It is no secret that food and family traditions play a huge role in Italian culture. Big family meals for Sunday lunch and grandmas and moms cooking for the whole family. Wherever there’s a good ragù (the Italian famous meat sauce), it smells like home, yet no ragù is ever comparable with the one mom makes or the one that granny used to make. It usually looks like this; a big table with the whole family sitting around it, meals start at about noon and people leave the table at about 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Children and cousins play around the table, there’s a lot of noise, a lot of delicious smells and of course a lot of heavenly tasty food. Most of the times you can add the rays of sun light making their way through white window curtains to this poetic picture. And there’s of course wine, shining like pieces of ruby in each glass. This authentic picture (plus the dead delicious food) is indeed one of the reasons the Italian culinary culture has come to be celebrated all over the world. What is less known though, is that family meals and more specifically cooking for the family, has the same significant role in many other cultures too; of course things change regarding traditions of each place. but the taste of the traditional food cooked by a mom, has carved our souls in one way or another; some times it’s a picture of Tortellini in Brodo, some times it’s Fried Chicken, other times it’s Ghormeh-Sabzi or Kabuli Paowlo. But no matter the name or the shape, the smell and the taste of a traditional meal we’ve grown up with, can take us all back… home.
In our multi-ethnical world there are more and more people like me who have left their homeland for one reason or another. Naturally it’s always a pleasure to have an opportunity to recreate the home sensation through cooking and sharing meals. It’s healthy and inevitable that the traditional food of one place cooked in another goes through some changes, of which the slightest would be the atmosphere or simply the weather in which that food is usually eaten. Other times some ingredients also need to be revisited, whether they’re difficult to find or not considered quite palatable in the new place. But all of this won’t matter if only one factor remains the same: sharing that meal with other people. Cooking and wanting to share your food with other people means one is capable of love, and what is more associated with home than love?
On 26th April, a very cloudy-turned-rainy Saturday, I had the pleasure to meet Shadam, 27, who is born in Afghanistan, lived for a while in Pakistan, then started his road trip to Europe in 2008, crossing many countries of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. It took him 2 years to arrive in Italy, where he decided to stay. Here in Rome with the help of intercultural associations such as Frontiere News and Binario15, Shadam organizes Afghan suppers for charity, Afghan cooking workshops and Afghan dance lessons. He also works in Italian restaurants and silk screen print publishing house. Our cooking workshop took place in a beautiful agritourism farm called La Volpe e l’Uva in the province of Latina, in the region of Lazio. We were about 12 people and we cooked together Afghan Samosas, Kabuli Pulao (Afghan Rice), lentils and Okra (ladies’ fingers). We were enchanted by the smell of turmeric, saffron and other spices. I imagine how exotic it all looked like for Italian friends present, to me naturally, coming from Iran and sharing borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, there weren’t many surprises in the smells and tastes. Rather I could’ve let myself go in nostalgia for home, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to lose the chance to hear Shadam’s story and watch him knead the dough for Samosa and add the spices to chicken pieces. We all watched him in wonder and listened to him carefully. He told us that in Afghanistan men rarely step in the kitchen and it’s women who always cook at home. But for events like weddings (where celebrations are held for several days) only men cook, and that’s where he has found his interest for cooking. We chopped, kneaded and diced while clouds got darker and denser, and when they finally broke down into a heavy spring shower, we sat at the table to eat our Afghan lunch; hearty, spicy and colorful. I looked at Shadam’s face and I could tell he was satisfied, not just with the good food, but also with the good company. People who were gathered by curiosity and –no doubt– the love for food, sat at a long table, and shared opinions, thoughts and food. The food from his homeland, the home that he had deserted. Who knows, maybe that day at that table, it did feel a little like home after all for Shadam.