Stand Up For Kobane.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the sweltering summer of 2014, I and tens of thousands of others from all backgrounds took to the streets of London to march in solidarity with the Palestinians. As innocents lost their lives, a feeling of utter helplessness led me to stand up and be part of a collective voice which called for an end to the bloodshed.

Now as Autumn befalls London, I feel a familiar sense of horror stirring in my gut. As the so called ‘Islamic State’ leaves a trail of death and destruction across Iraq and Syria, their advance has showed an utter disregard for humanity. Their brutal ‘convert or die’ method has been absolute; there has been no mercy.

During the infamous London Riots, London’s Turkish / Kurdish community were almost alone in seeing off troublemakers from their doorsteps. This, I have come to know, is the Kurdish mentality – you stand together honourably in the face of trouble.
As Isis besieges Kobanê and other parts of Rojava, it seems the YPG and YPJ are not fighting alone; queues of Kurdish civilians have joined the resistance in a bid to defend their land and people. But their tired weapons and sense of honour may not be enough. Angry citizens just over the border in Turkey who want to help are held back, pitilessly dispersed by water canon spray from the Turkish authorities. A slaughter looms on the horizon and the people desperate to prevent it watch helplessly from a no-mans-land as the Turkish military idly get into position. Coalition strikes may not be enough to save Kobanê as Isis fighters engage in street battle.

With anger amongst Kurds at boiling point, explosive protests have spread across Turkey where more than 20 protestors have lost their lives at the hands of the Police. Simply dismissed as ‘supporters of the PKK’ by the government, the protestors message is lost. A right to defend is their main objective. Shouldn’t a right to survive should be everyones objective? As other protests take place by Kurdish diaspora in Europe, I don’t see diversity in the crowds. I can’t see the ‘Not In My Name’ placards, or people of all faiths with a common love of humanity. I want to scream and shout because I feel cheated at the lack of awareness, support and because Isis has been allowed to arrive on Europe’s threshold. Moreover I cannot sit back and watch another slaughter. I am angry at the apparent lack of empathy by the Turkish government, a NATO member, and the hushed British MPs, media and other influential people who had so much to say about other conflicts. I am not Kurdish but as a compassionate human being it is my duty to stand up in solidarity with the brave resistance in Kobanê, and inthe name of humanity.

Today thousands of protestors gathered in Westminster in solidarity with Kobanê and as I suspected non Kurdish protestors were but a handful. I did however speak to one, Aubrey, who said he was absolutely horrified at the lack of support from outside the Kurdish community. For me its not about supporting what the YPG / YPJ / PKK stand for, its about inaction when innocent people are faced with a massacre. Without urgent action, Kobane and other towns and villages in the region are destined to become the modern era Srebrenicas; we can only pray history does not repeat itself.

Hope for Humanity?

Gaza

As I navigated my son through the Saturday shoppers on Kensington High Street, I cursed the impending downpour. As we neared Kensington Gardens I could hear collective murmurs rising above the noise of traffic, then I began seeing placards and chequered scarves; another protest outside the Israeli embassy, a regular occurrence in the Royal Borough and one I have witnessed on many occasion in my 30 something years as a resident.
As we crossed the road to avoid the protest, I caught my son’s little face looking up to me for reassurance, his wispy hair blowing in the wind. I scooped him up and patted him on the back. Passing the barricade of police officers, my son innocently gawked at the protestors across the road, mouth wide open in amazement. To a toddler, the ruckus must have seemed terrifying. I too stopped, trying to capture the gist of what this latest protest was about; sure I keep up to date with current affairs and had some idea, but I didn’t know that by simply observing this time round would have such an emotionally profound effect. A group of Orthodox Jewish men stood on the front line of the protest, participants I really didn’t expect to see. Proudly holding placards and Palestinian flags, they politely refrained from hollering. Seemingly at ease, they appeared fearless in the face of what potentially could be perceived to the ignorant eye such as mine, not only an anti-Israeli rally, but an anti-Semitic one too.
I took a photo of the group and tweeted it assuming that it would be lost amongst the social media giants. Little did I know that within hours my photo would become viral; retweeted, shared and liked hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of times all over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
With the rise of social media, distressing images are at every log-in even if you do not seek them, images so shocking and terrible that you have no choice but to feel sickened, helpless and angry. They continue to divide people at a time we so desperately need to be unified. As a mother, evidence of murdered children turn my stomach. Seeing raw sufferance moves me to tears and I often ask myself
‘Who is responsible for this?’                                                                                                                                              Bombarded by hateful captions and comments, the finger of blame is pointed this way and that. Entire creeds and faiths are vilified and perceptions are embedded into the psyches of those seeking answers. Hate is voiced and in other cases retaliation is actively sought. Yet it is massively important not to tar everybody with the same brush for regular civilians cannot control the actions of their own government.
For the average person such as myself, I cannot fully understand the horror that enrobes the every day of the Palestinian people. For me, hardships were few and fixable. There was always hope.
It’s easier to bury my head in the sand and believe it doesn’t affect me. So why then was a lump forming in my throat? Why was this protest having an impact? We had only gone out to feed the ducks! I look at my son who is still engrossed by the protest; I care because of him. I care that he should know compassion and injustice. I care that my son is accepting and shouldn’t dwell on differences spurred on by an age of rage riddled social media. I care for the sake of humanity and all the sons and daughters who are suffering. I care because I am human; I cannot see would be refugees with nowhere to turn, barricaded by land and sea. Nor innocent men women and children at best impoverished, at worse wrapped in shrouds, victims to a sky which rains bombs and bullets.
The protest was an emotionally charged collective voice with an urgent message. There is a terrible thing happening at this moment; the heart of the Mediterranean is bleeding. There are lives being needlessly spent in a crisis of humanity, one we all can no longer ignore. I saw them standing shoulder to shoulder in Kensington, Muslim, Jew and Christian and I was deeply moved, not as an activist, but as an observer.
For hours after the protest, I received messages from friends telling me that my photo had been shared by various people, some very well well-known. Some speculated it to be a fake, others were crying out for the rest of the world to see it. Why was one photo so massively relevant? Because it shows that humanity dwells in the heart of everyone, regardless of religion and race. People have had enough of an eye for an eye. With an eye for an eye everyone went blind. We may not have the immediate solution for the peaceful co-existence of Israelis and Palestinians, or for chipping away layers of hate stretching back generations, but if we begin to stand together there is at least some hope for humanity.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One week on and there is another protest outside the Israeli embassy with supporters numbering near thousands. A helicopter circles the area and the press is out in force. An iconic London double decker is at a standstill just metres from Kensington Palace and protesters climb aboard and out onto its roof, waving Palestinian flags victoriously. One determined reporter is pushing through the crowd, I see his eyes fixed on the bus and sure enough within minutes he is balancing precariously on its roof. There is a huge roar from the crowd as an Orthodox Jew, rumoured to be a Rabbi, also climbs on top, placard in hand. The collective voice is gaining strength and they’re begging the world to listen.

