Like many of you, I currently don't live where I spent my childhood. Dubai is what I currently call home. Although my parents don't live here, I have another wonderful set of parents that I can call my own, my sister lives in the same apartment building as me and I have made a supportive network of friends. How can I forget Akber and Maryam.
This is where I have made my home, my family. We moved to this apartment when two years ago when it was just a shell. With time, we have filled it up with furniture, love, memories and a growing family. And wonderful aromas of baking, play kitchen and a wall overflowing with photos.
Before coming to Dubai, London is where I called home. I didn't have family close by, my fridge was always empty and I had never used the oven there. But I remember London for other reasons. It is the place where I 'grew up.' I mean really grew up. I graduated there, learnt how to pay bills and ran my own business.
And thus, I have been an expat for the last ten years. I love it, so much so that sometimes I don't even consider myself one. Sure, there are a few obstacles that come with being an expat. Leaving family and friends behind, leaving a network of support behind, learning everything from scratch including the language, the roads, the culture. But that process of discovery is exhilarating too, isn't it?
But for me the best part of being an expat is embracing the culture, taking something from each country and making it your own. It gives you a sense of belonging, I feel like I blend in. When I lived in London, it was the culture of eating fish and chips. Wrapped in a newspaper, served with lashings of salt and vinegar. So much so that my chips would become soggy. And I made this culture mine. Thick, soggy chips that my wooden fork had difficulty picking up. I can still taste the salty, acidic flavour in my mouth, even now.
Today I'm embracing the Middle eastern tradition of breaking your fast with soup, lentil soup in particular. Each culture and country has its own traditions in Ramadhan, from the way you break your fast to the foods and drinks consumed during this month. Here in Dubai, you will find that every restaurant and hotel will serve lentil soup upon breaking your fast. Although in my home it is unheard of to have soup in Ramadhan, in Dubai it is a must, a tradition. One that I have embraced and made my own.
I did an interview with The National newspaper yesterday discussing Ramadhan culture and traditions in Tanzania. And next week, I'll be sharing a special recipe for vibibi- a traditional East African pancake, eaten in Ramadhan and made with rice and coconut- light and airy as clouds.
Care to share any special food related traditions observed in Ramadhan in your country or culture?
Arabic Lentil Soup
1 cup yellow lentils
2 tbs butter
1 onion, sliced
1 tomato, grated
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp chili flakes (optional)
3-4 cups chicken stock
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
coriander or parsley to garnish
Rinse and soak lentils in water overnight. Drain the water out the next In a pan, heat butter until it melts. Add onions and cook over medium heat until it JUST starts to caramelize. Add the lentils, tomato, cumin powder, chili flakes and stock. Boil for around half an hour or until the lentils are cooked. You can adjust the stock amount depending on how thick you want the soup to be. When cooked, run the soup in a blender until soup. season with salt, pepper and lemon. Garnish with coriander and serve with Arabic bread gently warmed in the oven.