Serving Rohingya food and memories from a lost home
“What is Rohingya? Is it an area? Where is it?” a passerby asked one of the refugees standing by the food stall.Updated: Jun 21, 2019 18:33 IST
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
Other than playing host to a mix of talented professionals, a co-working space in Udyog Vihar Phase-2 opened its doors on Thursday to a team of people whose presence, though uncustomary, had become the subject of lunch-time conversations for the day. On World Refugee Day, a handful of Rohingya Muslims, now settled in camps across Delhi and Haryana, had set up a food exhibition in one corner of the co-working space. Besides the food, the seven visitors, all men, themselves attracted the attention of curious onlookers.
“What is Rohingya? Is it an area? Where is it?” a passerby asked one of the refugees standing by the food stall. “It’s a community from Burma (Myanmar). We were compelled to leave our county as the military escalated violence against us. We are here to share our traditional food with all of you,” the person was told.
Gradually, more people started hovering around the stall as a heady mix of food scents waft through the air. The offerings included Bawla Firda, a summer sweet dish; Mohinga, popularly recognized as one of Myanmar’s national dishes; Shutki, another sweet dish; Bini Bhat, a glutinous rice specialty; Kara Gusso, a chicken curry; Lurdi Farda, Rohingya traditional rice roti, and Bhat Fica, a rice delicacy wrapped in Banana leaves.
Mohammad Sajjad, a Rohingya who had reached India on December 26, 2016, after undertaking an arduous journey from Myanmar via the Bangladesh border and is now a resident of Hamid Colony in Nuh, was among those who had prepared the feast on offer. The shy 21-year-old, whose family used to run a chain of restaurants and hotels back home, proudly scooped Shutki for visitors.
“My grandfather used to run food outlets and everyone in the family followed in the footsteps. I often cook Rohingya food here on my friends’ request,” he said, adding that while he was a refugee in India, it was the taste of Rohingya food that gave him refuge on days he missed his family.
“Food brings back a flood of memories from home. I miss the taste of my mother’s food. In Burma (Myanmar), my mother would wait to serve me food, no matter how late it was. I am reminded of her when I serve people food here,” he said.
Cooking Rohingya food in India came with its own set of challenges. Many ingredients are not available locally, and had to be sources from the rare Burmese food shops scattered across Delhi.
“Cooking Mohinga can take 2-3 hours. There are many ingredients, including a special kind of noodle which is not readily available in India, except in Burmese shops. We had to make do with chow mien here,” Sajjad said.
The hard work put in by the group did not go in vain as visitors seemed to relish the food and were seen asking for multiple servings.
Aamir Khan, who had came all the way from Delhi’s New Friends Colony for the food exhibition, said, “I know the Rohingyas have suffered a lot in Myanmar. I came today to share their food, and extend solidarity.”
Sabber Kyaw Min, founder of Rohingya Human Rights Initiative which put together the food exhibition, said the idea was to introduce Indians to Rohingya food and start a conversation about the strife.
“For the Rohingya, food is now also a way of staying connected with their homeland. We want to share our culture and food with Indians. It reminds us of our homeland and we want to give others a chance to know our country better,” he said.
First Published: Jun 21, 2019 03:01 IST