 

La Rocca…A Sicilian Gem in Winchmore Hill

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s a Saturday afternoon and my father and I are heading towards Winchmore Hill, following a tip-off from our long time Italian food suppliers, Salvino. We’re looking for 250 mini Sicilian Cassata to form part of my wedding cake. I’ve been to all the regular central London Italian bakeries, contacted wholesalers, considered making them myself but the thought of constructing 250 sticky cakes the night before my wedding leads me to pre wedding despair. La Rocca is my last hope.

We drive through Green Lanes, pass Wood Green and after another  ten minutes or so reach Winchmore Hill broadway. I see La Rocca’s glass front and a stream of people heading in and leaving with content smiles. We enter, are instantly greeted by the busy owner, Salvatore, his  Sicilian charm prevalent and beaming from behind a well stacked counter. My senses feast; there’s a large ice cream counter with authentic and loved flavours, and importantly for  me, less known Italian flavours such as Hazelnut, Honeydew Melon and Tiramisu. Wafts of good strong espresso and tomato sauce induce a need to feast. And fest we did!

Read about the best sfogliatelle, cannoli, and arancini outside of Italy here…!!

Haydari

Whenever I go to eat in my favorite Harringey restaurants, I always make sure haydari is part of my mixed meze. I get so carried away, scooping it up with fresh steaming bread, that by the time the main course arrives I’m full. Perhaps I’ll never learn!

Now that I’m living back in West London I have no choice but to make my own haydari. The thick cheesy yoghurt dip is so simple and delicious I have no problem with making vat-loads.

Click here for my recipe… Afiyet Olsun!!

A Day with Aldo Zilli

I don’t ever recall waking up while the dawn chorus welcomed the coming day, unless I needed to catch a flight. On a cool Saturday morning my sister and I woke with a different purpose; to learn. I seldom have the motivation to do anything ‘extra curricular’ with precious little time off but when me and my sister are together she encourages me, especially when it comes to food and fact.  A day with Aldo Zilli was on the cards, a rare chance to immerse ourselves in all things food related with the likeable Abruzzan by participating in one of his masterclasses.

After a strong espresso we crawled into a taxi, bleary eyed and silent.

“Billingsgate please.”

The driver also seems to be memorised by the dawn light but as we reach the old core of London all three of us awaken with anticipation. Pulling into Billingsgate car park, there are traffic jams and crowds of dedicated food lovers sporting pleased expressions and full bags. Above us, gangs of seagulls circled on the hunt for fishy morsels.  It’s 6am and the market is already beyond mid-swing. At this time I’d usually be in bed, totally oblivious to the early morning and it’s people. Today I am living in another world on the other side of town.

Read about our food-packed, deliciously fun day with Aldo Zilli here…

Borek / Burek / Byrek / Pite / Rustico – Mediterranean Pies

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Warm, crispy and satisfying, filled pies are the ultimate in comfort food. Wherever you go in the Med you’ll find different versions. From Turkish Borek, Balkan Burek / Byrek / Pite and Mantija, Boureki of Greece to the Rustico of Southern Italy – fillings and shapes vary to form indulgent meaty feats, cheesy delights, simple vegetable snacks or sweet treats.  The possibilities are endless and the end result always satisfying.

