A Request for Memories or Recipes Related to Beans and Rice

By Heather Ariyeh

Background

Do you have a favorite memory or recipe related to beans and rice?

Throughout the world, people have combined beans and rice to form popular dishes. Together, they form a complete protein, but perhaps even more interestingly beans and rice are foods in a relationship that form a grammar expressing both common histories and local specificities.(1) In particular, beans and rice dishes trace the history of the African Diaspora into the Caribbean, the United States South, and beyond. 

Montage of many beans and rice dishes.

Project

I am working on a cookbook of beans and rice dishes, but one that will go a step beyond recipes and offer personal stories related to these dishes.  These memories may be more broad in nature (relating to culture or place), or very specific and unique to individual households or experiences.  What connections do you have to beans and rice?

Instructions

If you would like to take part, please submit any of the following:

  • Memories of any length, even a few sentences
  • Photos, AND/OR 
  • Recipes or just an interesting twist you’ve added to a classic

Feel free to be creative, but don’t feel pressure to be creative! It’s just an excuse to share a bit with one another. This cookbook is an art project, and part of my thesis work at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. It is not part of a commercial endeavor.  The final format may exist in print or online.  You will be credited unless you prefer not to be. Please submit contributions or questions to: Heather Ariyeh at hariyeh@sva.edu .

Please ensure all submissions relate to beans and rice together in some way (whether mixed together or separate on a plate).  Sides or main dishes are both fine. Any type of rice or bean is fine (including peas, black-eyed peas or cowpeas). 

Click below for common examples.(2)

Below is an example submission.  I hope you will be inspired, but not limited by it.

Chocolate Beans and Rice: A Recipe from Old and New Dreams

I came to the U.S. illegally, with only my brother at the age of 16.  My brother was 15.  We left our mother, father, and six more brothers and sisters behind in Guatemala.  That was twenty years ago, and we haven’t been able to risk going back home since.  

In the U.S., I work in the restaurant business. I always wanted to cook when I was in Guatemala, but never really had the need or the opportunity.  In my family it was sort of an unwritten rule that the men don’t cook, but every day after working with my dad on our farm, I would sit in the kitchen with my mom while she was cooking.  When I came to the U.S. there was no one to cook for me so I had to learn.  I didn’t speak English yet, so I got a job as a server’s assistant in a Mexican restaurant.  I couldn’t afford to eat there, but I noticed that the customers were paying $3.99 just for a plate of beans and rice, so that was one of my first experiments.  The first few tries did not come out right. I stirred the rice too much and it was almost like a dough, but I realized that I could use this technique to make a certain style of Guatemalan tamale, so all was not lost.  Eventually though I figured out my own version of Guatemalan beans and rice – a recipe made partly from what now seems like a dream of my mom cooking back home and partly from the reality of learning on my own.  Since I came to the U.S., I’ve reached three out of four of my goals. I have worked my way up from server’s assistant, to server, and for the last five years I’ve been a manager.  I’m learning a lot about the restaurant business, but someday I want to have my own place and sell my own food made from my own recipes.

I found family in the U.S… Not the kind you are born into; the kind you make out of the circumstances life gives you.  In this family there is a daughter who is ten years old, but I’ve known her since she was two.  When she was little, I made her my black beans and rice.  In Guatemala, we blend our black beans into more of a paste, but where we live in Oklahoma, whole pinto beans are more common.  She had never had Guatemalan food before, so when she saw the beans she yelled, “chocolate beans!” because they looked like chocolate to her.  We didn’t know if she would like them since they weren’t going to taste like chocolate, but to this day she asks me to make “chocolate beans” for her. 


References

  1. Wilk, Richard and Barbosa, Livia, Rice and Beans: A Unique Dish in a Hundred Places (London/New York: Berg Publishers, 2013), 304 pages.
  2.  Wikipedia. 2020. “Rice and Beans.” Last modified December 5, 2020 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_and_beans

Memories of Akara and Acaraje

By Ozoz Sokoh

Kitchen Butterfly & Feast Afrique

Taste Memories

To this day, wherever I am, Nigeria or anywhere else in the world, I have a specific Saturday morning taste memory of bread, ogi and Akara lodged in my head, and heart I daresay. I spent many Saturday mornings as a teenager soaking black-eyed beans till the skins softened, then rubbing them between my palms to strip the creamy halves of their cloaks before turning that into a thick enough puree, seasoned with red onions and scotch bonnet peppers, one with enough integrity to hold it together as it ‘fritters’ in hot oil

 

Two hands mixing together black-eyed beans over a steel bowl with liquid in it.
Acara

Comfort Food

Saturday mornings make me think of home more than any other day of the week. And I’ve been away from home a lot. So what do you do when you’re far away and discover the street food delicacy that’s Nigerian Akara is also Brazilian Acarajé? You feel all the emotions – from kinship to homesickness and saudade – and little of the comfort you desire. Instead, you find yourself deep in reflection as you eat an Akara sandwich, thinking about comfort food and what it means. I love the concept as an anchor of the soul but when I think of my Akara – born free, a dish I make to comfort myself – and put that next to Brazilian Acarajé, borne of the transatlantic slave trade, I wonder if comfort fully captures the range. 

