana, most of her mother’s recipes were either passed down from her own mother or were ones she recreated.

For Rana, family and cultural celebrations are an opportunity for food to take centre stage—it’s the perfect way to bring people together: “Every big celebration is centred around food. I remember growing up in my parents’ house, and my mama would spend at least a day in the kitchen preparing a feast for our guests. This is the same in most traditions and cultures; food is basically the binding element that connects people from across the world.” Inspired by her mother’s cooking style, Rana replicates the same generous hospitality at home: “In our house, if someone is coming over for tea, we have to bake something to honour their presence. Imagine walking into a home with that smell of freshly baked cookies or cake—it just gives you a feeling of warmth and love.”

Rana’s passion for food, family, and her Palestinian culture inspired her business venture: a range of pre-packaged food using traditional Arabic ingredients and flavours. “A few years into [my] marriage, I realised that something was missing in our home. We were eating healthy and ‘clean’ food, but my mama’s love and the memories were missing. I started to realise the importance of tradition. Traditional recipes come from stories of migration, stories of agriculture, and stories of humble beginnings,” she says.

Rana believes that traditional recipes represent generations of strength, resilience, and love. She attributes a lot of what she now knows about Palestinian heritage to cooking those recipes and learning about the history behind the ingredients. Take freekeh, for example: “Freekeh is something I am proud of cooking. Freekeh was extremely popular in Palestine, and a lot of families used it in every dish—more so than rice. Now I feel like I am serving history, nutrition, and love all in one sitting.”

Rana now has the chance to pass down her tried and tested recipes to her young son, Yousef, aged two: “I finally recognise the importance of cooking food at home. I introduced cooking to my son before he turned two and he absolutely loves it!” Rana believes that cooking encourages kids to experiment with different ingredients and gain a love for all types of food. She also thinks that it is a great learning tool that engages their senses.

It’s been years since her early days in the kitchen, but Rana is thankful she embarked on her culinary journey: “Learning to cook has made me realise the importance of the creative process and [the] raw aspect of cooking. I am so grateful I see cooking in this light now. It makes my family love and appreciate food a lot more.”

RANA’S TOP TIPS FOR COOKING WITH KIDS

  • Cooking doesn’t need to be so “by the book”, and it doesn’t have to be about the end result.
  • Enjoy the process!

• Be patient and understand that every single moment is another memory, another lesson, and another piece of the puzzle that will bind your love together.

SAMINA MOGHUL

For Samina Moghul and her family, the start of the weekend is the perfect time to bring the family together for a delicious array of cultural favourites. She says, “every Friday, we make an extra effort to eat a traditional Pakistani-style breakfast. It’s very important to have family time in any way possible. One of the best ways is through cooking together, and I believe food creates an integral connection to our identity and culture”.

Samina’s parents moved from their homeland, Pakistan, to start a new life in Kenya before eventually settling in the UK where Samina grew up with what she calls “an extended family”. Her childhood memories are filled with her mother’s delectable dishes: “Nobody’s [cooking] beats my mum’s cooking! My mother inherited her cooking skills and is known to make the most delicious curries, especially vegetarian dishes. They are simply mouth-watering!”

Samina also sings her aunt’s praises, saying that she “has the most perfect touch to cooking”. She says, “her dishes just get better every time we visit in the summer”.

With many cultures around the world, celebrations are the perfect occasion for showcasing culinary talent. For Samina and her family, doing so is a family affair: “Looking at history, you can see that food is the most important factor in all celebrations. For my family, we plan and prepare everything well in advance.” For her, the best thing about the whole process is how everyone in the family plays a role—whether they’re chopping, marinating, or setting up the table. “My mum is known to make her most popular gulab jamun dessert (deep-fried round dumplings marinated in a sweet syrup) which we often serve during weddings and parties,” she says.

A common (food) theme seems to run through Samina’s and her husband’s families: she and her husband, Nadeem, grew up in households where barbecuing played an integral role in their families’ food experiences. “My dad simply loves barbecues and always brings the family together over a full-on barbecue! My father-in-law is known as the expert in the arena of barbecues,” she says. Samina attributes her and her husband’s top-notch meat marination skills to both patriarchs. Their recipes, she says, have also been passed down the generations.

Now, Samina’s children also enjoy spending time in the kitchen. Her son Yusuf, aged 10, is enamoured with cooking shows and wants to try the recipes he sees. “He prepares all the ingredients according to [the correct] measurements and then follows the recipe step-by-step. Sometimes he likes to cook without following a recipe, and it tastes just as amazing!” She says. Plus, her daughter Aisha, aged 14, loves to bake and whip up sweet treats.

There’s no doubt that food has played a vital role in Samina’s childhood and adult life. For her, cooking with the family brings many benefits such as tightening family bonds, encouraging creativity, and “bringing a great deal of blessings” (this being one of her mother’s favourite expressions). But perhaps, more importantly, food has a more instrumental part to play in her children’s lives. “It is important for this generation to know their roots and to connect with their culture,” says Samina. And food is undoubtedly one of the keys to that.

SAMINA’S TOP TIPS FOR COOKING WITH KIDS

  • Help each other in the kitchen by chopping up and preparing ingredients.
  • Create a rota system so family members can work together.
  • Replicate an episode of the TV cooking programme MasterChef and ask everyone to prepare a different meal.
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