Amidst myriad market stalls, demonstrations, classes, eateries and bars at Bristol Food Connections 2016, a small gathering of people were preparing a meal with much more than food on the menu. Part of the festival’s fringe events, Mageiros’ Feast – From Iran to Sudan, took place in the aptly named Café des Amis at Easton Community Centre.
Alice von Kohler and Claudia Poligioni, who run Mageiros, believe that food provides more than just physical sustenance, it can offer social sustenance too. It’s a way to build bonds within a community, a means to reinforce connections, unify, integrate and bring people together.
With this in mind, they invited a selection of Iranian and Sudanese-born home cooks – Parvaneh Namini, Najmeh Hashemi, Misaa Osman and Nigla Abdallhady – along to create some traditional culinary delights from their home countries.
Guests were greeted by a table festooned with glasses of nana. Those that had no previous knowledge of nana, which was most of us, made up for it with committed guzzling. It turned out to be a refreshing lime and mint drink and, with no point of reference, it quickly became the best one we had ever drunk.
First up food-wise was the Iranian element of the friendly feast, ash reshteh – a wholesome, thick soup made with noodles, chickpeas and lentils and served with crispy onions and kashk, fermented yoghurt.
As satisfying as it was filling, the ash reshteh was followed by a Sudanese main course of injera with bumia, rigla, gerra and naimia. The latter were flavoursome accompaniments to the injera, flatbreads made from fermented batter. And to celebrate all things fermented there was a guest appearance from the implausibly lovely food writer and chef, Olia Hercules, champion of Eastern European food, a cuisine famous for fermenting vegetables.
Rounding the meal off was a dessert of baklawa and a handsome semolina cake called basbusa. The food was intriguing, delicious, educational and, most importantly, filled the community centre with people who probably wouldn’t ever have had the opportunity to sit down and eat together otherwise.
Meal over, guests left with gloriously full bellies and a new-found respect for the tantalising variety of international food cooked behind closed doors.
Mageiros’ mission was complete. This was a meal to showcase what it does – facilitate hands-on cooking sessions with people from all over the world and provide a space for people to practise English and meet fellow food lovers.
While Alice and Claudia mainly reach out to organisations like ESOL, Workers Education Association and Bristol Refugee Rights, as well as community centres and language schools, their sessions are open to everyone.
Mageiros redefine the term hearty food. They celebrate food for the body and the soul. Food for anyone who wants to cook and eat it together. Food for friends old and new.