A culi­nary jour­ney By Su­mayya Us­mani

Sunday Herald Life - - FOOD & DRINK -

RE­CENTLY I got the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence the home cook­ing of Moldova when I at­tended So­rina Savascu’s pop-up in Ed­in­burgh. She had me hooked with the event’s evoca­tive ti­tle – Jour­ney Back To My Ro­ma­nian Roots – alone, but the story of her de­sire to pre­serve the in­tegrity of her her­itage cui­sine, and her pas­sion for lo­cal sus­tain­able food, is en­dear­ing.

Grow­ing up in the west­ern Ro­ma­nian city of Timisoara, So­rina used to com­plain when­ever she vis­ited her grand­par­ents’ coun­try home about the muddy sur­round­ings and lack of ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties. “My youngest un­cle used to an­noy me by show­ing me a bunny and say­ing, ‘Look, this is your din­ner tonight!’” she re­calls. Now, she re­alises her rel­a­tives weren’t killing for fun but for food.

So­rina moved to Scot­land to study more than eight years ago, and dur­ing her last year of univer­sity she worked in a fran­chise res­tau­rant. “I don’t re­gret work­ing there,” she says now, “as it opened my eyes about the food in­dus­try.” Af­ter grad­u­at­ing she de­cided she wanted to work in hos­pi­tal­ity.

To­day So­rina heads the South­side Food Assem­bly in Ed­in­burgh, where she dig­i­tally con­nects lo­cal pro­duc­ers with con­sumers, al­low­ing lo­cal pro­duce to be avail­able eas­ily to lo­cal peo­ple.

Her con­nec­tion with Scot­tish pro­duce and sea­son­al­ity has made her think about her own Ro­ma­nian her­itage, and dur­ing a re­union with her fam­ily at her grand­par­ents’ homes in Moldova last year, she set out to dis­cover how things have changed in the food land­scape of her home­land.

Dur­ing her own city-based child­hood, her mother cooked tra­di­tional Ro­ma­nian dishes, and al­though she had ac­cess to ready­made su­per­mar­ket food, she choose to cook her own meals.

“Ev­ery Satur­day morn­ing,” re­calls So­rina, “she would drag me out of bed to make sure she got the farmer’s mar­ket for 7am to pick the fresh­est pro­duce.

“I’m re­ally glad now that I got the chance to help my mum and learn from her, but back then I was re­ally an­noyed at her. I wanted to be out­side, en­joy­ing the sum­mer weather and play­ing with other kids, not stuck in a hot sticky kitchen.”

Mem­o­ries of sum­mer and pre­serv­ing quince or sour cher­ries, or mak­ing slow-cooked roasted pep­per and aubergines in toma­toes ... these are food mem­o­ries she wanted to keep alive.

“What made me most want to go back to my Ro­ma­nian roots was to see the big changes that hap­pened in the vil­lages,” she says. “Peo­ple gave up their gar­dens and live­stock to build big­ger vil­las. Most of them work abroad and be­lieve ev­ery­thing that’s im­ported is bet­ter. Why bake a cake when you can buy one ready-made?

“I don’t want to be like that. Yes, I moved abroad but that doesn’t mean I should for­get where I come from. Now I can choose my life­style and what I want to eat.”

She wants to show peo­ple that what are now seen as “trends” such as fer­men­ta­tion, for­ag­ing, grow your own, were part of a nat­u­ral way of life where she grew up. She is glad that to­day, many peo­ple are choos­ing to shop lo­cal and learn­ing to pre­serve.

So­rina was hum­bled by the in­ter­est shown in her Ro­ma­nian themed pop-up din­ner and now hopes it will lead her in a new di­rec­tion in which she has a chance to share her cui­sine.

Es­sen­tially, she sees her­self as a farmer, and wants to learn how to grow her own.

“I would also like to pre­serve my grandad’s vine­yard,” she says. “He has a lovely vine­yard with Ro­ma­nian grape va­ri­eties but sadly he can­not look af­ter it any more. At the mo­ment my un­cle looks af­ter it and makes de­li­cious nat­u­ral wine. He used to be a sheep farmer and make tra­di­tional raw milk cheese but he stopped. I’m afraid the same may hap­pen to the vine­yard.”

In So­rina I have found a kin­dred spirit. Spe­cial thanks to So­rina Savascu for her time and Gil­lianne Jen­nifer Rodger for the in­tro­duc­tion.

Tonight Su­mayya is col­lab­o­rat­ing with Glas­gow’s Cail Bruich res­tau­rant in a cel­e­bra­tion of Scot­tish pro­duce with a Pak­istani modern twist (www.cail­bruich.co.uk). She will also teach a cook­ery class ti­tled Spiced King­doms And Colonies at Ed­in­burgh New Town Cook­ery School on Novem­ber 12 (www.entcs.co.uk). Su­mayya Us­mani co-presents BBC Ra­dio Scot­land’s Kitchen Cafe. Her books, Sum­mers Un­der The Tamarind Tree and Moun­tain Berries And Desert Spice are out now, pub­lished by Frances Lin­coln Visit sumayyaus­mani.com Twit­ter @SumayyaUs­mani

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