Food & Me: Ayman Mohyeldin

The Emmy-nominated journalist talks his favourite Arab eats

Yes, the internet can always keep you connected to your friends and family. But for people who live away from home, food can be the ultimate source of belonging.

It’s a cultural anchor. Whether you’re in New York or New Delhi, when it is copiously served in a home setting, you’ll travel right back to your home base. Ask anyone who moved miles away from their mother’s kitchen, and they’d agree. 

That’s why MILLE is launching its latest series, Food & Me to dig into the relationship between food and the diaspora. To kick everything off, we sat down with American journalist and producer Ayman Mohyeldin to discuss his Egyptian-Palestinian roots and spill the beans on how home-food lights up his mood when brought to the table.

Having travelled around the planet to cover stories about the Arab world, Mohyeldin—whose work has been crucial in bringing a fair and accurate representation of our region onto the global stage—knows about feeling homesick. Through his Instagram posts tagged #aymaneats we also discovered his love for cooking for his model and social entrepreneur wife Kenza Fourati and their two kids.

Wondering what his favourite foods are? Mohyeldin tells us. 

How does food bond you to home?
Food is the quintessential taste of home. The dishes that I grew up eating with family and relatives has the ability to transport you both to a different place and a different time of your life. Any time I taste one of the dishes I grew up eating, I’m immediately reminded of different periods of my life.

Are there any dishes that make you connect more than others?
Maklooba, Molokhiya, stuffed grape leaves. Why? These were the dishes that were staples of special events and occasions in our extended family so they always carry a sense of nostalgia for me. Do you share them with people? I’ve tried to carry on the tradition for my own family by eating many of these same dishes around special gatherings or occasions like family get-togethers and birthdays. If so, who? Family and close friends.

Do you struggle bridging the gap between where you are and home when it comes to food?
Our Middle Eastern and North African culture celebrates big meals with families, relatives, friends and neighbors. It’s hard to replicate that as frequently living in the west where the pace of life is more frantic and the style of eating together is more about focused on going to restaurants or brunch rather than communal cooking and sharing recipes and traditions.

How do you mimic the ancestral touch? That flick of wrist that makes food from home taste better?
I try to learn from my mother and other relatives as much as possible. The internet has also made it possible to learn new techniques and customs that make it easier to experiment with having to ask family and relatives who may frown up attempts to modify long held family traditions and recipes.

How much do you crave it? Is it through hunger or homesickness?
Food is such an important part of our lifestyle that we regularly cook and eat meals from our traditions not because we crave or miss them but because we love it and prefer it than any other way. 

It’s not because we are homesick or because we miss it. It’s because it’s what we eat. Home is in New York and we proudly celebrate where we come from in many ways both religiously and culturally. Food is integral to those celebrations and who we are.

Cooking and eating are among the most rewarding and satisfying activities I do with my family. Seeing them learn how to cook and seeing them enjoy the food Kenza and I make is extremely rewarding and gratifying. It’s also a very meditative exercise of focus, concentration and creativity in my day.

Do you have any advice for fellow New Yorkers on where to shop for the best ingredients?
If you are looking for middle eastern markets, some of the best ingredients can be found in markets like Baladi in Bay Ridge. You can also find great products on line from sites like Dukkan Foods and Mina.

Could you share your favorite easy recipe for the homesick?
No. It’s Top Secret. Family-only passed down from generation to generation. Hahaha

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