Rissa’s story: food and identity are central to preserving a tradition which shapes who we are

Rissa’s story: food and identity are central to preserving a tradition which shapes who we are

Rissa Mohabir was born in Guyana (previously known as British Guiana). Rissa begins her story “this sets the scene that all colonies have in common, in that a country is built with the importation of people to work and serve the British Empire. My grandparents and their family from India were amongst those who crossed oceans to make a better life, so much so that my father returned from his medical studies in England with my English born mother in the 1950’s”.

Food is important to my culture because food and identity and the immigrant experience are central to preserving a memory of traditional cultural, historical, religious and social practices which in the end shape who we are. The importation of people also included cargoes of ethnic foods, spices, herbs, vegetables, seeds and legumes”.

“There is a before and after memory of my heritage, as the country underwent the inevitable divisions under British colonial rule, the rifts marked by the early settlement of African slaves followed by Indentured servants from India and Portuguese from Madeira and Brazil, Chinese and Europeans (mostly British), not forgetting that the first nations Amerindians who were now established in reservations”.

“On hoisting the Guyanese flag, in 1966 with its motto of One People, One Nation, One Destiny of six nations the idea was to promote an integration of identities of which food communicated through our now creole culture. The feeling of belonging as one country did not impact on me as I left Guyana at the age of 15, but I’m thankful to my mother’s insistence of including as many dishes from different cultures: our menu was varied, exciting and exotic, (in hindsight I can say that). For example a typical week’s menu was curry, rice and daal and roti, the next day Chinese chow mein, cook up rice and fried plantain, metagee and fish, shrimp with okra and rice and so on. Sunday lunch was a roast dinner in sweltering tropical heat. Pepper pot (an Amerindian dish from cassava root) reserved for special events”.

“The positive experience of living in Bristol is the very fact that this rich mix of people who have migrated to the city over decades are now shaping and shifting the demographic landscape (just as 91 Ways is). I so appreciate this element, as monocultures have no appeal to me whatsoever. It is reminiscent of my formative years with the cultural influences, notably through cuisine and festivals”.

“However not everyone in Bristol shares this appreciation of diversity; an atmosphere of hidden or not so hidden tensions is increasingly becoming more apparent. The current anti -migrant rhetoric is not helpful, questioning my position here as an immigrant”.

“I believe 91 ways is a timely project, connecting through food, identity and the immigrant experience”.

Rissa’s Cook-up Rice and Beans– A Guyanese national dish

200g easy-cook rice
1 red pepper
2 tomatoes (blanched) and sliced
2 onions – chopped
3 spring onions (chopped)
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 dessertspoon soy sauce (light)
1 dessertspoon tomato sauce
½ block coconut block
1 tin of black eye beans

Fry gently the onions, spring onions, pepper, and garlic until lightly brown. Then add herbs, and rice adding boiling water to cover. Add the coconut block, soya sauce and tomato sauce and black eye beans. Keep topping up with hot water, stirring occasionally. About 20 mins.

When the rice is soft to pinch, it’s ready to enjoy.