It’s one of those foods which is loved; a staple from warm-hearted family kitchens or consumed from kiosks and simple eateries with mopeds whizzing by. I’ve always struggled to find the authentic stuff, reminiscent of the Med in London until I stumbled upon Akdeniz Gida Pazari on Station Road, Wood Green. For £1 a pop you can buy different types of Borek fresh out of the oven, made by the hands of two smiling Bulgarian women behind an abundantly stacked counter. Safe in the knowledge I have a place to go for a quick Borek fix, I usually prefer to make my own.

In the Balkans I  watched as women made dough from scratch, tirelessly kneading and rolling with the thinnest of rolling pins. They’d work the pastry to unbelievable elasticity, picking up the delicate sheets and stretching with careful plucks.    The pies were finished with neatly pinched pleats.  Needless to say my first attempt at this was disastrous.  To make pastry by hand is indeed a labour of love. I prefer to buy ‘Yufka’ pastry which is widely available in Mediterranean supermarkets.

Here are my Borek recipes;
Sevkiye’s Borek – Oven baked layered yufka pastry with various fillings (Meat, Cheese, Herby Courgette)

Village Style Borek – basic filo dough layered with white (feta) cheese

Pan Borek – quick borek made in pan with yufka pastry.

Mantija – Meaty Balkan parcels

Perhaps a Bold Statement But… The Best Falafel in Town!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Admittedly I almost always steered clear of Falafel in restaurants – in my experience falafel meant tasteless, dry mouthfuls which rolled around the palate, resisting with all its might at being swallowed. It wasn’t that I was eating in the wrong places, it was simply that the falafel on offer didn’t fill me with joy. Then one day a colleague of mine, Mohammed, placed a foil package on my desk. On opening this steaming parcel, I discovered a falafel which changed my world. Mohammed’s vibrantly green homemade falafel were juicy and aromatised with garlic and herbs. They weren’t made with ground chick peas either, but a mixture of chick peas and dried fava beans. These falafel told the story of a man who emigrated from Cairo in his twenties. Now pushing 50, Mohammed never abandoned the food his mother taught him how to cook before he left. I guess his falafel were made with love.

Since that moment of falafel revelation most attempts to find such mouth wateringly moist falafel have failed. Until I came across a jewel in the midst of Central London, tucked away in the cobbled courtyard otherwise knows as Goodge Place Market.

To claim to have found the BEST falafel in a city so richly diverse is a bold statement but one I feel I can confidently make. Hoxton Beach has reaffirmed my love of falafel with its freshly fried offerings. Every mouthful of the wrap delights with crispy yet moist falafel, tahina sauce and homemade pickles. It is now 11:14 am and as I write this article I am salivating in anticipation of the wrap I will eat for my lunch today.

Goodge Street is heaving with eateries which supply the hungry office workers of Fitzrovia – yet why pay for an over priced burrito or faddy salad when there is nutty deliciousness on offer.  Hoxton Beach’s wraps are not pre made and heated in microwaves like a certain trendy Middle Eastern restaurant nearby. The men who work at Hoxton Beach are the real deal, themselves Middle Eastern and perhaps have the best understanding of how falafel wraps are meant to be. They churn out freshly fried balls of deliciousness and dress them just how we want them to be. No tahina? No problem. Extra pickles? Sure! There is always a polite good morning / good-bye / thank you and smile too. They are welcoming and hospitable even for the few moments it takes to prepare your wrap. Patrick Matthews, founder of the Hoxton Beach company, fell in love with Middle Eastern cuisine after studying Arabic in Damascus. (I on the other hand fell in love with Damascus after eating at Abu Zaad!) With a particular love of falafel, Patrick wanted to popularise them upon his return to Blighty. Good job Patrick and thank you Hassan, (the company chef) for your tasty recipe which has reignited my love affair with humble falafel.

Falafel is one of those foods to which many people lay their claim. From Israel, to Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and beyond, falafel crosses cultures and perhaps unites people beyond borders. ‘It’s only Falafel, there’s no need to be so dramatic!‘ I hear you say. Well, I’m putting so much importance on this street food because food is life, food is what we cherish when there is nothing else. Its something we all have in common despite our differences so when one dish stretches itself over a large geographical area notorious for upheaval why not celebrate something which unites the area rather than divides?

Check out Hoxton Beach stalls in Goodge Place Market, Whitecross Street and Exmouth Market or click here for stockists and try to recreate your own wraps.

From Istanbul with Love – Kahve Dunyasi in London

Trendy Turkish coffee house, Kahve Dunyasi, has landed in Piccadilly Circus.

Step into a dreamy world of coffee and chocolate . But this time Willy Wonka is cool, and Turkish.

Read about it here…

Pizzica in Mayfair, W1

One blustery Autumn evening in the back streets of Mayfair I heard the beat of a tambourine dancing on the air. When I near La Masseria I see people spilling out onto the streets, chattering like sparrows at dusk… Read on…

Portobello & Golborne Road – West Sometimes IS Best.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As a West Londoner I don’t have to travel far for a fiery culture fix.

Read about Portobello and Golborne Road, West London’s eccentric and worldly hot-spot here