Most Syrian girls learn their way around the kitchen from an early age. They’d scuttle around like Santa’s elves under the watchful eyes of their mothers as they build up their database of traditional recipes and cooking methods as well as the invaluable secrets of Mouneh (canning and preserving foods, making sauces and condiments at home and preparing food staples and spices so they last all year). On top of that, they’d learn proper resource management to ensure they can feed their family well no matter the budget.
That kind of know-how would be worth a king’s ransom but I had no access to such knowledge because:
a. My mum was not Syrian,
b. She hated cooking!
In all fairness, as the first female civil engineer in her country, Mum was too busy blazing trails, she had no time or interest in homemaking. It wasn’t until she married my dad that she found herself forced to learn how to cook. She went from not knowing how to fry an egg to hosting lavish banquets but made no secret of how much she hated toiling in the kitchen.
I don’t know if my dad tried that “If you can’t cook from a place of love, then it‘s better not to cook at all” line on her. I imagine her response would’ve been to throw in her apron in relief and tell him to have a nice starvation!
Mum’s disdain for cooking was even more evident when I’d ask her to teach me to cook. She’s say: “No one taught me (to cook) so why should I teach you?!”
I could never understand the logic in that statement but she was adamant in her position. I resigned myself to the menial tasks she assigned to me: peeling and crushing garlic, sifting through rice and lentils to pick out any chaff or stones and heaping toppings on pizza.
If it weren’t for my mum having to travel back to Libya in that fateful summer of 1988, I may not have learned to cook for another 10 years. But after I got a taste of the joy of making food, I wanted to learn more. The kiddy books were not challenging for me anymore and Dad was eager to see me trying my hand at more traditional dishes so he took matters into his hands.
To be continued…
Thanks to Rafael Hoyos Weht @rhweht for making this photo available freely on Unsplash