How Hawa Hassan Built a Cookbook Around East African Grandmothers: Women Who Travel Podcast

Shaniqua Juliano

LA: No, no, it really does. Sort of going on to food appropriation and recipe appropriation, I mean, you kind of touched on this before, but where do you think that line lies between who gets to cook what? HH: I think all of it is rooted in respect. I […]

LA: No, no, it really does. Sort of going on to food appropriation and recipe appropriation, I mean, you kind of touched on this before, but where do you think that line lies between who gets to cook what?

HH: I think all of it is rooted in respect. I think everyone should eat what they want, they should cook what they want, but how are you sharing that space when you’re in it? Are you occupying it? Are you closing the door behind you when you get into someone else’s culture? Who else is in that position to better tell those stories that is from that place? And then also, what is your reasoning for being in that space? Is it to learn more and to bring the world closer to one another and to make the table longer? Or is it to just, again, occupy it?

It’s like, come on. We’ve got the internet now. You’re going to get called out.

MC: So, obviously we have all been fairly grounded by the pandemic, which has definitely limited where we can travel and who will let us in.

HH: For the first time, Americans are being shut out.

MC: But even if you think about the summer, I have friends who are in South Africa and there were not even domestic flights, so I think that when we look at how everyone is moving it’s a little different than it was a year ago regardless of where your passport is from. Though sadly, those of us with the US passports—which is only me on this call—are at a loss.

But looking at the winter or next year, kind of where are you looking to go? What are you looking to eat? What are you wanting to see first person that you’ve maybe been researching online or looking at longingly over this time?

HH: I’m praying that if I’m really, really lucky, I get to go to Zanzibar in December, a small island in Tanzania. But the places that I’ve been thinking about for so long and really stalk every day, not every day, but weekly I go looking, are Vietnam and Cambodia. And then I’m like, “Shouldn’t I save big things like that for when you’re on a honeymoon?” And then I’m like, “Well, the world has gone crazy. You should go now.”

MC: A hundred percent. I feel like the excuses we may use for big trips might be, “It’s my half birthday” going forward.

LA: Yeah. If I’ve saved the money, it’s my money, I can’t spend it how I want. I feel like we all make up these rules for when we are and aren’t allowed to make these decisions and to the spend money.

HH: Right. Right. I just heard that New Zealand has the most tickets sold for future plans for people flying. I’m like, “New Zealand sounds amazing. I should also buy a ticket to New Zealand.”

Okay, eating. I want to eat anything that the people in Vietnam will share with me, and in Cambodia. Before, I used to be really weary of eating street food, and now I’m like, “No. If I survive COVID, I could do whatever.”

LA: You co-wrote the book with Julia Turshen, and all the photographs have been taken by Khadija M. Farah and Jennifer May. Each recipe is contributed by a grandmother. What did it feel like to collaborate with so many women on this project?

HH: So, 24 of the 75 recipes are by grandmothers. A lot of them are not from the grandmothers, but it’s a book in that every single person who touched it was a woman. As stressful as it was and as many moving parts that there were, now looking back I have so many fond memories about it. It’s wild to think that something this grand can come to life and it could come through from a woman who lives in a village in Mozambique, a woman whose kitchen is outside in Zanzibar, or a friend of a friend’s grandmother in Comoros who doesn’t even use the internet. To see it come full circle in this way and to feel like it belongs to so many people, for me is the biggest joy. My prayer is the same almost every day, “Let me be of service.” In this book, it really feels like what I wanted to do got accomplished, and obviously could not have happened without Julia, it could not have happened without Khadija, it could not have happened without Jen May, but every single person who worked on this book was a woman.

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