I wanted to thank each and everyone of you who supported me on kickstarter even if the project didn’t get funded. It meant the world to me. It reminded me of the story of this guy who dies and only 3 people show to his funeral and his wife starts crying very loud, saying where are your 5000 facebook friends now? At least now, I know who will show up at my funeral:)
As a thank you, I wanted to include the intro to my book which I will go ahead and publish one way or another. I have included a page on my site under the schedule tab where you can go ahead and order the book if you are interested… until then… a big thank you:)
I walked for the first time into the communal kitchen at the end of the hallway of my dorm on cold Moscow day, a place always buzzing with people of all colors, speaking all languages, and cooking. I noticed three women – one standing, glaring at her pan and stirring something, another wearing a head scarf chopping a bunch of parsley, garlic and tomatoes, her spices neatly stacked next to her, and the third making something that looked and smelled very familiar to me. Not knowing my way around the kitchen, I quietly observed. At eighteen years old, I thought I knew everything. I thought that my homeland was the best in the world. I thought Persian food tasted the best, that Persian produce were the best, that the sky was bluer, the people smarter, and so on, but as the smells from the kitchen drifted into my nose I found myself craving foods from other places, foods I had never tasted before.
I shyly asked the woman close to me where she was from. Her Russian was worse that mine, something I hardly thought possible, but I understood that she was from Lebanon and so I spoke French to her and she explained to me that she was making a tabouleh. As she described tabouleh to me I quickly realized that it is similar to the Persian Shiraz salad. She offered me a taste but I had a feeling that whatever she made, it couldn’t be that good because she was wearing a scarf and I was a refugee straight out of the country of the ayatollahs – a victim of what the “scarf” brought to my life.
The second woman was making a pudding with rice flour and rosewater. I moved closer to her. I remembered the smell of days of mourning when my grandma made her special pudding and fed the poor people. I smiled at the woman and she told me that she was from Israel. I dismissed her too. At the age when you think you know it all you judge everything and everyone. I looked at that young and beautiful woman as if she was behind all the misfortune of the Palestinians I saw on TV. Still, I badly wanted a spoonful of the goodness she was making.
I made a turn toward the third woman, and the familiar smell of basmati rice and learned that the woman was a new Afghan bride. Although Persians and Afghans share the same language, our dialect and cultures are very different. Once again, a feeling of superiority crept over me and I thought to myself that there was no way the rice she was making could be as good as rice from my homeland.
Despite my misgivings, hunger gnawed at my stomach, and I engaged in a conversation with the trio. As they asked me questions and my complete lack of kitchen savvy was revealed, the tables suddenly turned. The women confided that they felt sorry for me because they learned that I couldn’t even make tea if my life depended on it. And then, the ice was broken and we all laughed. Each woman generously offered me the first good food I had in months. I was ashamed – I walked in seeing them as representatives of Arafat, Rabin and the Taliban and they were generous, beautiful and skillful, lovely women who shared their food with me. I saw them as inferior human beings and they were bigger than me in so many ways.
The next day, I asked them to teach me to re-create the Persian food the memory of which was stored in my mind and my heart but which they didn’t know. The Afghan woman was very helpful. The Israeli woman thought that she had found in me a best friend. The Lebanese lady made me her special charitable project. I was so excited. Russian was easy for me. I scored better and higher than the other 800 foreign students in my class. Cooking Persian cuisine with my limited resources, ingredients, recipes or knowledge would be my new challenge!
From there to becoming a teacher and being called the “Spice Whisperer” I came a long way, a long journey through countries, continents, wars and revolutions and witnessing that food always brought people together in peace.
AUTHOR Bibi Kasrai is CEO and Founder of Harvard Cookin’ Girl – an innovative venue to bring people of all ages to the table to share healthy food from around the world.