Food is an integral part of South Asian culture and a major festival inevitably has a culinary dimension…
By Suman Bhuchar
♦The Biryani Project
THIS was another Southbank Commission using the rice dish ‘biryani’ to create a short film featuring people from the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities talking about their relationship to this much loved dish.
The idea by Suniya Qureshi and Maher Anjum, was directed by emerging filmmaker, Nida Manzoor, and she used the subjects as a metaphor to explore memories and multiculturalism linked by a soundscape by the poet, Zia Ahmed. The film was shown in the makeshift restaurant created at the Royal Festival Hall and people were encouraged to share their recipes.
It was a nicely made short film that revealed a lot
Acv rating:**** (out of five)
FOOD also formed a significant part of another solo show – ‘Daughters of the Curry Revolution’ written and performed by Afreena Islam.
Islam, a self-styled Bangladeshi Mancunian in an intimate performance invites around 18 people to sit around a long table and hear the story of her father, Michael, an 84-year- old Bangladeshi restaurateur who ran away from Chittagong aged eight to escape his wicked step mother and found himself in the UK.
As a prelude to her show, she offered us some poppadoms and wine or the soft drink, Shloer and encouraged the audience to share their own stories about the first time they tasted alcohol.
In an authentic and honest performance, she herself revealed it was when she was eight that she ran around her father’s restaurant, took a screw cap bottle from the top shelf, unscrewed it, tipped some alcohol into the cap and swigged it back and then acted drunk.
There is a picture of a woman with an old man (see image) and the voiceover asks: “What does a 25-year-old project manager from Watford share with an 84-year-old pensioner?” and that is the exploration she undertakes.
This is father and daughter chronicle, and the stories she will tell ‘are donated, secretly recorded, over heard and half remembered” as she tries to paint a portrait of this frail man and piece together shreds of his life, on the dining table strewn with the ephemera of his existence, ranging from Benson and Hedges cigarettes, to golden syrup marmalade, letters and photographs.
We’re told that she is the youngest of five siblings and her father has only been part of 30 per cent of her life and she wants to find out what happened in the bits she wasn’t around in to participate. We learn his history, how he got into running a restaurant, his personal management skills – like putting chilli powder to into the leftover food at night so his staff could not eat it!
This is an evocation to her father, who now has dementia, and it is an ongoing exploration – she hasn’t really unearthed all his secrets but it’s an elegy to the early immigrant pioneers, warts and all.
Acv rating: **** (stars)
♦ Curry with a view
OUR FINAL foray into food related events at Alchemy was the experimental idea of a supper club organised by BBC Asian Network South India and Sri Lankan broadcaster Ashanti Omkar entitled, ‘From Kerala to Kayts through food and Music’. The idea was to listen to music played by Young Docs Music – a group of young doctors who do cover versions of Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and English songs.
The food was provided by supper club chef, Suhanya and her sister, Veena, while the audience sat on two long tables and chatted to each other and looked at the impressive views of the London Eye.
Buffet style and served on a traditional banana leaf, this was a great introduction to South Indian and Sri Lankan cooking and a chance for diners to take their taste buds off the usual Tandoori and Kebab eating-tracks and sample Jackfruit curry and what folks in Kerala call their home-style chicken on the bone dish, ‘Nadan Koy’.
The chefs were on hand to discuss the food but a more collective introduction to the actual food on offer might have fostered a little bit of a communal exchange.