Writing on the Wall Commissions:

Fartun Abdulle  

I have to admit, to say these are uncertain times in our lives is a bit derivative, if not just outright dramatic; but it truly is. And with so much changing around us all, I've had the brilliantly original idea of taking the time to reflect on the past year. On some of the constants that remained amidst the change and the comforts they have brought me. I know right? so fresh, so hip and most definitely so not been done before. 

With that being said, I suppose I should reflect, maybe now?

Okay.

I may not be able to say that I have accomplished a whole lot this past year but I can with absolute confidence say that I ate a whole lot. Much like the rest of the country my flat fell for the baking madness that struck the country in 2020. I’m not ashamed to admit that I still have Mary Berry’s baked cheesecake recipe bookmarked to this day. It turned out pretty good although we freestyled the recipe towards the end. Sorry Mary. That baking madness in our flat came in the shape of mishappen pies and carefully (read that as chaotically) decorated cookies. When our teeth could no longer handle the sugar, we took on the savoury world. Freshly made pasta courtesy of my Italian flatmate, delicious dumplings scoffed down by us all before my Nepalese flatmate could even get them on the table. I jokingly referred to our flat as the United Nations of flats and our dinnertimes as a UN cook off or more of a UN cook-along. It was an amalgamation of cultures and countries but best of all of food.

Much like my flatmates from last year, I come from a culture where sharing food is a sign of affection; love language in itself. So much of the quality time we spend with our loved ones happens around a meal. Whether it’s the morning chat as your Hooyo (Mum) makes canjeero or the dinner time jokes with your siblings about hooyo only making bariis iyo baasto (rice and pasta) for a week straight. Each moment is almost as filling as the portions on our plates. We tend to love big and eat big. If you think I'm bluffing please try to turn down a meal in a Somali household and watch it be taken as a personal offence.

Those UN Cook-alongs in my kitchen gave me a chance to see the process behind dishes I had never tried before. With people that I may not have otherwise spent so much time with were it not for our shared pandemic misery. But this lockdown also gave me a chance to enjoy the dishes that I had been eating all my life. The only difference being that I no longer had the convenience of living at home and having it done for me. As it turns out however, good culinary skills aren’t just possible. They're often just on the other side of countless google searches and an increased screen time.

I got into the habit of cooking with my friends and family over video calls. I remember learning how to make banana bread through an Instagram call with a friend in Sicily. However, not all my calls were long distance. For instance, last Ramadan my sisters and I decided to learn how to make Sambuus (samosas) together. We came armed with a recipe from Xawaash, an online cookbook of traditional Somali recipes, and a group facetime. Several hours later with a mess in several kitchens across the country we finally got the job done. I made mine with a vegan filling that was swiftly mocked because apparently you shouldn’t put red kidney beans or chickpeas in samosas. I would argue, and in fact did argue, that since it’s my sambuus then it's my rules. 

Although we live in different cities the distance felt somewhat bridged by our use of technology. A good meal and a few jokes with my favourite people was just a FaceTime away. However, this doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that this past year has been strange and alienating. No amount of faces on a screen could replace that quality time but it never hurts to have a bit more food tech I suppose. 

If you’ve spent any time In the British education system hearing those two words, food tech, should instantly transport you back to a class in year 8 or maybe 9, of a room filled with clanging pots and excited kids with half opened Nike backpacks stuffed to the brim with ingredients bought the previous night in a hurry. Trails of self-raising flour leading from the cuffs of their blazers to the counter with ill-timed alarms bellowing around the class. A ding on the other of the room was often followed by a swear word of sorts to indicate a bread that failed to rise because so and so forgot their yeast or something. 

But food tech no longer looks like that to me. It looks like a connected facetime call with my friends face on the other end. It looks like a saved link of a recipe on a snapchat with my sister.  And yes, sometimes it looks like Pinterest boards that have gathered dust because I never got around to following the recipes that I saved.

What does it look like to you?