Eating on the move

Categories: Reflections and opinions

As the Demo Kitchen’s Migration of Taste residency comes to an end, Hatty Cary, part of the Borough Market team that helped organise this month-long run of migration-themed demos, reflects on how her own nomadic upbringing influenced her taste in food

The great Wispa crisis of 2003 entirely passed me by. While the rest of the country mourned the loss of a beloved chocolate bar, I had yet to try one—or any other British chocolate bar for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I’d eaten lots of chocolate before, but had never felt the urge to tuck into a poor quality version, either aerated or drizzled onto a biscuit base with sickly sweet caramel or desiccated coconut thrown in. Friends saw this as a sign of a deprived childhood; I saw it as a sign of a good one.

Due to the nature of my dad’s job, my childhood involved changing schools seven times and living in four different countries: Malaysia, Belgium, the UK, the US, then back to Belgium again. This left me with a decidedly ‘foreign’ outlook on food, for which I am grateful.

Aged two, in Kuala Lumpur, I famously used to turn down the 'child-friendly' food being prepared for me at home, in favour of the spicy curries I saw our neighbours eating. In Belgium, from three to seven, it was out with the spice—not through lack of desire but through lack of choice—and in with good quality steak and cheese. 

A love of big peas
There was a lot of jetting back and forth to England to visit family during this time, and this had its own unique influence on my palate. While on the one hand I would turn my nose up at cheddar (“nothing but emmental for me, thank you very much”), on the other I would declare that I didn’t want the petit pois on my plate, and instead favoured “big peas, like they have on the ferry”, much to the amusement of my parents who continue to imitate me any time a pea appears on a menu.

While I now have a love of both cheddar and petit pois, some influences from my time abroad remain. Following an internet campaign, the Wispa was relaunched four years after being discontinued. My love of sugary snacks was not. In fact, to this day my cupboards are noticeably lacking in sweets, chocolates and biscuits, snacking having not been a thing people did in those early years of my life. I’m not a heavy drinker, preferring instead a continental approach to alcohol (started young, enjoyed at mealtimes). I care deeply about where my food comes from and want to savour it, preferably around a table. But I am absolutely thrilled to live in the UK, a country that has embraced cuisines from all around the world and isn’t afraid to experiment. Over the course of the week, my cooking can jump from Middle Eastern to Indian to Italian and I am so lucky to have the ingredients for these on my doorstep, not least at Borough Market.

Cuisines of the world
It has been a delight to see a string of talented chefs who share my multicultural upbringing grace the Demo Kitchen this month and to hear what they have taken away from the different influences they grew up with. At one end of the spectrum, we’ve had Ursula Ferrigno who is a self-declared purist and wouldn’t dream of veering away from traditional Italian recipes for fear of losing the skills and knowledge passed down through generations. At the other end, Dhruv Baker has chosen to embrace fusion cooking, adapting Mexican recipes to incorporate local British ingredients or cooking techniques he has picked up elsewhere. Somewhere in the middle, Norman Musa has had to tweak traditional Malaysian recipes to suit local palates, resulting in his own palate changing over time (his mother accused him of having become “too British” after discovering his sensitivity to spice and oil). Phil Juma remained open to both keeping his traditional Iraqi recipes alive but also feeling able to play with them from time to time.

The residency concludes tomorrow with our Demo Kitchen host—and my work husband—Luke Mackay taking centre stage to reflect on how his Scottish and Welsh heritage, combined with some early years in Ireland, have affected his cooking. I'll look forward to hearing his views on the subject and, with my feet planted firmly in the “if it tastes good, do it” camp, I’ll also look forward to trying all the recipes from this month at home and adapting them as I see fit.

Join Luke Mackay for tips, tastings and recipes at the final session of the Migration of Taste residency on Thursday 30th August in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm