Cultural bites: Discovering heritage through food

With a growing number of young chefs turning to the cuisine of their childhood, could nostalgia and heritage be the next trend to dominate the restaurant world? 

From taking mouth-watering pictures on Instagram to curating blogs featuring healthy eating trends, food is emerging as a prominent culture worldwide. However, many young chefs are now shunning commercial fare in favour of the food of their childhoods.

One chef who discovered her roots through food is Meera Sodha. Born in Lincolnshire to Ugandan Asian parents she was surrounded by delicious Indian treats from an early age.

Her mother, she says, “used to throw things into pots and pans with abandon, magically transforming very humble ingredients into very delicious dinners.”

Behind every recipe is a story. I learned what my grandfather ate as a boy, what grew in his mother’s garden and what my parents ate in poverty in his country. When I cook, I remember those stories and it makes me feel closer to my family, my ancestors and my past

Meera Sodha, chef and author of Made In India

Now a writer for British national The Guardian and author of the critically acclaimed recipe book Made in India, she has discovered more about her past and heritage by learning how to cook her family’s food.

“I realised that behind every recipe is a story. I learned what my grandfather ate as a boy, what grew in his mother’s garden and what my parents ate in poverty in his country. When I cook, I remember those stories and it makes me feel closer to my family, my ancestors and my past,” says Meera.

She lives in London just off a market street where vibrant smells and fresh, seasonal produce are in abundance, and often incorporates the local ingredients into traditional recipes for a speedier and fresher take on Indian classics.

“Our family recipes will always be my favourite as I grew up with them and I think it's important to preserve them, but a lot of them do not fit with modern day life because women used to spend a lot more time in the kitchen. It's great to use modern ingredients to speed things up. I'm also a big fan of using local and seasonal produce, whether Indian or not so it will taste much fresher and much better.”

In the UAE, Emirati chef Khulood Atiq is taking the mystery away from traditional food by educating others. On behalf of Abu Dhabi’s Tourism and Culture authority she introduces dishes to people across the world, sharing methods and recipes.

Her book Sarareed, available in Arabic and English, also aims to educate people of different nationalities about the Emirati cuisine, and in turn the culture of the region.

“The book involves more than just recipes; it highlights the Emirati culture as well as the cuisine," she told The National. "It talks about the Emirati traditions of hospitality; receiving and honouring a guest with enormous generosity is considered a crucial part of Emirati heritage and it also features insights into how these recipes were developed."

Food, she adds, brings back fond memories.

“Friday is family day," she says. "Gathering with the entire family while we cook and eat is something I hold very close to my heart."

Khulood Atiq
Chef Khulood demonstrates how to prepare authentic Emirati dishes

Similarly Vietnamese food blogger Thuy Tran is keen to share dishes from her childhood on her blog, A Blog of Salt (http://thuyancom.blogspot.co.uk). Featuring recipes of delicious stews, fragrant noodles and Pho dishes she often relates her recipe posts to family life and memories from Vietnam.

“It all stems from family, my family loves to eat. I see how happy everyone is when we are together eating, and I’m happy making the delicious food that brings us together even when we are busy with life,” says Thuy.

By learning how to cook traditional recipes that her mother and aunt used to prepare bought her closer to her heritage. Sharing the recipes online helps her preserve fond memories and acts as a resource for others to learn more about Vietnamese food and culture.

“Social media has made it easier for others to learn more about Vietnamese cuisine and how to cook Vietnamese dishes.”