Somali chef Hawa Hassan and food writer Julia Turshen believe food connects people and grandmothers hold the key to our world’s history. “In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean,” is a stunning cookbook featuring 75 recipes – many vegetarian – that have been passed down from generations. Each one is, “a lesson in tradition, creativity, resourcefulness, history and or innovation.”
The hardback also includes tales by bibis, which means grandmother in Swahili, an original African language. The beautiful women hail from Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and Comoros. I love seeing their proud Black and brown faces adorning the matte-finish pages. They remind me of my own granny.
Furthermore, the photographers do a great job of capturing the bibis’ love and care in preparing their foods. However, I wish the book contained snapshots of every dish. All of them sound so inviting like the Doro Wat (stewed chicken legs with berbere and eggs), Kunde (black-eyed peas and tomatoes in peanut sauce), Tseke com Peix Frito (local spinach with curry sauce and crispy fried fish), Bolo Polana (cashew and potato cake), and Kaimati (crispy coconut dumplings in cardamom syrup). Nevertheless, each chapter highlights a country and its history without being overwhelming. The bibi interviews follow with conversations rooted in customs sustained by their culture.
Honoring Family and Culture
Hassan was born in Mogadishu, Somalia during the civil war. At the age of four, her family fled and settled in a United Nations refugee camp in Kenya. At seven, Hassan mother sent her to Seattle, Washington with a group of Somali refugees. To cope, Hassan assimilated into American culture. After high school, she began modeling and moved to New York. One day, she purchased a ticket to Norway where her mother and siblings had moved. It had been 15 years since she had seen them and during this time, she reconnected with her family and heritage over cooking.
In 2015, Hassan launched Basbaas hot sauces to pay homage to her mother. It became the only packaged Somali line of hot sauces available in the United States. It was her way of staying linked to her place of birth and sharing its narrative of resiliency, diversity and entrepreneurship.
Turshen was born in New York to Jewish parents. Her maternal grandparents owned a bread bakery in Brooklyn and her paternal great-grandparents managed a grain mill in Connecticut. The cookbook author inherited their love of food and cooking. Her passion is to write, “reliable recipes for home cooks so they can be calm in the kitchen and empowered to cook for their families and communities.”
Overall, “In Bibi’s Kitchen” inspires, informs and excites the palate. It reiterates the importance of bonding through food and celebrating home cooking. Our legacies cannot continue unless we share the anecdotes and the recipes with others. Pass it on!
“In Bibi’s Kitchen is available on Amazon.
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