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.

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