FOOD: Transforming the American Table

Feeding Neighbors, Feeding the Soul

Home-cooked meals are one of the most vital ways that migrant families maintain the tastes and traditions of their homelands. Meals are also an important way that migrants build connections with their new neighbors in the United States. For many, the cultures of their home country and new home influence one another. That influence creates new food traditions and culinary techniques that further diversify the American table.

The Kareem family fled Iraq during the Iraqi-Kurdish Civil War (1994–1997). Among the few items they could take with them was a pot for cooking rice, soups, and stews. Being able to maintain their food traditions helped sustain them during their migration and resettlement.

Cooking pot, around 1980–1992

Gift of Mrs. Muhamed A. Kareem

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The Kareem family brought this manjal, or cooking pot, from their home in Iraq to Guam, then to Texas in 1997, and eventually to their new home in Virginia.

Ray and Shaista Mahmood used food to build connections between their family and their new neighbors. They hosted dinner parties and served dishes that represented both Pakistani and American foods.

I invited [a neighbor] for dinner. . . . I was cooking Pakistani food . . . and that’s how we got to know the neighbors.

—Shaista Mahmood

Wedding photo of Ray and Shaista Mahmood, 1976

Wedding photo of Ray and Shaista Mahmood, 1976

Courtesy of Ray and Shaista Mahmood

Fish-shaped serving platter, 1970s

Fish-shaped serving platter, 1970s

Gift of Ray and Shaista Mahmood

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Ray and Shaista Mahmood brought this serving platter from Pakistan to Virginia in the early 1970s and used it for meals with family and friends.

Khalid Fellahi was born and raised in Morocco by his Algerian family. After he came to the United States, he embraced American culture, but sought to maintain his connections to Algerian and Moroccan cultural traditions. One of the ways he did so was by sharing traditional North African meals with family living in the United States and newfound friends.

I’m very comfortable in my original culture. . . . But I am American all the time too. . . . I feel like I am at home here.

– Khalid Fellahi

Fellahi family, 2015

Fellahi family, 2015

Courtesy of Khalid Fellahi

Fellahi family members enjoying a meal cooked in a tagine, a traditional Moroccan cooking vessel.

Tagine, around 2000

Gift of Khalid Fellahi

The Fellahi family used this tagine, a traditional Moroccan ceramic pot, to cook meals that connected them to their homeland such as couscous or egg with khlea, spiced dried meat.

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