When I heard about Abadir’s Egyptian food near Selma, Alabama, I knew I had to try it. Egypt has been on my to-visit list for forever and I figured I could at least enjoy the cuisine until I could get to visit. I couldn’t squeeze in a visit to Selma so I started tracking Abadir’s food pop-ups.
I was surprised to discover there would be an entire weekend devoted to food history, Alabama cuisine, and a chef-created meal in Newbern, Alabama through a program called Food for Thought: A journey through food history, culture & taste. I rearranged some things on my Cancerversary schedule so I could attend.
I arrived Friday night at the beautiful Newbern Library to hear author Emily Blejwas discuss her book The Story of Alabama in Fourteen Foods. Y’all, the chapter on Mobile is literally bananas and the there are more events happening on Sand Mountain other than Salvation.
I arrived at Rural Studio® the next morning ready for more food adventures. Today there were cooking demonstrations, a seed swap, and Farm tour. The day was like a block party with the sounds of nature filling in for the DJ.
Y’all, I am a city girl, all the way. I haven’t spent much time in rural areas but I can understand the appeal. I met new people, made new friends, and developed new connections. There was a spirit of unity, curiosity, and support. Questions about farm management, how to salvage trees and plants were shared, asked, then answered. Everyone brought their expertise to the day and created an encyclopedia of knowledge.
And then it was time to eat. Local Chef Sarah Cole of Abidir’s and Chef Halima Salazar of Gimbia’s Kitchen in Oxford, MS created an inspired menu of West and North African dishes. The Chefs welcomed us and explained how enslaved people were the reason the ingredients from the African continent were so familiar to our Southern palate. North and West Africans use the same ingredients and although the dishes differ, they are similar.
I tried almost everything on the menu without questioning the ingredients. My favorites were the cabbage rolls (I went for third helpings), stuffed Poblano peppers, and the Arugula salad. The dish that alarmed me was the Naija Red Stew due to the unexpected heat. My first bite of this beef stew was wonderful: tender cubes with a simmer of spice in a tomato sauce. However, my second gulp proved the red sauce was actually a pepper sauce causing my throat to seize and and sent me into a coughing frenzy while my eyes watered and I gasped for air. I am not complaining about the dish, this was on me! It is MY responsibility to question ingredients and I did NOT do that.
I too often relax my ingredient standards when eating out because I love food and want to immerse myself into dishes. This was simply the Universe reminding me not to be stupid. Lesson repeated and learned again………..
My meal ended with Abadir’s famous Sfouf cakes and this was the dish that surprised me the most. I am not a fan of coconut and I think it’s the texture that turns me off. But in Sarah’s version the coconut is a minor star in cluster of almonds, sesame, and turmeric. It was a light, sweet, heavenly ending to a marvelous meal. Aabdir’s next pop-up is this weekend in Birmingham and yes, you will find me there.
I ended my day sharing cards, contacts, possibilities, and many smiles with new friends. My world was so small 25 years ago. My two kids were my focus, my drive to live, my engine to survive. I refused to die and make them members of the dead-mothers-club too soon. I had never heard of Newbern and only knew Selma from historical accounts. I am grateful, and still surprised, that I lived long enough to experience this gathering of community built around food, humanity’s common ingredient.
Now my world is larger, denser, more complex and I get to fill it with unexpected sweetness. Traveling is the dish I want to keep creating, filling it with ingredients from each of my stops. Thank you Chefs Sarah and Halima for feeding me. Thank you Carolyn Walthall for allowing access to the Newbern Library. Thank you Emily for your informative book. Thank you Eric for the Farm tour. Charlene, it was wonderful to meet you and I’ll let you know when I’m headed to the Gulf. Thanks to everyone who facilitated Food for Thought and participated. Bon appétit!!