If food is the music of love, play on

Chitra Kalyani
5 Min Read

ALEXANDRIA: Gastronomy may at first seem an unusual avenue for dialogue. But on second thought, it begins to appear a brilliant, even ingenious way of bringing people together.

Much like a cozy yet extra-large kitchen, Alexandria s Villa Antoniadis gardens were host last weekend to the bonhomie cooked up by the International Food Fair. Featuring cuisine and culture from the Euro-Mediterranean region, Gastronomy in Alexandria: A Cosmopolitan Flavor was organized by Bibliotheca Alexandria’s AlexMed Research Center through a grant from the European Commission.

One of the 1001 Actions for Dialogue under the Anna Lindh Foundation, and part of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, the food fair aimed to promote tolerance by rediscovering common roots and heritage.

We always think of countries in terms of politics, said Mary Shenouda, it s rare that we know of [their] food.

Shenouda, who had come from Cairo to visit the fair with friends, found the event an excellent way to bring cultures together with no judgment except taste.

“The theme of food transcends all borders you can think of, said Edward Lewis, the project manager.

The event also featured cooking demonstrations, as well as photography, music, and dance from Morocco and Portugal to Lebanon and Turkey, from Latvia and Poland to Greece and Egypt, as proudly proclaimed by the event announcement.

It was interesting to witness that the Armenian dance – where participants circled around, holding hands, and hopping and stepping to the rhythm – had much in common to the Palestinian dabka also showcased at the event.

While Shenouda found it celebrated diversity, the event also highlighted the shared heritage in cuisine – the Greek dolma is indistinguishable from the Egyptian wara ainab (stuffed vine leaves).

As plates were small and portions were bite-sized, sampling was easy, said Shenouda, who despite her limited appetite had sampled foods from Greece, Turkey, Spain, Morocco, and Egypt.

The highlight of the event for Shenouda was the fresca, a typical beach-side wafer treat enjoyed by kids.

Lewis said that the project team thought of the fresca theme because it was what people associate with Alexandria.

Fresca was a happy surprise for me, said Shenouda, who immediately jumped at the sight of the fresca man and demanded a honey-wafer. She was really impressed with the idea, which brought back memories of childhood visits to the beach in Alexandria and the anticipation of the delicacy.

Drinks, as well as food, are important when talking gastronomically, and Moroccan tea was a surefire hit.

Tea-drinking is a ritual that is closely associated with tradition. Nobody drinks tea for themselves, said Shenouda, it s a celebration.

Diversity came through in terms of nationalities and ages, but for the most part the crowd seemed select.

I was expecting a larger crowd; almost 50 percent of the attendees were foreigners, said Shenouda, who found the event could have been a lot more inclusive, than toward people who are already more open than the average.

Lewis, however, noted that tickets were available for free on the Internet and in different outlets.

The event also hosted cuisines from local hotels, yet the home-made delicacies by participants stole the show.

When Lewis’ team approached the local community in Alexandria to participate in the event, they found an “overwhelming response. In addition to hotels, Mohamed Ahmed, the famous Alexandria fuul and falafel shop, also provided the food for free.

Prodded constantly by the noisy commentator, continuously asking to mingle and sample things, the message of the event brining various Euro-Med kitchens under one marquee did finally hit home.

Eating is something all humanity shares, said Shenouda. Good food is enjoyed by everyone on the planet.

Share This Article
Leave a comment