Many refugees start the fasting month of Ramadan away from home for the first time. One migrant opens up the recipes from her home for all to share - and to remember.
She may be one of many, but in certain ways, Malakeh Jazmati's story is unique when compared to that of other refugees. The 27-year-old came to Germany after a successful career as a chef on Orient TV, an anti-government station broadcasting into Syria from Jordan.
Now, nearly 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) away from home, she has been building a new life in Berlin, rising from the ruins of a civil war that has destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives. But despite all the pain, Malakeh Jazmati has a smile on her face when she takes to her kitchen at the refugee facility she is housed at: "Eating means remembering. Remembering my home," she says.
Poetry in the kitchen
Those memories are now chronicled in a German-language cookbook. The namesake volume "Malakeh" takes its readers into a world of potent spices and colorful bazaars from a home that no longer exists. "Recipes of longing from my homeland," reads the subtitle of the book, with which she hopes to inspire German readers to get to know her heritage a little better.
"I come from a country where the sun shines every day and where people live respectfully alongside plants. This is where both nature and the human spirit blossom: we become artists, who create beautiful images out of living plants, turning the fruits of the earth into enjoyable and salubrious work," Jazmati says in the opening paragraphs of her cookbook, recalling her life in Syria.
It almost reads like poetry.
Mouth-watering access to Syrian culture
The protagonists of her recipes are the likes of cardamom and coriander, saffron and sumac; pages and pages of rich recipes highlighting some of the most recognized as well as some of the more obscure dishes of the Middle East. It is evident that preparing lush menus is Jazmati's calling, and that she will not let war and persecution stop her from following that passion.
But it's not just about her and her career: Malakeh Jazmati does not appear to seek fame and fortune by trying to continue where she had to stop before fleeing to Germany: "In my country, food is also a way for people to help each other. We exchange meals among each other and distribute food in our neighborhoods, in our families, among friends, from young to old, from rich to poor."
Pride and purpose
Jazmati is also on a mission, not just to share the opulent heritage of her native cuisine with one and all, but also to preserve it. With widespread destruction across Syria, she highlights that "we need many specialists to save the country."
"Some people will have to save our cultures, others will be needed to preserve old monuments and buildings, some will have to save children while others deal with preserving knowledge. And someone also has to save the tradition of our cuisine, which serves a much greater purpose than just stopping hunger," she says in her cookbook before embarking on a journey through starters, salads, mains, pastries and desserts.
Vibrant images complement elaborate recipes like "Fattosh," "Bamyeh," "Mlokheyeh," and, of course, "Baklawah" - a foreign language of tastes and textures presented with all of the artist's devotion to her craft. But it is not only a labor of love that drives Malakeh Jazmati into continuing her work in Germany. She told the daily "Berliner Zeitung that she has no intentions of "living off the state and sitting around without a purpose."
A universal language
Malakeh Jazmati has been living with her husband and her son in Berlin for about a year and a half, trying to start a new chapter in their lives. The next stop on her journey is to open a catering business with the help of the facility where Jazmati and her family are housed. The "Berliner Stadtmission" supports such proactive initiatives to get refugees into work; funded by the Protestant Church as well as donations, the refugee facility houses numerous cultures all under one roof.
Malakeh Jazmati shares many aspects of her life with those living at the refugee facility - not just her recipes. As the holy Muslim month of Ramadan starts, she will be involved with others in preparing “iftar” meals in the evenings, when those holding fast break their fast each night. Every night she will create a little feast, a celebration of life in her inimitable style. Non-Muslims are also welcome to join:
"We may all have our differences, but the language of food is universal."
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