The Language of Baklava

I finished Diana Abu-Jaber’s memoir The Language of Baklava, which I checked out from the library, and I may have to get a copy of this book. It’s a wonderfully written memoir filled with memories and food recipes, much of which hailing from Abu-Jaber’s Jordanian heritage from her father’s side, but some others that are pulled from other places.

Much like Kim Sunée’s Trail of Crumbs, which is another memoir mixed with recipes, Diana Abu-Jaber’s recollections place a major focal point on the food, which is sensuously described. The recipes seem more attainable, and there are a few that are vegetarian-friendly. The people Abu-Jaber describes, especially her father, are shown lovingly, and I’m particularly fond of her Auntie Aya, the only daughter among many sons. The appearances she makes in Abu-Jaber’s book are memorable–especially the conversation she has while making sweets with a teenage Diana on page 186 that I’ve included in my favourite quotes on my Goodreads profile:

“Marry, don’t marry,” Auntie Aya says as we unfold layers of dough to make an apple strudel. ‘Just don’t have your babies unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“How do I know if it’s necessary?”

She stops and stares ahead, her hands gloved in flour. “Ask yourself, Do I want a baby or do I want to make a cake? The answer will come to you like bells ringing.” She flickers her fingers in the air by her ear. “For me, almost always, the answer was cake.”

Seriously, best reasoning ever.

Being a child of mixed-heritage, I can relate to some of the emotions Abu-Jaber describes with her dad, Bud, and the friction that happens when two cultures and age groups collide, especially during the teen years.  Like Bud, my mother (and father) didn’t want me dating boys, so I used to sneak hanging out with some of them, but lucky for me, I didn’t get into too much trouble.  Well, depending on your point of view.  (To my parents reading: I turned out okay, didn’t I?  All right then.)

It can be hard to pass along culture and language to your children when they’re growing up in an environment different from the one you were raised with, but the easiest conduit of culture is, and always has been, food.  My knowledge of the Filipino dialects is nonexistent, but I can make sweet rice and fried rice, and would love to eventually attempt a vegetarian version of Philippine adobo (it exists!).  I remember the food heritage from my mother and my Philippine aunties, as well as the southern foods made by my father’s family.  Thanksgiving when I was younger would feature fried rice with bacon alongside a slab of ham covered with pineapples, coleslaw, pansit and deviled eggs.

Seeing Abu-Jaber’s version of growing up pulled between two cultures, in addition to her unique personality (very likable) and lovely writing, really makes this book a fantastic read, especially for people who love food and love reconciling culture clashes on the dinner table.

If this sounds like a book you may be keen on, you can read an excerpt and even order a signed copy on the official website for the book and Diana Abu-Jaber by going here. If you live in Orange County, you can borrow a copy of the book from the library, too.


One thought on “The Language of Baklava

  1. Ha, ha. . . I just had a conversation with a friend of mine over Thai food about how everything that we had ordered pretty much could easily be duplicated by me since my mom is Thai and I had watched her preparations in the kitchen over the years. This false bravado was tempered when I admitted that my touch could not nearly duplicate her country style skills and that I had actually recently approached my mom about wanting to make a very conscious effort in getting the small jewels of culinary secrets she had in her head whenever I go back for a visit. Time is short and for those fortunate to come from a heritage that is ‘foreign’ to that of the majority of fellow contemporaries, your statement about how food is the best conduit of one’s culture rings SO true.

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