How Our East African Supper Club Helps Fight Prejudice

My heritage is challenged on a daily basis and food is one very peaceful way of fighting back.

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09 February 2017, 1:55pm

The Matatu Kitchen is a monthly supper club in Bristol that celebrates East African cuisine. Founded by chef Edwina Bruford and activist and former community worker Fozia Ismail, the aim is to inspire dialogue on immigration and multicultural relationships through food.

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Guests at The Matatu Kitchen supper club in Bristol. All photos by Emli Bendixen.

Fozia Ismail, co-founder of The Matatu Kitchen My mum arrived in London as a refugee. She'd been living in Kuwait and was unable to return to Somalia because of the civil war, so we came to England in 1985 with our massive family. My mum already had 9 children and was pregnant with her tenth. That probably the pisses the Brexiteers right off!

I grew up in Stonebridge, North West London. It was considered a rough estate but I have reservations about labelling places. The residents are mainly Afro-Caribbean and African, and in most of the mainstream press, the estate is simply referred to as being full of organised crime, a no-go zone for police, and nothing else. This dehumanising way of describing black areas happens a lot in the media.

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Edwina and I met in Bristol, where we both have young families. We discussed how we really missed East African food and decided to start cooking some of our favourite dishes for our friends. After four months, we now run monthly supper clubs in Bristol and hope to run some in London later this year, too.

As a Somali woman living in the UK and given the context of what is happening in the world right now, the political angle to The Matatu Kitchen is there through necessity. I would rather we could just have East African culture and food respected based on the merit of the food itself, but my heritage is challenged on a daily basis. Food is one very peaceful way of fighting back.

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Fozia Ismail at her home in Bristol, the location for tonight's Matatu Kitchen supper club.

Earlier this year, Edwina and I ran a workshop with the arts collective Keep it Complex called "A Solution Lies in Salt and Spice." The workshop looked at how a BAME person may find solace through making dishes of home—bringing back memories of cultural heritage and a sense of belonging. It's so comforting to have food from home when you are far away.

One of my favourite dishes is bariis isku-karis with bisbas sauce. It's basically a one-pot goat or lamb rice dish and it's a real treat—full of flavours like xawaash spice mix, which is our own special blend of cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper. The dish is finished with fresh coriander and topped with fried onions and sultanas.

The Matatu Kitchen has helped me reconnect to my own roots. It has reminded me how much I miss my mum's incredible cooking and has helped me realise that she used food to keep us in touch with our Somali-ness, growing up in the UK. It's something I want to pass on to my boys now, too.

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We started The Matatu Kitchen because we wanted to share East African food with people in Bristol but as the supper club grows, we're seeing that food has a greater purpose in resisting the growing hatred towards Muslims, black people, and women. It's such a simple way of opening up conversation and having something in common. Everyone needs to eat.

Ed and I both have young kids, and we hope that The Matatu Kitchen will help pave the way for them to have an easier time in the UK in years to come. The goals haven't changed so much as become more important to our core values—we were always political.

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Edwina Bruford, co-founder of The Matatu Kitchen I am white British but my dad was born in Kenya to British parents who managed a farm in the foothills of Mount Kenya. I grew up hearing the most amazing tales about Kenya and when I was 23, I moved there to be with my Kenyan partner. My grandparents were part of the British occupation of Kenya, which sits uncomfortably with me. My dad was quite vocal about how badly Europe fucked up large parts of Africa and continues to do so to this day. Living there, I saw the results of this first hand.

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Edwina Bruford.

At The Matatu Kitchen, we cook traditional dishes and try out new techniques and methods to open the food up to the British palate. Bisbas sauce is one of the best things about Somali food—it's a delicious green chili and coriander hot sauce with yogurt, making it really hot but cooling at the same time. A meal is not complete without it!

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Sambusas filled with vegetables and meat.

We serve it at all of our supper clubs as it goes really well with so much of the food, particularly the sambusas, which are another treat. Sambusas are similar to Indian samosas. It's little Filo parcels stuffed with all manner of things. In Kenya and Tanzania, the most popular fillings are spicy minced meat or spicy vegetable.

I lived in Kenya for a few years, where I learned to cook from friends and neighbours. I also lived on the Tanzanian coast in Bagamoyo for a few months, where I learnt more true Swahili-style cooking, with lots of coconut, tamarind, fish, and fruits.

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Ugali, an East African dough made with cornflour and water.

For the supper club tonight [held at Ismail's house in Bristol], we've included ugali, which is a really traditional East African staple made from cornflour and water. My husband, Moses, is Kenyan and I've put him in charge of the ugali. He cooks it in a pan over steady heat, working the starchy dough with a wooden spoon. Pretty much every Kenyan knows how to make it … even the most pampered of men!

Once the ugali is cooked, it's left to set—a bit like polenta—after which people grab a handful, squeezing the dough in the palm of their hand into a bowl-shape with which they scoop up the rest of the meal.

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Foz and I prep all the food together and Foz makes our incredible sauces. On the day, I often share the cooking duties with Foz's husband, Andy. He normally works as a corporate solicitor but at The Matatu Kitchen, he's our meat guy.

As told to and all photos by Emli Bendixen.