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Telling Tales

Understanding a Culture through Food - Korban

CHINA | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [430] | Scholarship Entry

“Eling,” Hassan’s wife repeated. It meant “eat”.
Before me was a whole table of food. We had already been served walnuts, crystallised sugar and numerous dried fruits. I had eaten a few of the nuts to be polite. Now the real food had been served. I had already visited two other families for Korban and knew it had to happen. Even though it was in the middle of the afternoon they had to serve a full meal. After having already taken part in two of these I was struggling to find more room in my stomach.
In the middle of the table was a great platter of polo – rice with carrots and mutton boiled and fried in oil for hours. There were several silver spoons leaning against the side of the platter. I smiled to Hassan’s wife and took one and started to scoop some rice into my bowl.
“Take some meat,” she said as she moved one of the biggest pieces of mutton onto my rice. I tried to make excuses, but knew it would be impolite not to accept. The fat around the piece was a yellow colour and still dripping of oil. I tried to look on the bright side – there was a lot of nice tender meat on the piece she had given. I started eating that.
“Delicious,” I said. My stomach ached as a warning of how much food it had already consumed.
She beamed at me and then pointed to the other dishes on the table.
I smiled faintly. I couldn’t refuse.
I took a kebab skewer and started pulling off the meat on it with my teeth. The cumin and cayenne pepper served to hide the mutton taste. I always enjoyed kebabs, especially together with a bit of naan bread. As if she had read my thoughts, she pointed to the round bread.
This time I declined, patted my belly and took a few more spoonfuls of polo.
Hassan had taken a piece of mutton from the polo and was ripping big bites from it with his teeth. He noticed me staring and nodded at me and then tilted his head in the direction of the dishes.
Hassan’s wife realised that he was indicating for me to eat more and was quick to pick up a dish and place it in front of me.
It was a smaller porcelain plate with white cubes on it. They wobbled as she moved them.
“What is it?” I asked.
Hassan took his hands and pointed to his chest and then took a deep breath.
I wished I hadn’t asked. I moved piece over with my spoon and finger. It sat there, wobbling on my plate.
I cut a sliver of it off with my spoon and put it in my mouth with a forced smile. It didn’t taste of much. But my throat tightened at the thought of eating the lungs of a sheep.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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