The Latest: 26.3 | Gastronomy

Timothy Bartel is transformed by a visit to Willowbrook Farm; Sami Zubaida recalls the Baghdad kitchen of his childhood; Boyd Tonkin meets Claudia Roden; Hussein Kesvani defends halal fried chicken shops; Mohammed Ali remembers the forgotten Bangladeshi pioneers of the ‘Indian restaurant’; Misha Monaghan has difficulty digesting Ugly Food; Vicky Bishop tucks into Halal Snack Packs (chips with layers of doner kebab sprinkled with ‘Holy Trinity’ sauces); Becky Trow on the colonial fantasy of Victoria and Abdul; and three (foodie) poems by Shadab Zeest Hashmi.

Going to school in the mid 2000s, even though there were many other children with East Asian backgrounds, I lived in the firm belief that my home life was not the norm. I would gaze upon the white bread, crustless, Vegemite and tasty cheese sandwiches or individual chip packet lunches of my schoolmates with the same curiosity that they must have looked upon mine.

The house of my childhood in Baghdad had two courtyards, haush, Middle Eastern style. The larger one was the centre of the main living area, with rooms and terraces arranged around it on two levels. The smaller haush was the kitchen area, beit al-matbakh.

Ugly food is not a concept I grew up with. I have mixed Scottish, Indian and Pakistani heritage so it was not unusual for me to be served up haggis bonbons, paya (trotters), any offal that could be procured and I have, on more than one occasion as a child, been tricked into eating cow brains by my grandfather who convinced me that what I was eating was scrambled eggs.

Unemployment does a funny thing to a person. In the quest to save money, staying home to watch television doesn’t seem such an unappealing idea. So there I was, settling down to watch BBC’s Question Time whilst snacking on those amazing biscuits advertised as more chocolate than a biscuit, you know the ones.

What if Christians and Muslims – we who profess belief in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting – behaved as those who truly believe and trust in these? For example – what if together we practised and promoted agriculture as if Creation mattered?

He danced the same dance every night, alone. In a cubicle of steel, like the rest bordering the food court. A square parade of picture frames with family recipes within. 

As a young Muslim growing up in Britain, fried chicken shops have played an important role in my life. At a time when my school friends all ate McDonalds, Burger King and KFC, obscurely named fried chicken shops were the only spots selling halal alternatives to the Zinger and Whopper meals – a respite from days of eating daal, roti and saag.

After the ‘reconquest’ of Spain by Christian rulers, millions of Muslims and Jews who had lived in the Iberian peninsula for many centuries converted, more by force than choice, to the new monopoly religion of these lands. However, their customs, their rituals, their languages – and above all their food – proved impossible to eradicate.