A Taste From Home: Cooking by feel, sight and taste

  • Books
  • Monday, 19 Oct 2015


Sweet or bitter, the book A Taste From Home possesses it all, both in tastes and raw emotions. Perhaps its biggest strength is how author Haris Coussidis manages to capture both parts of the refugee story that often go unreported without being overly dramatic or sentimental.

The recipes, while diverse and spanning several continents, all share one thing in common: they are hearty, full of flavour and often based on frugal resources. Ingredients are relatively easy to come by – as most of these refugees have adapted their dishes to ingredients that are easily available in Malaysia – and those that are not can be found without too much trouble in shops specialising in Middle Eastern provisions.

MORE: 3 recipes from refugees living in Malaysia

Nevertheless, the book is not without its weaknesses. The narrative never ventures out of the writer’s comfort zone and might, as a result, seem a little superficial. As such, those looking for more in-depth knowledge on different cultures and intriguing personal anecdotes that come intertwined with the lives of all refugees will come away disappointed.

Certain countries also seem under-represented. While the majority of refugees living in Malaysia are from Myanmar – they make up a whopping 93% of the refugee population here – a huge chunk of the recipes are Middle Eastern like the Afghani boolani and Iranian Khoresh-e Gheimeh. Familiar favourites like fish curry, flatbread or naan, and papaya salad also make an appearance, but these seemed far fewer in comparison.

str2_lbrefcookbook2_lb_1Still, Coussidis should be commended for her work. All of the refugees featured in the book are cooks by feel, sight and taste, and translating “a bit of this” or “a touch of that” into a tablespoon of turmeric or a pinch of saffron requires meticulous work.

As a first-time cookbook author, Coussidis triumphs in this department. It’s all the more impressive given that the book is, to Coussidis, “a labour of love” – she will not profit from it; rather, each and every sen will go towards UNHCR and its work.

Ultimately, the message sent by the book is loud and clear: the importance of memory – of emotion and connection – cannot be underrated. Through their recipes, we get a taste of each individual’s humanity and willpower, as well as the rich culinary traditions of the countries they come from.

All they want is a chance to live in safety and rebuild their lives in dignity, until such time as they can return home safely. In the meantime, Malaysians should enjoy and even revel in the rich customs – and cuisines – that these people readily share with us.

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