Philip Juma, head chef and founder of Juma Kitchen, is putting Iraqi food in the spotlight—not only to bring a taste of his heritage to the UK, but for good cause: he’s teamed up with the AMAR Foundation to help raise funds for victims of ISIS. Here, ahead of his inaugural demo, he tells us more
Have you ever sampled a steaming hot kubbah or witnessed a tray of dolma being revealed? No? Well prepare your tastebuds for a real treat, straight from the streets of Baghdad.
My dad’s from Mosul, Iraq’s second city, so I’ve been lucky enough to eat fabulous dishes such as those since I was a toddler. Growing up, I remember sitting in the kitchen and watching in awe as my Iraqi aunties prepared dish after dish, the room smelling richly of aromatic spices.
Family get-togethers saw the kitchen table heave under the weight of huge bowls of kubba hamuth (lamb dumplings cooked in rich tomato sauce), lamb piled up on mountains of fragrant rice, and endless plates of crispy bourek (filo stuffed with spiced lamb).
The cradle of civilisation
Iraq was the cradle of civilisation, so its foods are steeped in history. Recipes are heavily influenced by India, making use of a huge variety of spices such as saffron, cumin, coriander and cardamom, and most regions of the country have their own favoured dishes.
While there’s no shortage of Middle Eastern-style cuisine here in the UK, most of the time what you are ordering is traditional Lebanese fare.
Sadly, for many people, the main image of Iraq these days is one of war and suffering—especially today, as ISIS continues its reign of terror in cities, towns and villages. People without Iraqi friends or family rarely get the opportunity to taste the flavours of Iraq—which is something I want to change.
A self-taught chef
In 2012, as a self-taught chef, I founded JUMA Kitchen to look beyond the bombs and promote and celebrate the best food Iraq has to offer. The recipes have been a huge hit in my pop-up supper clubs!
For the 3.3 million Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homes to escape ISIS violence, however, enjoying their country’s cuisine is a thing of the past. Living wherever they can find space—in canvas tents by the side of the road, abandoned buildings, in cars and on the streets—every day is a battle to survive. They can’t afford food, clean water, medical supplies or clothes. Every day, hundreds of thousands are going to bed hungry.
Which is why I am currently working with British-Iraqi charity the AMAR Foundation, to help feed the country’s most vulnerable families during the holy month of Ramadan.
Urgent food supplies
Together, through AMAR’s #MyBaghdadKitchen campaign, we are encouraging members of the public to learn about Iraqi cuisine by hosting a fundraising dinner party using a collection of my recipes, to help raise vital funds to provide urgent food supplies to ISIS’ victims. Just £25 would feed an entire family for a week.
So bring out your barbeques this summer, try your hand at some of Iraq’s edible national treasures and help feed Iraqis in the process.
To get you inspired, I’ll be cooking up a sample of these recipes at the Borough Market demonstration kitchen on Friday 17th June—I look forward to seeing you all there.
Join Philip for an Iraqi-inspired masterclass including tips, tastings and recipes in the Market Hall Friday 17th June, 12:30 till 2pm. Click here to read more about the event.