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Food Stories: Community

Having arrived in London in the late 1970s, London was an entirely new experience for my parents. The climate, language, environment and most importantly, the food. Thanks to those who came and settled before them, it was possible to join a growing Gujarati community made up of family and friends. They had access to people who all shared the same experience of building a new life and family in a whole other part of the world than what was familiar. Amongst all the various factors, food played a key role in forging a connection to the community.

Food brought together family and friends who shared the experience of setting up a home in a new place. Food felt familiar in a foreign place. There was acceptance in food, a sense of home, and a knowing. Food made sense when everything else was new and different.

It became possible to recreate tastes and flavours with the use of spices and familiar vegetables. What didn't seem so familiar was also accepted, often leading to experimental new dishes and some of our favourites - invented through a need to adapt to what was available.

The fondest days were when we would gather and join in for a large shared meal, whether lunch, dinner, an outdoors picnic or something impromptu. During big feasts, the whole house would be alive with the aromas and smells of simmering daar, slow-cooking vegetable shaak packed with layers of spices and flavours. When freshly fried snacks were ready, everyone would come by the kitchen to have a taste, biting into piping hot bhajias or vadas.

One of my fondest memories of the community came from the days when everyone would rally together to prepare meals for a special event or function. Preparations would begin about a day or two before. Boxes of vegetables and bags of onions and potatoes would fill the kitchen. A make-shift cooking space would be set up and the biggest pots I've ever seen began to appear.

Making food for over 100 people was made to look simple when seeing the joys and laughter coming from the kitchen. The women all helped and cooked together, sharing the workload as they made a variety of dishes from appetisers and snacks to shaak, daals, rotli, and sweet dishes.

Looking back, it never ceases to amaze and humble me. The time spent to create delicious and hearty home cooked meals, whether for immediate family, a large gathering or a big function, looked effortless. What's more the food still tasted just as delicious, whether it was for 30 or 130.


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