Hand holding small colourful sandwich. There are several bowls with appetizing and colouful vegetables underneath.
Acaraje

Memory as Resistance

Across the world from Brazil to New Orleans, Georgia to the Caribbean, there are edible markers of West African culinary heritage, trails of deliciousness that span multiple ingredients and centuries, from farm or plantation – rice, coffee, pecans, vanilla – to table – calas, gumbo, sweetmeats, bean fritters, myriad cassava dishes and more. Enslaved women, men, and children remembered and transplanted knowledge-systems of wetland farming from the Grain Coast to the American South, birthing Carolina Gold. They folded knowledge into fritters and bakes, sweetened the bitter truth of humanity, and seasoned pots of soups and stews with wisdom. There’s something so powerful about leaving your mark, in spite of, despite it all. And there are wars fought and won over bubbling pots and roaring fires – battlefields of the heart and mind. Yes, there are many treasures gifted by enslaved West Africans, but no war leaves its victims unscathed.

Black spoon with small fritter in it.
Calas

Memory as Freedom

It takes might to transform some type of bitter to sweet, and enslaved West African women did it on the streets. They set up stands and stalls, seats by the side of the road paying homage to their homelands, feeding the masses and purchasing freedom. Today, centuries later, Acarajé remains sacred on the streets of Bahia. Its recipes – initially preserved, treasured and sustained by word of mouth – now live in words and taste buds across the world, proof that food and eating create the strongest memory banks which we draw from, time and time and time again. 

And so it is that when yet another Saturday comes by, you might find me, Akara sandwich in hand, fritters deep fried till golden and layered into Canadian Agege bread or challah buns (and on the best days, pieces torn by hand, uncorrupted by the silver of a knife). Is it Agege bread if it isn’t made under the sweltering hot Lagos sun? My taste bank is never confused. My memories draw on snatches of Saturday after Saturday, each contributing to the kaleidoscopic patchwork that’s yet another Saturday: the same yet different, tasting home, old and new. 

Hand holding sandwich made of white bread and fritters.
Akara sandwich

About

Ozoz Sokoh is a food explorer and geologist. A ‘Traveller by plate’, she believes that ‘Food is more than eating’. Central to her work is the celebration and preservation of Nigerian/West African cuisine, challenging myths and assumptions about its culinary legacy over 400+ years old and its impact on the world from the American South, through the Caribbean to Europe and Latin America. 

Her 12-year old blog, Kitchen Butterfly, is her creative space. In 2013, she articulated her  philosophy and practice in The New Nigerian Kitchen, focused on celebration and documentation: like the first-ever seasonal produce guide for Nigeria – only one of a handful on the continent. She recently launched Feast Afrique, a platform celebrating West African culinary heritage. One major aspect is a digital library of 240+ books, more than half of which document West African and Diasporic culinary heritage which she’s created as part of this. 

Her work has been featured on CNN African Voices and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. She makes her home in Ontario, Canada and wakes up to sun-streaked mornings on the couch, good book in hand with a pot of tea. She is a #FutureNewYorker.  

Drinking the Ink of Prayer

By Genie Yoo  [1]

Sometimes historians dream of moments of recognition in the manuscripts they encounter. The act of reading or reciting, writing or copying, can trigger a distant memory, allowing one to draw a line connecting two seemingly unrelated points on the plane of history. I experienced something of this moment as I sat in the National Library of the Republic of Indonesia, reading an untitled and undated manuscript of Arabic prayers and their Malay prescriptions. That morning, Mas Bambang, a familiar face behind the counter, had handed me a manuscript labelled ML469. It was a prayer book, shorter and thinner than expected, and the first folio, glued tightly to the marbled cover, began with a list of recipes.

“For those who wish to memorize the Qur’an,” I copied into my notebook, “take ambergris, musk, and turmeric.” There was a hint of recognition in the order of these three ingredients, common since antiquity. “The three are to be moistened,” I copied, “to make the ink.” Suddenly, an inkling of recognition blended into memory. Two years prior, I had sat in Prof. Michael Laffan’s office in Princeton, reading out loud my transcription of the same lines from another manuscript, one which he had photographed in Simon’s Town, South Africa. “Write this prayer on a white bowl,” I wrote, “and drink for seven days.” I circled the Malay word for “bowl” (mangkung), a variation of its modern standardized form (mangkuk). Minute differences also beckon the memory. When I had given Michael a puzzled look about another variation of this term (mangku), he had pulled out the Wilkinson dictionary, an invitation to join the exercise of word hunting. Putting my pencil down, I gingerly flipped through the folios of ML469 until I arrived at the Arabic and saw that this copy of the prayer, too, like the one from Simon’s Town, was the prayer of ‘Akasa.

