Food is beautiful—and I’m not just saying that because it’s Ramadan and I’m fasting. I’m saying that because I’m passionate about food. Food is more than something you eat. Good food can heal wounds and disperse dark clouds. It can unleash our inner creativity, spark our imagination and help us live better lives. And, of course, it can taste amazing.
For starters, food is a part of your cultural identity. It’s amazing how food can be identified by country, like an accent or a flag. Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Somalian, Indian, Greek—each nation has stamped its own gastronomical identity on the world. Take, for instance, the humble tomato—which is not only a fruit, but a berry. In Mexico, it can be diced up into salsa. In Italy, it can be mashed and pureed into a pasta sauce. In Greece it can be stuffed with meat and rice. In Spain—well, in Spain you can throw them at each other.
But what’s amazing about any recipe is how the individual ingredients all work together, sometimes reacting and transforming, to bring about something new. That’s why cooking is equal parts art and science. In fact, there’s a lot of science going on even in just your average loaf of bread. But it’s the combination of flavours and textures that make a recipe truly unique. And it doesn’t even have to be 20-ingredient French dishes with ingredients like quail eggs or black truffle oil. If you’ve seen Ratatouille, even just the combination of strawberry and cheese is a beautiful marriage of flavours. And if you can grasp that simple concept, well, like Chef Gusteau’s book says “Anyone can cook!”
Food can bring people together. When a gathering of people—from 2 to 200—come together around food, there’s a special kind of bond that is created. Food is a catalyst for connections. After all, it’s become a human ritual to meet a new acquaintance for lunch or coffee, or to order pizza at a guy’s night in, or to take the kids for ice cream. And of course, when Muslims break their fast in Ramadan, they are encouraged to do so with company. Many mosques hold iftar dinners every night, or people will host an open doors iftar in their homes. Some people will even host suhoor, a pre-dawn meal, in their homes.
There are many more examples of food in Islam. Various foods are mentioned in the Qur’an. Dates, grapes, olives and pomegranates. Milk, fish, seafood, and honey. Figs, garlic, herbs, lentils and onions. The diversity of food and flavours is considered to be a blessing from God:
“And in the earth are tracts (diverse though) neighbouring, and gardens of vines and fields sown with corn, and palm trees – growing out of single roots or otherwise: watered with the same water, yet some of them We make more excellent than others to eat. Behold, verily in these things there are signs for those who understand!” (13:04)
There are many traditions of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that touch on the aspect of food. He enjoyed honey, said to avoid overeating, and even instructed on table manners for eating. There is a huge emphasis on sharing food as well. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said “When you cook soup add more water, remembering your neighbours” and “”Food for one is enough for two and food for two is enough for three and food for three is enough for four”. It’s also well known that when he would slaughter an animal, he would distribute the meat to the needy and to people he respected. For instance, when he slaughtered a camel, he would give some of its meat to the friends of his wife, Khadijah. And descriptions of Paradise often include rivers of milk and abundant fruit and much more that we cannot comprehend in this life, including the fact that, in Paradise, you never become full.
There is much more to food than just sustenance. Food is part of who we are as individuals and as nations. Food is a blessing from God that comes in many shapes and sizes for us to enjoy. In short, food is a part of what it means to be human.
And so next week, I’ll bring you into my kitchen and detail my own experiences with food and with cooking.