The modern world has been under the influence of the process of globalization for many decades. The consequences of this process are the increasing range of interactions between representatives of various cultures. The borders between different countries are being erased and multiple waves of immigration are hitting most of the modern countries.
Besides, traveling these days is one of my most favorite hobbies. As a result, various cultures mix and communicate, learn about each other’s traditions and rituals, study each other’s languages, wear different national outfits to fit into the new societies, respect rules and manners of behavior typical for certain areas and, of course, adopt different recipes from different national cuisines.
For this project, I have selected to demonstrate the traditions of the country I come from, Saudi Arabia. This is why I prepared a national Arabic dish called Asida for the members of my group. This experience was new to them and it was designed to educate them about Arabic manners during the meal, social rules, and etiquette.
The roots of this dish are quite old, one of the first times Asida happened to be mentioned in the historical notes was in the thirteenth century. The facts about this dish were recorded in the Hispanic and Muslim regions of Morocco. This is one of the oldest traditional Arabic foods. It is typically made of flour, honey, and butter. The meal is traditionally eaten in the mornings, as a breakfast food.
This is done because Asida is full of calories, so this meal is able to provide the eater with a lot of energy for the day, as it contains a lot of carbohydrates. Historically, the inventors of this meal were the nomads that used to spend a lot of time traveling across the desert; they were in need of good sources of energy that could keep them going for a long time. This is why Asida appeared.
This meal quickly became popular all over the Arabic region and won the preference of many people. As a result, it turned into a dish served during the religious festivals such as Mawlid, which is the day when the observance of the birth of the prophet Muhammad is celebrated, and Eid, the end of Ramadan. Eventually, the dish started to be associated with the birth and new beginnings.
Practically, Asida, which is also called Jamza in some regions, is a dumpling or gruel. There is a special set of rules considering the way this meal is supposed to be eaten. First of all, no utensils should be used. Asida is eaten by hand.
All the guests must wash their hands properly before the meal and use only their right hand to pick small pieces of Asida, shape them as a spoon in order to dip them into the well of honey or syrup in the middle of the dish. Asida is traditionally served together with tea or coffee, which are also made according to special Arabic recipes and include spices such as saffron or cardamom.
According to the rules of etiquette, the meal is served on the floor, on the special mat where all the guests will be sitting in a circle around the meal. Washing the hands before eating and using only one hand to pick up pieces of Asida is very important. Another necessary part of the meal is saying grateful words to the host.
In Arabic culture when only the members of one family are having a meal together – they all will be sitting in one circle, but if there is a guest in the house men and women will be having their food in separate rooms.
From the anthropological point of view, this experience is showing us particular traits of Arabic people. In this culture hospitality is a duty (Kittler, Sucher & Nelms 2011). The way guests are treated is crucial for the status of the family. Even an unwanted guest will be given maximum respect.
The way Asida is served and eaten has many circular patterns – people sit in a circle, on the floor, around a circular dish with a circular meal on it, drinking coffee out of circular cups. Circles symbolize connection, respect, harmony, and equality.
The fact that there is just one communal plate for everyone at the table and no utensils means that the tradition of eating Asida goes from the times when Arabic people were not familiar with varieties of dishes for one meal, in medieval times informal meals were served without any rules of food presentation (Lewicka 2011).
In general, the experience of eating Asida together was very useful and interesting for all of the members of my group. To my mind, sharing food is one of the best ways to learn about a new culture and its traditions.
Sharing foreign food can be very educating and informative occupation because food and the way it is served carry many of the signs of a country’s history, economical situation, religious beliefs, ethical and social conditions, climate and geographical location.
Kittler, P. G, Sucher K. & Nelms, M. 2011, Food and Culture. Cengage Learning, United States.
Lewicka, P. 2011, Food and Foodways of Medieval Cairenes; Aspects of Life in an Islamic Metropolis. BRILL, Netherlands.