The earliest extant copy of Malay-language explications for the prayer of ‘Akasa in Europe is a late 16th c.-early 17th c. manuscript from the Scaliger Collection, initially mislabelled to be in the Turkish language. Or 247, Special Collections at the Leiden University Library.]

So began my fascination with two nearly identical copies of a Malay-language recipe for drinking the ink of prayer, now preserved in two manuscripts on opposite sides of the Indian Ocean: one in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the other in Simon’s Town, South Africa. While the former was a compilation of prayers in the same hand, its provenance an unmarked mystery, the latter was a shorter fragment copied into a communal notebook full of other recipe fragments. Variations between them left doubt as to their direct link in transmission; however, there were too many of the same lines in a string of recipes in the same order for the same prayer, to presume they were merely incidental. The question of a possible “original” seemed less relevant; they were likely copies of similar eighteenth-century copies circulating in the archipelago. What interested me more were the possibilities of bringing the two together into one frame: it allowed me to see that handwritten copies of similar prayer books circulated across vast distances and that prayers and their recipes for ritual use were copied, at times, in selective fragments.

The fragment in Simon’s Town was distinctive. The hand that wrote it, Michael assured me, had belonged to the famous eighteenth-century figure Imam Abdullah ibn Qadi Abd al-Salam, known as Tuan Guru (lit. “Master Teacher”). He was a nobleman from the eastern island of Tidore whom administrators of the Dutch East India Company had exiled to their Cape colony in 1780, just before the beginning of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War. As Dr. Saarah Jappie has written, Tuan Guru’s fame is linked to his founding of the first Islamic school or madrasah in Cape Town in 1793.[2] There, he taught a diverse community of Muslim students and championed the rote-learning system in Malay and Arabic, which later madrasah teachers continued in Afrikaans.[3] Memory was essential to practicing the faith of Islam through recitation; and perhaps teaching how to commit something to heart, to preserve it within the body, inspired more than mnemonic instruction.

“For those who wish to memorize the Qur’an,” Tuan Guru had copied into the untitled notebook, “take ambergris, musk, and turmeric.” The handwriting is identical to a Qur’an Tuan Guru had copied from memory on Robben Island, now preserved at the Auwal Mosque (lit. “First Mosque,” est. 1794). “The three are to be mixed,” he wrote, “on a Friday night to make the ink.” The other manuscript had not mentioned the day and time for making the ink. If context can fill the gap, it may be noteworthy that Tuan Guru’s madrasah also functioned as the community’s first mosque, where followers of the faith congregated on Fridays, the sacred day of worship. “Write onto a white bowl this prayer,” he continued to copy, “and drink for seven days.” To write and to drink—the recipe called for a ritual assimilation of two common physical acts of learning in Islamic education.[4] Using the ink and the bowl to write and to drink, one was to absorb into the body the power of prayer, as a supplicatory means to achieve the memorization of the sacred Word.

Did Tuan Guru copy this recipe for his students in the context of the madrasah? He wrote it into a communal book full of other recipe fragments in different hands, for instance, of writing a talisman for healing. Copying it ensured that the prayer would again be copied then imbibed. The book was instructional, and the recipe meant to be used, preserved, and transmitted through the act of copying, not only on paper but also in the body. Can the manuscript in South Africa reveal something about the manuscript in Indonesia and vice versa? While the two raise more questions than answers, they also open up ways to reflect on the link between memory and the physical acts that aid it, whether in the secular context of a library or in the sacred context of a madrasah. They allow us to see the point where the plane of memory intersects with that of history, in the past and in the present.

Biography

Genie Yoo is a PhD Candidate in History at Princeton University. She specializes in the early modern and modern history of Southeast Asia and works at the intersection of science, medicine, religion, and empire. This blogpost is based on chapter two of her dissertation-in-progress, titled “Mediating Islands: Ambon Across the Ages.”

Notes

[1] My gratitude to Dr. Saarah Jappie and Michael Laffan.

[2] Saarah Jappie, “From the Madrasah to the Museum: the Social Life of the “Kietaabs” of Cape Town,” History in Africa 38 (2011): 375-376.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Prof. Rudolph T. Ware III writes about the epistemology of embodiment in Islamic pedagogy, particularly in the context of West Africa. See Rudolph T. Ware III, The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014).