Marking Memory on a Plate: Food Narratives from the Middle East

Erica Moukarzel, Marking Memory on a Plate: Food Narratives from the Middle East  | Supervisors: Esther Peeren and Noa Roei

This project investigates food in relation to sensory belonging within the context of the Middle East. It explores how food comes to shape identities and their sense of place, transmitted through affective and embodied narratives. Focusing on the Middle Eastern plate, the project draws out the intersections of food with language, colonization, gender, and nostalgia, and the ways these concepts come to be inscribed in their specific cultural contexts. Furthermore, the project underscores cultural ties between one place and another, as it bridges the in-betweens of food’s spatial entanglements, disassembling places and their respective borders. Finally, the project aims to map out a new interdisciplinary approach to (Middle Eastern) cuisine as a narrative that emphasizes on stories of common heritage, tied together by migratory routes and political interjections.

Food and its related narratives, rituals and components, from ingredients, to recipes, to ways of cooking, serving and eating, carry a double record: first as field recordings of the environment – be it natural or political – and second as historical documents of events and technological developments. The results are passionate narratives of survival, triumph, grief, celebration, forgiveness and strife, marks of protest and resistance to conditions natural and human-made. These narratives, in all their forms, are at the core of this project. By focusing on narrative, the project aims to address the complications of colonial pasts, displacement, and globalization through a double focus on objects that represent dishes and foods (cooking books, cooking shows, etc.), as well as on the components of the dishes in and of themselves. This second focus – my archeological investigation of the material ingredients of the said dishes – is based on my  understanding of the plate itself as a narrative that is often ignored but that can, when carefully attended to, offer important insights to the broader narratives that envelop it.