As the Iraqis displaced from Mosul have spread throughout the country, seeking shelter and aid, so too have the customs and cuisine of the northern city, once renowned for its culture.
Anyone nearing the new home of Abdul Waheed Tawfeq in the southern city of Kut can attest to that. Tawfeq and his family are originally from Mosul and they insist on continuing to cook the way they did back home. The smells fill their house and even reach the street outside.
Every dish they make has its own unique mixture of ingredients and reflect the diversity, history and richness of Iraqi culture.
Ashwaq al-Jibouri is another former resident of Mosul who cooks dishes specific to her hometown in the south – and she is also making a living out of it even though her family struggles to pay the rent for their Kut apartment where she lives with her husband and two sons.
“I was working as a cook in Mosul and I used to take orders from the families of the city,” al-Jibouri explains. “I started cooking our food again here after I met some women of the city through Facebook; I joined them in a bazaar making homemade meals.”
Al-Jibouri has been trying to promote her services through Facebook – she started a page of her own and says she will prepare Mosul specialities for anyone in Wasit who is interested.
There is a great opportunity in the desire of displaced people’s new neighbours to try different cuisines, says Ali al-Abadi, a community leader in the Kafat neighbourhood, where al-Jibouri lives. The people of Wasit like the Mosul food and some of them even want to learn how to cook it, he notes.
One of these is Maryam Nemma, a young woman from Wasit. Her neighbour, Elin Migha, a 28-year-old Shabak woman originally from Tal Afar near Mosul, who left her hometown when the extremist group known as the Islamic State arrived there, is helping her learn.
According to Wasit authorities, more than a thousand families from Tal Afar have ended up in the province since mid-2014.
In return for the cooking lessons, Nemma is helping Migha learn some of the colloquial terms only the people of southern Iraq use.
“The only positive thing about displacement is that it allows us an opportunity to get to the different culture in the south,” Nemma told NIQASH.
Nemma is not Migha’s only student either. “A lot of women living in our neighbourhood have been keen to learn about Mosul cooking,” she says. “There are some who have become so good at it, they regularly serve the Mosul dishes to their families.”
Migha’s mother is busy cutting potatoes and onions – she is preparing another meal from Mosul. But she takes time out to tell NIQASH that she believes that with this kind of cooperation across the dining table women, more than men, help displaced families integrate into their new surroundings.