Let a thousand flowers bloom

A wandering, loving and vegetarian menu

First course of JOL&ML

Dictatorial is thumbs down and negotiational is thumbs up for me – almost always! For Journeys of Love and More Love I have had to send the menu to Melbourne and to Singapore, to make sure, the taster offerings would get prepared in time. Not that magically one sends the menu/recipes and items get churned out just because I had also emailed pictures from the ‘prepared earlier’ selection. Different cities, different ingredients, not even the same continents – all different negotiations and different solutions!

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Menu for London presentation (2010) in collaboration with chef Michael Tarat from Rooburoo… keeping it vegan and gluton free, apart from the prawn offering.

Being so used to a global culture, I paradoxically crave the moment of asking for a plantain and getting the same plantain as I would from my local shops in South Norwood. Much to the bemusement of some Indian/Pakistani shopkeepers who say, “Ali, this is food is for the kala’s (referring to Afro-Caribean), what will you do with it?”, till I made an effort to cook one of my signature combinations and took them across for the curious to taste it. They made strange faces, licked their fingers and said, “hmmm… never had karela like this, is this what the kala’s do with the big banana?” and I innocently flutter my lashes to say This is what I do with it. Interesting nuetral innocent ingredients alone can become politically charged.

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My fruiterer from South Norwood whose plantain are the best!

Is food our first exposure to culture?

 Well, the specificity of cultural values as I see them start from home, what we eat is what is given to us by our parents or carers etc and those tastes are instrumental in forming the habits/memory of what we like and dislike as we continue to grow and get set in our ways. And those tastes are further accentuated by the broader contexts in which we experience them. My take has always been that we are constantly in the process of making ‘culture’ and values are attributed retrogressively.

We eat it this way” or “in our culture the tradition of eating is this”… I come across such statements all the time. It is not that I refute them, it bemuses me when such sentiments are chosen to be expressed. Is it that by saying ‘we’, the person it is being addressed to is seen as the outsider and hence less in some ways. It becomes a statement where power is challenged. On a very benign level it can be within friends, or a classic mother-in-law kind of situation…. where little muscles are being flexed in suggesting my way is the authentic way. On another level where there is true respect and curiosity, one uses it to suggest that there are many ways and many practices and many traditions – after all it is the same things repeated and finessed over time that become a tradition, a habit, a culture and a memory. And memory of taste can be very strong!

In Italy for instance, to mix fromage and fish is considered a total taboo. There are many old wives tales about it but ‘traditionally’ it is a big NO NO. In India/Pakistan I grew up hearing similar stories of never mixing dairy and fish. Popular myth believes it causes vitiligo or phul-behri as it is called in urdu. I am using India/Pakistan as an example from my reference of what I know – which is pretty limited.

There was such joy for me to use vermicelli as a sweet dish – which in my experience is pretty usual in Asian contexts and getting people in Naples to consider savoury for sweet. Using mozarella with fish and pecorino in coconut milk with prawns rewarded a delight to see people opposed to this combination licking their fingers.

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Menu from the Naples presentation (2009) in collaboration with chef Lino Scarallo of Palazzo Petrucci… this was a pesceterain offering and i kept prawns as they are the scavengers of the sea and yet…

 We believe because we want to believe. In a belief system somewhere there is recognition and a reward of belonging. If everyone around you eats with a knife and fork and you decide to use chops sticks, it can be seen as a gesture to learn new ways OR an effort to assimilate with those around you by using the same tools OR as an act of rebellion because you defy old values as it can be seen as a threat. An other example for instance is when we think of dolmas or hummus or the falafel… the authenticity comes in to question, food wars are waged. Why can we not be happy to let a thousand flowers bloom?

In JOL&ML I have limited the offerings to a vegetarian palette. Keeping aspects of menu, in its combination, reflect preparation and tastes that are foreign yet familiar, stirring curiosity to make you think of combinations that you may not have tried before. The performance offers a possibility to appreciate migration via the filter of food.

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Latest offerings for the Melbourne performances created collaboration with chef Mark Ramsey and Toddler Tucker in association with Jessica Hutchison.

Will I be very upset if people leave the food in their plates?

 Well… different people have different tastes, one thing can never be liked by all. I wish that the varied tastes would set free a discourse of migration, journeys and belonging.

Journeys of Love & More Love will be in

Melbourne from 11 – 16 October, for tickets/bookings/more info click HERE

Singapore from 20 – 22 October, for tickets/bookings/more info click HERE

Look out for the final platters of presentation for Singapore and meantine… the food workshop pics soon!! (Getting busy with edits and other aspects of the production hence blogs are being slow 🙂

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