Dubai diaries: What is a "taste of home"?
Why, no matter how far from your native land you may travel or live, must there be at least a couple of familiar flavours in the kitchen cupboards? Perhaps more so than many places on Earth, there are those in Dubai who have never really called home “home” as a result of being born here to migrant parents yet the Motherland culinary staples are weekly shop essentials. So, it begs the question: are the diverse tastes we crave inherent or passed down? Growing up an ‘expat brat’ in France I’m reminded of a classmate who, despite never having seen his professed hometown Sunderland, adored that divisive British yeast extract spread, Marmite. Even those in the UK with ready access to the acrid, black, sticky foodstuff often leave it on the supermarket shelves. Such is its power to split opinion, the brand’s actual marketing campaign hinges on the phrase “you either love it or hate it.” Yet, only having had the opportunity to glimpse the White Cliffs on a particularly clear Calais morning, the chap in question thought nothing of making a 30km journey to a specialist shop to pick up an aroma of Blighty in a jar. “Who wouldn’t? It’s an English delicacy,” was his justification. The jury is still out.
Being of a similar persuasion, though, it would be rich to point the finger. Alongside the aforementioned French upbringing, almost a decade and a half of UAE life has done nothing to dent my enthusiasm for Branston pickle. A sandwich relish that magically pairs with cheese, the combination’s tanginess can’t fail to transport me in a Ratatouille-esque flashback montage to my grandma’s kitchen in the early ‘90s. Throw a bag of salt and vinegar Hula Hoops crisps in there and I have myself a full-on nostalgia fest. And therein may lie the answer. I don’t believe we’re in a sense predisposed to love these nationally resonant recipes because we’re from one area or another. The memories associated with the meals are what counts.
Just as Marmite was most likely a feature of delicious childhood dinners packed with conversation and laughter for my friend, and pickle an ever-present on my joyful grandparents’ table, I’m sure there are plenty of people from the Philippines whose sigsig game needs sharpening every so often or those from Pakistan who simply need a decent keema not because they are of those respective places, but because a lifetime’s combined experiences can be revisited in one spoon. Food is best enjoyed when it’s shared whether in one dining room or through the generations