summer

Middle Eastern Summer Charity Dinner Party: 'My Baghdad Kitchen'

For those of us in the Middle Eastern diaspora, food is often the strongest connection we have to where we come from. We might not truly know where that is, but the smells and flavours that remind us of our grandmother's cooking are enough to trigger a confusing yet comforting nostalgia for home, regardless of whether we are Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian, or from anywhere in that beautiful but endlessly tormented part of the world.

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That food is a particularly special part of the Middle East, not just because of its incredible flavours, but also because Middle Eastern cuisine unites the region's richly diverse countries. Whilst each nation has its own cuisine, there is so much crossover between them all that Middle Eastern food is an entity in itself, and it is the most amazing amalgam of dishes. It is a kind of language in its own right, contaminated (or enriched) by the idiosyncrasies of neighbouring nations, and spoken both in and far beyond the region, in English and Arab-speaking countries, and even in Israel and Iran. If only the Middle East could achieve that kind of union in other ways.

In fact, I myself often feel more Middle Eastern than Iraqi, perhaps due to my parents' Turkish, Iranian, and Kurdish roots, but also as a result of growing up in London with friends from all over the Middle East, who, as my brother would say, are as 'equally confused' as I am. Our food, however, continues to make perfect sense.

Last month, the AMAR foundation ran a campaign called 'My Baghdad Kitchen', which encouraged people to host fundraising dinner parties to feed Iraqi families during Ramadan. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to bring some friends together and test out my own cooking skills for a good cause. I didn't want to just cook Iraqi food, but rather a range of Middle Eastern food, to remind us that what's going on at the moment is a regional problem, and that we really are better together.

Using family recipes, I put together a menu with food from all over the Middle East, including traditionally Levantine starters like Tabbouleh and Fattoush, a less known but incredibly tasty Saudi Arabian rice dish known as Kapsa (which is actually probably my favourite Middle Eastern rice dish!), as well as dishes popular all over the region, like the za'atar flatbread Mana'eesh and of course, Hommous and Babaghanouj. 

With the help of my magical kitchen assistant brother, we served up traditional dishes with our own twists. My personal favourite was the Shorbat Addas (lentil soup), which I served chilled in small glasses, topped with baked Arabic bread croutons and a hint of paprika. They were the perfect way to start the meal off. Clearly all the gazpacho I ate whilst living in Madrid has had an influence on my own cooking

Of course for dessert I had to make my Almond Milk Mahalabiya, which was a light and refreshing way to end the meal. I also finally tried my hand at Baklawa, mixing the usual pistachios with pecans rather than the more common walnuts or cashews, and served them up with a cup of Iraqi Chai to keep us warm as the night got cooler.

With the great British summer time on our side, we set up in the garden for what ended up being an enjoyable, balmy, candle-lit evening. We had Iraqis, Syrians, Palestinians, Muslims, Christians, and Jews all sitting beside each other, enjoying the familiar flavours that remind us of home, and sharing all too similar stories. Although it truly felt a world away from what the Middle East is today, it gave me a glimmer of hope for what the future could look like. 

Thanks to the generosity of our guests, we managed to raise over £155 for the AMAR foundation's campaign, meaning that we could feed 6 Iraqi families for a week during Ramadan. 

Although their meals would be nothing like what we enjoyed that day, by holding events like this, raising awareness, and trying to give back to a region that has given us so much, maybe one day we can be hosting supper clubs like this in Baghdad or in Damascus, where all of this incredible food was first made.

Dinerama: Shoreditch's Summer Street Food Circus

Alright so we need to have a serious conversation about Dinerama. It's outdoor street food heaven, with neon lights for added awesomeness. So if you're stuck on how to spend your summer weekend evenings...look no further.

Dinerama is the third addition to Street Feast's crazy collection of street food markets around London. This one is based in the heart of Shoreditch on Great Eastern Street, whilst Model Market is in Lewisham and the original Street Feast is in Dalston Yard. 

Every Thursday - Saturday from 12pm to 12am, and Sundays from 12pm to 9pm, Dinerama hosts 6 street diners, 5 street food shacks, 6 bars, and several street food trucks - so you're sure to find something to tantalise your taste buds. It looks super busy in these photos, but because of the nature of the food, people are up and moving around all the time and we actually found a place to sit each time we wanted to. 

We arrived just before 7pm, so managed to catch free entry. It's only £3 entry after 7pm, but you'll probably want to arrive earlier anyway so you can soak it all up and try as much stuff as possible (obviously). It's also not just the food but it's the atmosphere that's great. There's a DJ playing music all night so you could easily spend your whole evening there!

These bad boys were so good, and still my favourite dish at the market. I would happily go back and eat 10. Most dishes on the stalls were £4 for one, two for £7, or three for £9 - so it's fun and more cost effective to share with your pals. Or just eat more for yourself, because why not?

You also can't miss the Chuck Burger truck as soon as you walk in. They do some great burgers, and actually have their own restaurant up in Hatch End.

 Yum Bun was another favourite of mine, and not just because of their super cool neon sign. We went for the crispy shrimp bun, which was awesome. But be warned, if you're not a fan of spicy food, ask for it without the green chilli - it will burn your mouth alive. 

There were so many stalls left that we didn't try, like a great looking Indian which had poppadom nachos...or 'pachos' as they called them. We also completely forgot to try the lobster rolls...so are definitely going back for those!! 

There were also so many bars in the market so you could just go in for a drink. We chose to go upstairs to the 'rooftop' section and hunt down the rum bar, obviously because they were the ones with the cool stripy cups. They had a great selection of crazy cocktails that were actually really good, which you can then enjoy on the grass up there. It's practically a picnic!

Whilst upstairs, we stopped off at Baja Grill which was offering coal-grilled sweet potato with chipotle butter for a beautiful £2. The salad on the side also made us feel a little bit less guilty for chomping on all those fried goods...

And for our final dish we were lured to Bird Box by the incredible smell and sight of the fresh rotisserie chicken. It was covered in some amazing chutney sauce and came with roasted garlic & thyme potatoes...dream. I should probably mention we did share everything...we aren't that bad!

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Okay so by this point, as you can guess from the amount of food we had, we were dying. But nothing was going to stop us heading to You Doughut! for dessert (separate stomach, right?) There were two flavours to choose from: salted caramel, and indulgent chocolate. We are suckers for cinnamon, but also couldn't not have marshmallows...so we just asked for the salted caramel but with marshmallows instead of pecans. I'm not even exaggerating when I say they are the most incredible doughnuts I have probably had ever.

We then ended up sitting and chatting for hours on end, right up until the market closed for the night. The weather was perfect, the people were lovely, and the music was just right, so there was no reason for us to leave! It was one of the best nights I've had so far this summer, of course with my forever foodie buddy Em. I'd definitely recommend you grab some friends and head on down there too.

If you fancy trying out Street Feast's other markets, you can view a list of all of the stalls available here.

Happy Street Feasting!