Meet the women sharing stories about Cork's vibrant food culture

DEBORAH HICKEY talks to two women behind Kitchen Stories, a new audio documentary showcasing Cork’s vibrant food culture.
Meet the women sharing stories about Cork's vibrant food culture

Banu Rekha Balaji , host of Kitchen Stories, who grew up in Qatar, but lived in India before moving to Ireland.

“CORK’S cultural landscape is changing and it’s an exciting time. Our different cultural backgrounds are our strength and there is so much that unites us.”

So says Joanna Dukkipati, the founder of Good Day Cork.

‘Kitchen Stories’ is an audio documentary recently launched, and available to listen to, on the Good Day Cork website. It showcases Cork’s vibrant food culture, through the stories and experiences of how people cook and eat in their own homes.

Listeners are welcomed into four kitchens, of unique cultural identity, to discover that while menus may vary across nationalities, we all share the same desire to nourish, nurture and connect through food.

Joanna says ‘Kitchen Stories’ was a joy to produce. She and her team work towards amplifying the stories of everyday people, living in Cork, through the publication of personal essays, podcasts, events and other creative media.

“I began Good Day Cork as a print magazine in 2018 and it has been an adventurous journey. Our vision is to create a kinder world. I believe there is enormous work to be done to develop a sense of belonging and to inspire hope and unity,” she says.

Pani puri, popular street food of India.
Pani puri, popular street food of India.

Originally from Mumbai, formerly Bombay, in India, Joanna moved to Cork in 2012.

“Growing up in Bombay was one of the best things for me — it taught me my work ethic and the importance of being my genuine self because of how competitive that city is.”

Since moving to Cork, Joanna has worked extensively in creating events that strengthen community spirit. She organised her first major event in June, 2013 — Cork Indian Summer, a day-long festival held in Camden Place, to recognise and celebrate Indian-Irish culture in our city.

“Living in Cork has helped me to realise my own potential and has inspired my best work. I am fortunate to have the experience of living in two cultures,” said Joanna.

She believes sharing our stories is a powerful resource in connecting and uniting our communities.

“I know that storytelling is the most effective tool there is to bring the change that we need at this hour. During the making of ‘Kitchen Stories’, there was so much social injustice around us — the conversations around the passing of George Nkencho drove home the importance of really and actively listening to those around us. The conversations continue, and they do make us all uncomfortable, but it is in this discomfort positive change will come.”

The busy mother-of-one is a great advocate of women supporting each other in all areas of life.

“I learned early on the power of having a tribe. I know from personal experience that the impact of women encouraging other women is phenomenal. Look around Cork, there are sheros everywhere!”

‘Kitchen Stories’ was made possible through financial support from female led businesses MamaBear Foods, Ode to Earth and Orla McAndrew Catering.

Nqobizitha Vella, from Zimbabwe.
Nqobizitha Vella, from Zimbabwe.

WHO FEATURES IN THE SERIES...

The podcast features Australian occupational therapist, Yvonne Pennisi, who discusses shopping for ingredients in Cork, in order to recreate her favourite Asian-inspired dishes from her native Cairns.

Nqobizitha Vella, of Zimbabwe, talks about the challenges of cooking while living in Direct Provision. Describing the system as ‘the whole world living in one room,’ poet Nqobizitha says she learned so much about the different cultures and backgrounds of fellow residents through the food they would cook together.

Grainne and Rahul Seithi, recently married in Cork.
Grainne and Rahul Seithi, recently married in Cork.

With more than 70 cookery and baking books in her kitchen, French pastry chef Christine Girault shares her passion for cooking and believes food connects us without the need for words.

Rahul and Grainne Sethi recently married in Cork and are exploring each other’s cultures through food and photography. Rahul grew up in Punjab and highlights Ireland and India’s shared love of the humble potato. Grainne jokes about the perils of ending up with a cold dinner while striving to capture the perfect image for their Instagram account, @irish_indian_cooking.

THE HOST

‘Kitchen Stories’ is hosted by food and culture enthusiast, Banu Rekha, who initially came up with the idea for the podcast. Banu, an occupational therapist in Cork, grew up in Qatar, and lived briefly in India before moving to Ireland. She says the project is very close to her heart. “Sometimes food is more than just food. It’s memories of connection and attachment and a torrent of feelings and emotions.”

Banu illustrates the emotional attachment we have with food by recalling a south Indian dish that was a staple in her childhood home.

“Idlis are soft steamed, fermented rice and lentil dumplings, usually served with sambar, a spicy, tangy lentil dish and a variety of chutneys. I hated them! Mostly because they were always there but also because they were SO boring!,” said Banu.

Shortly after moving to Ireland, she was invited to dinner one evening, by a kind, Indian family living in Dublin. There she was served a childhood memory: “The lovely lady had made idlis! I ate more than I should have and even went back to my house with a little bag of them. I hadn’t realised how homesick I was until I saw them!”

Memories are intrinsically linked to the local dishes of Banu’s past.

“My life is falafel, hummus and shawarma from the streets of Qatar, to making idli, vada, sambar from the Tiffin Rooms of Chennai, to making a mean shepherd’s pie here in Cork.”

Having lived in Cork since 2003, Banu says she has seen a leap in what is available in terms of shopping for ingredients. “I certainly can cook a wide range of Indian, Asian and Arabic foods here. Nice ingredients are still difficult to get, for example a good quality aged tamarind or cold pressed gingelly oil, and I do miss the snacks and sweets, especially around festival times.”

Banu believes that many restaurants have a long way to go in terms of delivering authentic international dishes to the people of Cork.

“I think the different foods are watered down to what they think typical Irish people would eat. For example, all Indian restaurants serve more or less the same standard dishes and regional dishes don’t get a look in.”

Her love of experimenting with recipes began in her teens. Banu jokes that while her mother initially discouraged her cooking, largely due to the mess she left behind, food and cooking now strengthens their bond.

“I grew up listening to Amma, my mother, discussing recipes on the phone with her friends, or during our long summer vacations in India. 

"There was constant talk of food in terms of how it was cooked, its quality, who liked what, and what foods were good for what ailments.”

Now, in cooking for her own family, Banu says she has carried many of her mothers traditions into her home life, such as the importance of eating together as a family and balancing taste with nutrition.

“Talking recipes and food brought me closer to my mother in adulthood. She still loves to share recipes and tips, especially those she thinks will be appreciated by her grandchildren. I have realised that I cook differently to my mother in what I make, but I am the same in the reasoning behind what I cook.”

Banu says some of the best conversations she has had have taken place while cooking alongside friends, and this is what ‘Kitchen Stories’ is all about for her.

“I was really struck by how similar our journeys were, even though we all made our way to Ireland in a completely different way. Anyone who enjoys stories, of any kind, will enjoy this podcast — even better if they are curious about food!”

More in this section

Sponsored Content

summersoaplogosml

Catch up on the latest episode of Annie May and the Hit Brigade written and read by  Mahito Indi Henderson.

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more