Food, glorious food

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Way back at the end of last year, Sue Fortescue, my colleague and co-admin for the Foodie Translators group on Facebook, suggested that we write an article about the group (now 5 1/2 years old!) for the ITI Bulletin. For one reason or another, it’s been a long time getting published, but it has finally appeared in this month’s Bulletin and I have permission to publish it here for anyone who doesn’t have access to the printed or online versions. The online version is here, if you are an ITI member and haven’t seen it yet. I first wrote about the group here, but it has gone from strength to strength in the meantime and it is definitely worth revisting with a five-year review.

I’ve also added a couple of items that didn’t make the cut in the final article due to space restrictions: some interesting group statistics and a little quiz covering just some of the fascinating food items that have come up on the group over the years. Even members might like to see if they can remember what they are 🙂

Five Foodie Years

Claire Cox and Susan Fortescue report on five years of the Foodie Translators’ group, and on the way food has the ability to transport us both in time and space.

I can’t quite believe it was five years ago this January that I first set up the Foodie Translators’ group on Facebook. From a chance comment on our sister group Gardening Translators, I broached the idea on another, larger, translation forum, and lo, the group was born! There followed a hectic few days of request after request to join, with the group reaching the 100 mark within 24 hours. Just one week later, we had several hundred members and have continued to grow ever since. We now have just over 4,400 members across the world and are a vibrant and supportive community of language professionals with a shared passion for food.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d always had the impression that many of the colleagues I met at conferences and workshops shared my interest in all things food. As linguists, we often start our language-learning journey with restaurant role play and soon pick up those ever-so-fascinating words for food (much more fun for beginners than those boring verb conjugations…).

It follows that linguists, logically, will go abroad to hone their craft, and food features high in our encounters in foreign climes. How many of us can picture the first time we travelled to our source language countries and what we ate? Our gastronomic experiences overseas, often at a very young age, offer a tantalising glimpse of different cultures and exciting pastures new.

Going abroad and starting an affair to remember

My own first trip abroad was actually relatively late in my language-learning career, when I was 16. We  lived in north-west England, and foreign holidays weren’t as common in those days. In fact, my grandmother, in her 70s, was the first person in the family to fly in a plane when she went to the Isle of Man on holiday! I followed closely  in her footsteps, but on a school exchange trip to Nuremberg, where I stayed with my penfriend’s family. I can still vividly recall the Abendessen of dark rye bread and cooked meats, the fabulous Strudels and the oh-so-delicious rabbit stew and dumplings my penfriend’s grandmother cooked on our visit to Salzburg, to say nothing of the heavenly Wiener Schnitzel with the  little worm curled daintily on top (it turned out to be an anchovy; who knew?!). Then there were the cakes, of course: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, natürlich, but also Bienenstich, Käsekuchen, Mandeltorte…the list goes on. My love affair with German Konditorwaren was born.

Marshmallows

As for France, my second source-language country, I was even older when I finally got to visit: the first time was a fleeting day trip from Southampton to Caen with my parents when I was 18. I felt so awful on the crossing that my mum introduced me to brandy to quell my seasickness, and as a result I have no recollection of the experience on dry land! So my first real experience of French food was when I emerged from Lyon’s Gare Perrache after a nightmare journey with a huge cabin trunk to start my year abroad. I loved it, of course. I had a tiny studio flat just round the corner from a bustling community with a fabulous charcuterie-traiteur, where you could buy the most tempting ready-made salads, tartiflette or flans if you really couldn’t be bothered to cook, plus tiny marble-sized new potatoes and fruits and vegetables of every persuasion from the local market. I taught English in a big chemical factory south of the city, where we had an excellent canteen: lunch was routinely washed down with pelure d’oignon wine, and my immature English tastebuds were introduced to a wealth of fabulous dishes: the most tender calf’s veal I have ever, to this day, tasted; ris de veau (less keen); and melt-in-the mouth tarte à l’oignon.

Small wonder then, that a love of food was instilled in me at a relatively formative age – and has remained with me ever since. Even less wonder that many colleagues feel the same way. The group was initially intended to serve as a forum for language queries, posts about translation jobs and discussions about particularly food-related conundrums. Which it does, of course, but it’s also become a huge source of recipes, the inevitable foodie photographs, questions about ingredients or kitchen equipment, etymological queries or stories based around food (and drink!). Even more important, it has become a genuinely supportive and welcoming community.

