Migration, food and culture – a tale of two countries

The connection between a country’s culture, economy and its food is widely accepted, with the arrival of immigrants introducing new cuisines to their adopted homelands and changing global economic realities leading to new habits and realities.

So I was interested to read two very different takes on the issues this prompts by journalists writing from very different backgrounds and locations for this month’s Contributoria* issue and I thought them worth sharing with you here too.

In South Africa, Kim Harrisberg looked at the experiences of a Palestinian family arriving in the country and starting a business with a taste of home while Aurora Percannella takes a look at how the economic crisis in Europe is leading jobless youngsters to re-invent the food on offer.

I think they both detail experiences which in many ways relate to what we see happening here in the UK. The snippets below include links to read the articles in full.

In King Arabic Sandwiches: a taste of Palestine in Johannesburg Kim presents a touching portral of life in a new land where food briedges cutural difference.

Inside, maroon tiles cover the floor, jars filled with an assortment of Middle Eastern delicacies cover the shelves, Palestinian flags hang from the walls and pastries of different sizes greet you at the counter. The smell is rich and spicy, with the sounds of sizzling falafel being fried in the kitchen, and little girls whispering behind a curtain that leads to the back of the restaurant.

I am here to interview Mohammad Sultan and his wife Hanan Ahmed, refugees who fled Gaza just over a year ago to build a new life. I have so many questions involving politics, food, family and chance, and many of them involve my identity in relation to theirs. The questions swirl around my head like mosquitoes, but before I can ask them, Mohammad and Hanan place a glass of purple hibiscus juice in front of me and a warm, pickle-filled, hummus-infused falafel, wrapped and ready to be devoured. “First,” says Mohammad, smiling, “you eat. Then, we talk.”

In Food entrepreneurialism in Italy: mixing tradition and innovation to tackle the crisis Aurora finds a willingness to move away from the much revered Italian traditions to face up to the changing realities of life there.

“We live in an era where the typical restaurant where you pay 20 or 30 € for a meal struggles to survive,” explains Fabrizio, the 30-something entrepreneur who, in 2013, started his own successful food business in one of the cosy, often-crowded squares of Torino city centre. “People can’t afford to spend that much anymore, so we’ve focused on giving our customers a great quality meal for about 10-12 €.”

And in order to do that, these food entrepreneurs simplified the concept of eating out by going back to what their land had to offer, and simultaneously drawing inspiration from what their travels abroad had taught them.

Take Fabrizio’s business, for example. His restaurant – though it isn’t really a restaurant, just a simple place to sit down and eat – serves burgers and chips. Now, this wouldn’t probably sound too phenomenal to anyone coming from the rest of the planet. In Torino, however, it proved difficult to find a good quality burger until very recently. In fact, it was hard to even find a mediocre quality burger, limiting the options to McDonald’s or…McDonald’s.

* Disclosure – I’m editor and co-founder of the independent jorunalism network Contributoria.com where these articles were first published.

Finding value for money eats in Venice

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Beautiful, memorable and endlessly interesting as Venice is, it’s not cheap for eating out. I’ve picked the three places below out for their value.

Living it up: Trattoria al Ponte del Megio, 
S. Croce, 1666.
This is my favourite of all the places I’ve eaten out in Venice. On several visits, over several years, this friendly trattoria on a canal junction is consistently good. Weather allowing, sit outside and watch the gondaliers (sometimes noisely) negotiate their right of way along the narrow canal or simply watch the passing parade of stylish people on a night out.
The menu always includes an interesting selection of specials alongside the usual local specialities of pasta with cuttlefish or clams.
This spring visit we were lucky enough to be just in time for that fleeting delicacy – fried courgette flowers. Light and crispy with each holding just a little anchovy stuffing. Sublime! Fresh fillets of John Dory or a simply grilled sea bream followed. The vegetable portions are simply cooked – in this case spinach, carrots and ratatouille but the fact the ingredients are so fresh means everything is bursting with flavour. The house prosecco – sold by the half litre jug – is good and dry and means that wine doesn’t need to set you back too much and the hosts always offer an end of meal liquer on the house. Our meal for five with drinks, two courses and side dishes came in at 170 euros.

Can’t go wrong with pizza:Pizzeria Accademia, Rio Terra Foscarini.
Essentially a snack bar, this is worth a visit on outside seating views alone. Nestled into the great Accademia bridge, it’s easily found after a day of art and next to the vaporetto stop of the same name. The pizza is good, but in a land where all pizza is good, it’s not exceptional. What is exceptional is a front seat to the spectator sport of watching the Grand Canal traffic. Maybe Venetians find this as interesting as a day out to watch the M6 but, for us visitors, bring able to see the gondaliers plie their trade alongside the utilities of a floting city provides an endlessly entertaining and colourful backdrop to a companiable lunch or early evening. Downsides are ever present birds around the table and lack of salad accompaniment options – it’s a giant salad for approx 10 euros (with cheese?) only. Wine’s on the pricier side at 10 euros for 0.5 litres, pizza in the 10-12 euro vicinty. Cash only.

Fed up of Italian food: Chinese Restaurant, The Frari.
I realise I’m risking the wrath of a nation here but…….some people do get fed-up with pasta and pizza even on their holidays – not me of course, you understand.
I’ve picked out this Chinese because it is exceptionally good value – most dishes are around the 5 Euro mark – but also because the staff are so accommodating and helpful. They will guide your choices should you wish and have some unusual dishes such as cuttlefish with green peppercorn alongside the more commonplace.

Other bits and bobs – we had intended to eat at the Trattoria San Toma which the guide book Chow Venice recommends for its impossibly light gnocchi but, sadly on our short break, it was always completely booked out so will have to wait for a return trip to sample. If you happen to eat there please do let me know if it’s worth the wait. A couple of general points about eating out in Venice – check the cover price. Usually there’s a euro or two to add to each person’s bill but in San Marco this can be boosted up to seven to pay for the benefit of having music in the cafe!
The local drink to ask for is a Spritz bitter, a refreshing Campari based drink usually served with an olive and at three euros is a value apperitif.

Buon appetito!