In front of my building there is a small square and that small square seems to fit the entire world in it. To the left of the square we have a group of Azerbaijani brothers that have opened a little oriental market. To the right of the square there is an Afghani family that has opened a small Pizza store that at times, if you are nice, bakes you fresh Persian bread. In the middle of the square you have two Syrian brothers that have a small but colorful floral stand. Further in the middle, you have a Chaldean family from Iraq that has a small vegetable and fruit import business. They are my favorite!
Whenever I buy my fruit and vegetables from their market I always hear them having a friendly repertoire with members of the community. Their thick, rich, and guttural Iraqi dialect is always unmistakable…but one day my ears detected a completely different tone. It was a strange mix that sounded like a blend of Arabic and Hebrew. I stood still for a second and tried to make sure that it was not just a very different Arabic dialect, but no…this was a different language entirely. I expressed my curiosity as to which language they were speaking and they responded, “Its Chaldean!”. Having studied anthropology, this was brain candy for the little anthropologist in me. They told me of their journey here, how their people have lived in Iraq for thousands of years and how strange it felt to be so uprooted and how the one thing that strongly gave them a strong sense of roots was to work with vegetables, fruits, and people. I expressed that I felt the same, that I loved to cook, and that cooking keeps me rooted to my identity.
Now that it is Autumn, I immediately notice the plums, the apples, the root vegetables, the pomegranates but also my own personal favorites, fresh dates. There is something magical about thinking of harvest in different regions of the world. Here in Sweden its plums and apples but in the Middle East its dates, red and yellow. In fact, my dear fruit vendors shared with me that there are 28 different kinds of dates that grow in Iraq alone! My heart softens as I think of long palm trees swaying heavily bearing this beautiful and nutritious fruit. Like plums, dates are left to dry and mature until they become this gooey fudgy super sweet mini parcels of heaven that melt in your mouth. When they are fresh, they are crunchy and sweet. From dates you can make date jam, date molasses, and stuffing for cookies and pastries.
So, this Saturday when I visited the Chaldean’s market I saw them. I moved towards them and wanted to touch all of them in a gesture of warm greeting. I had to ask. I called on one of the vendors and asked, “Excuse me, where are these from?” and I waited in anticipation for a word that I knew was going to make my day all the better. The vendor smiled proudly and responded to me in Arabic, “Min El ‘Eraq! (From Iraq)”. I immediately began picking some of the dates and luxuriated in how something that comes from so far away can sit so close to one’s heart. I paid for the dates and put them in my duffel bag and my thoughts traveled from the plains from which they came to the recipes that they would be in. Another Autumn story…