Let me hand over to my fellow admin, Sue Fortescue, for a few words on the huge benefits of the group in providing support over the past year of lockdowns, shortages and loneliness.

Caring and sharing through difficult times

The Foodie Translators members are a caring group. For example, when Stefano, the Morocco-based member who regularly provides collages of members’ photos for the Facebook group cover page, suddenly went quiet last year, we messaged him only to find out that he was in hospital in Morocco with Covid. On hearing this news, many members sent him ‘get well soon’ messages, and one thoughtful soul composed a collage of all the numerous delicious recipes he had posted before being hospitalised. Another member mentioned the many deaths from Covid in her family and within hours received a host of messages sending condolences and good wishes.

During the various lockdowns and the ‘great yeast and flour shortages’, members offered to send items to those in need – and suggested tips for making bread without yeast and with a range of substitutes for regular flour. Many became experts in cultivating and baking with sourdough, often thanks to advice from other helpful members.

But this also goes back to long before the pandemic. Back in 2016, not long after Foodie Translators started, Lara Alloggio posted a photo of her grandmother’s handwritten recipe for mousse au chocolat. It was suggested that we could put together a cookbook based on traditional family recipes; someone else suggested doing it for a charity – and that is how the Translators without Borders Cookbook was born! Many members contributed recipes, all of which are available online at https://cook. translatorswithoutborders.org/. Recipes can be downloaded free of charge, but everyone using them is invited to make a donation to Translators without Borders.

Sustenance that goes beyond the physical

All in all, we feel we are a group of like-minded individuals, linked by our twin passions.

And food, as we all know, is nourishment in so many ways – not just the physical. One of our members is Noura Tawil, a translator living in Latakia, Syria. We admire Noura for her ability to cook delicious food for her family despite the difficult circumstances and frequent power cuts in Syria. A couple of years ago Noura posted a photo of breakfast with her mother, showing a table spread  with Syrian delicacies. One of the comments came from a Syrian refugee, who posted that he wished he was back in Syria having breakfast with his mother. Food, like language, brings us to new places as well as back to the ones we carry with us in our memories.

Susan Fortescue

Members comments

Foodie gathering at METM in Split Sept 2019

Table service: foodie gathering at METM in Split, in September 2019

When we asked Foodie Translator members to choose a recipe to be included in this article, many plumped for one provided for the TWB Cookbook by Noura Tawil. The chosen recipe is ‘Aubergine maqloobeh’.

 Quiz

(Answers at the end!)

  1. Freekeh

Is freekeh a) a food eaten at Halloween b) a cereal c) a fruit grown along the Mediterranean coast?

  1. Yuzu pearls

Are Yuzu pearls a) pearls commonly used in precious jewellery b) a garnish for salad c) a type of seafood?

  1. Castagnaccio

Is castagnaccio a) an Italian swear word b) the Italian word for conker c) an Italian cake?

  1. Mini conchas

Are mini conchas a) a type of sweet bread commonly eaten in Mexico b) a clam found in the Seychelles c) a Swiss alpine horn?

  1. Oxford lunch

Is Oxford lunch a) a ploughman’s type snack lunch eaten at the eponymous university b) a form of pasty or c) a light fruit cake commonly found in Ireland?

Statistics

4,403 members (as of 6th July 2021)

Created 23rd January 2016

Members from every continent

Top ten countries: UK, US, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Brazil, Belgium, Portugal, Netherlands,

Top ten cities: London, Berlin, São Paulo, Cairo, Madrid, Paris, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Brussels Lisbon

Language used: mostly English

Number of admins: 5 – 2 in the UK, 1 in Germany, 1 in Italy and 1 in the USA

324 posts in June 2021

Quiz Answers

1.b) a cereal used in Levantine and North African cuisines

2.b) they are the vesicles from finger limes and have a fresh, tangy flavour

3.b) an Italian cake made from chestnut flour

4.a) a sweet bread eaten in Mexico

5.c) a light fruit cake popular in Ireland. See: https://www.odlums.ie/recipes/oxford-lunch/?fbclid=IwAR24R7PF1thATheY9wLUiYtT23tSCoXaCO3dqXh62-7p8czs1H3Fh3kvf4g

Photo credits: Stefano Kalifire, Nan Kleins, Natalija Krutkiene, Elena Varela

April 2020