Migrant Cuisine: Recipes to Stay, Projects to Return

Fatimata’s eyes look tired. All the hard work cooking food for the Migranti Film Festival has sapped her of energy. But when she starts talking about her family, her dishes and her country, her smile comes back. She calls up Senegal with the colors of her traditional dress, her understated elegance, and her dishes, all worth tasting.

  1. Fatimata, tell us your story.

I come from Senegal and I’ve been in Italy for ten years now. I live in Dogliani, in the province of Cuneo, with my husband and children. Before coming to Italy, I studied nutrition, everything to do with food, from its composition to processing and preservation. Once I was here I wasted no time. After a year and a half I went to Alba to take part in a competition to be a social and health worker. They took me on right away and I started work in the long-term care unit at Doglian hospital. I miss being involved with food because I love cooking, and teaching as well. Before coming to Italy, I taught for eleven years in Senegal. Now all that remains for me to do is teach my kids.

  1. What do you like cooking?

I cook anything and everything. Rice, meat, fish … I also make Italian dishes like lasagne, baked pasta and lots of cakes. The Senegalese dish I enjoy cooking most is Ceebu Jen, which is popular all over the world. It’s made of rice, fish and vegetables and it’s one of the traditional dishes of Senegalese cooking. It’s a two-color dish: white and red, on account of the tomato. It’s not hard to find the ingredients for my recipes in Italy. With globalization you can find everything anywhere, even in Bra. I have to admit, though, that I bring preserved fish from Senegal. Back home the fish has a different flavor and we have many, many varieties.

  1. What does food represent for you?

Food provides the basis for a person’s health. And it’s also very important because it allows people to get to know each other and their local areas. Food can bring peoples together, as is happening here at the Migranti Film Festival, a fantastic opportunity for developing intercultural relations and eating dishes from all over the world in the space of a few days. Here I’ve had the chance to meet other realities and other people and I enjoy tasting the produce of their lands. From Senegal we’ve brought Ceebu Jen, the fish and rice dish I mentioned earlier, while last year we served up Yassa, made with rice, onion and chicken. They’re both absolutely delicious.

  1. What are your plans for the future?

On the one hand, I hope to continue the experience of the Migranti Film Festival and follow the courses at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. I believe that the unity of all communities can make the difference in promoting different foods and cultures. On the other, I’m planning to put some projects in place to go back to Senegal, a country I love and that I’m happy to be a daughter of. When I think of it, I think of the thousands of talibé, the children of three to 15 forced to live in the streets in conditions of extreme poverty. I’d like to work with them and with elderly people who’ve been left on their own, creating a center to welcome and look after them. It would be a place of great diversity, housing different generations with different experiences. The project wouldn’t be all that different from what I’m doing here in Italy. And if I do what I do well here, why couldn’t I do the same in my own country?

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