Food stories have played a major role in developing my imagination as a kid. My grandmother used to send me off to the land of imagination and beauty with her culturally-rich bedtime stories. She spared no occasion to tell me all about the feasts and foods that the characters in her 1001 Arabian Nights stories were anxious to cook or savour.
My grandmother literally spent a considerable chunk of her storytelling on describing the Turkish delights that the Prince had to offer to the difficult but good-hearted Ghoul. She spent an equally tantalising time talking about the fresh fruits and the exotic snacks he had packed in his horse’s saddle for a long trip in search for the one thing that would make his depressed father, the King, happy.
Although my grandmother is no longer with us, her food stories seem to be shaping this chapter of my life. I found my way back to everything she had taught me after I got married to a man who shares my passion for the intellectual and the sensory aspects of food.
In recent years, I started paying more attention to the authentic recipes I have seen my late grandmother cook whenever I spent the weekend with her at her beautiful and cosy home. I have a few scattered pages in my recipe binder that she has patiently dictated to me – all when I was itching to go out and exercise being a teenager. Now more than ever, I see the value in these recipes and I want to illustrate them, in a way to immortalise the food creations of a wonderful woman who has been my first and foremost spiritual and cultural mentor.
My multi-cultural roots and being the granddaughter of this talented foodie, storyteller, embroiderer, seamstress and spiritual mentor, are what will shape the heart and soul of the upcoming Illustrated Middle Eastern Recipes and posts.
Middle Eastern Food Stories with an Italian Rationale
In my previous blog prelude, I spoke about how post entries will be spread across an “Illustrated Blog Series” structure, to help create a storytelling atmosphere for each aspect of my illustration blog.
In this series, I will illustrate the delicious dishes my husband and I enjoy cooking in our quaint little Mediterranean kitchen. This is actually more or less a collaboration with my Italian-Levantine husband, who happens to know a lot more than I could ever imagine about rarely-publicised Middle Eastern food. Together we believe food is one of the most interesting creative expressions that can open up a world of appreciation and enjoyment into other cultures, including our own.
With roots south of the Mediterranean, my hubby is an excellent home cook specialising in authentic Turkish, Lebanese, and Syrian recipes that hail from obscure towns and villages across the Levant. His dishes have an Italian undertone to them, as he brings the “fresh ingredients” rationale to every bite he cooks up in our small kitchen.
At first I wanted to take photos of his delicious dishes to document them. But then I thought why not bring our two worlds together by attempting to illustrate what he cooks! And so the idea of this series was brought to life.
From Waraq Enab (rolled grape vine leaves) to Lahmacun (Turkish meat pies), this series will bring you mouthwatering recipes that use fresh and organic ingredients, while avoiding canned foods at all costs.
To make these recipes, you’ll need fresh ingredients, items you can find in your own pantry (like rice and Zaa’tar), and a sprinkle of curiosity and a pinch of love.
About the Illustration Style
It’s not really my thing to stick to one style and keep on repeating it over and over again. So in broad terms, the illustration style I have in mind for this food stories series is a combination of botanically-rich art with a nod to the Mediterranean aesthetic. On this page, you can see several examples of illustrations I created on different intervals that show an evolving illustration style that keeps on changing over time. The latest is the illustration at the top, while the oldest is the last one, above this section.
In our home, we use handmade ceramics from Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan. We also like to spruce up our culinary experience with the addition of table-settings from Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. That’s why, my illustrations will incorporate some of these Middle Eastern elements to give a cultural flavour to these authentic recipes and delicious food stories. My ultimate goal here is to try and illustrate a mood that will help you relate to the culture, in all its modern-time allure, as well as to the food.
So please join my husband and I on this culinary journey and don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get the scoop on all the upcoming recipes!
Food illustration by illustrator and artist Yaansoon