Food is a love language that transcends borders and cultures
It's a beautiful expression that gets deliciously emphasised when festivities of all kinds roll around, mmmm.
And now that Eid is approaching, just thinking of all the yummy rendang, flavourful stews, and abundance of cookies, kuih, lemang, and satay is enough to get any Malaysian salivating. Yum!
In honour of Ramadan, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has released a cook-along video featuring celebrity chef Anis Nabilah and Palestinian refugee home cook, Dalya
Dalya is a trained accountant who was forced to flee the Gaza Strip in Palestine with her husband and four children seven years ago.
When they first arrived in Malaysia, Dalya's husband, who was an engineer in Palestine, sold shawarma to make ends meet. She decided to contribute by making maqlooba and mandi rice, and word of her culinary skills soon spread, leading to her cooking full time to support her family.
"Food is important to me because it helped to re-build my life in a new country. But it is also important because it helps me remember home. When I cook, I am reminded of the recipes my mother taught me," shares Dalya.
In the video, Dalya takes Anis through the steps for making maqlooba, a dish that translates to 'upside down' in Arabic
It is a traditional Palestinian dish that's made of richly spiced rice, vegetables, and stewed meat. The ingredients are assembled one by one and cooked, before being flipped onto a serving dish to showcase its savoury layers.
Check out the video below:
According to Dalya, maqlooba is a dish that's made during special occasions, like Eid and Ramadan
As the two skilled chefs convivially cook together in a kitchen studio, Dalya shares food memories from her life in Palestine before she and her family were forced to flee.
"I remember that it was raining on the day my mother taught me to make maqlooba. I remember her sitting on a chair in the kitchen, giving me instructions. Now every time I cook maqlooba, I remember my mother from that day, and I am reminded of the smell of rain," shares Dalya as she guides Anis through cooking the dish.
As the conversation goes on, she tells Anis about her children, who were really young when the family left Palestine, and how cooking dishes from home reminds them about Palestinian food and culture.
"I cook dishes from home so that there are opportunities for me to tell them stories of our beloved land," says Dalya, adding, "They love listening to these stories and often tell me how much they long to return to Palestine."
This first video is part of a series, where Anis, who is also a firm UNHCR supporter, features alongside home cooks in the refugee community
Anis helms numerous television shows like the perennial favourite Icip Icip and Eating Wild on the Asian Food Channel.
Having started her culinary career at a very early age, she is now considered to be one of the most accomplished young celebrity chefs in the world, and was recently named Asean's Most Influential Chef at the 2022 Asean Food & Travel Awards.
By highlighting the connection between food, family, memories, and culture, this collaboration with the UNHCR hopes to show that refugees are everyday people who have survived extraordinary circumstances.
And, like everyone else, they have hopes, dreams, and favourite foods that remind them of special times and places in their lives.
According to Anis, "If Malaysians took the effort to understand refugees better, they would feel more empathy and would not make blind assumptions towards this group"
In fact, this is one one of the reasons why she decided to participate in the UNHCR-produced cooking series.
For several years now, Anis has spent time volunteering with projects to help refugees in the country.
Through a local NGO running a refugee education programme, she also taught refugee children to bake. When her busy schedule permits, Anis also volunteers to cook meals for refugees, especially during the fasting month of Ramadan.
"I feel that a lot of Malaysians do not know the real situation about refugees. People think that refugees have a choice to come here, but that is not the case," shares Anis. "They came here to save their lives. And even when they are relatively safer here, they still face daily struggles to survive."
Just in time for Eid, you can cook along to this video, and make some tasty maqlooba for everyone at home to enjoy!
You can try this Maqlooba recipe in your own kitchen and share it on your social media by using the hashtag #WithRefugees. For full recipe details, click here.
During this holy month, you can share the blessings and generosity of Ramadan with refugee families who are observing the holy month far from their homes and communities, faced with poverty, hardship, and uncertainty.
Besides trying out this recipe, consider donating to UNHCR to help those in need.
Visit the UNHCR website for more information
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