Harissa is another one of those food trends. You know the ones. This is how they work; the Western world spots a new flavour on the horizon and next thing you know Subway has a squirt-bottle full of the good stuff in which to drown your footlong. Not really. Not yet. You can, however, find harissa at Walmart.
According to The Washington Post, America’s harissa craze started awhile ago. Apparently, I’m late to the game on this one. The first time I tried the spicy, fragrant condiment was last year when my roommate brought home a bright yellow tube from Bulk Barn. I believe we used it when preparing a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty. Yet, I never bothered to learn about its origins, which is problematic.
I’ve written about this before on the blog. I’m a big supporter of experimenting with unique flavours and adopting unfamiliar forms of cuisine. But what’s the difference between grabbing the President’s Choice version of a foreign condiment at the grocery store and mindfully incorporating a predominantly Tunisian hot chili pepper paste into your home cooked dish?
I’m still working to form the answer to this question. As a white person my experience is not one of exotification. People do not demand cultural authenticity be served at my dinner parties. Nor, do they lump my identity into a single homogenous category when they enjoy a bit of maple syrup on their pancakes. There are foods in my pantry right now that are blatant commodifications of other cultures. That’s not okay. I have to do better. White people have to do better. Mindless consumerism has consequences that, more often than not, negatively impact marginalized groups. Yet, being that white person who identifies as a self-proclaimed expert on “ethnic” foods is just another way to assert cultural dominance and supremacy.
Below is a list of links that have helped me further understand the significance and ofttimes damaging act of consuming foods in order to gain access to another culture or somehow transcend whiteness. Hint: Ordering pad thai from your favourite take-away shop when you’re drunk doesn’t undo colonialism. Neither does trying “weird” food because “you’re like so not racist”. Or asking your friend of colour to teach you “the real way” to make their traditional recipes.
That being said, I believe food is worth sharing. However, it’s important that when we do share, everyone involved, in particular those who may not have a seat at both the literal or proverbial table, benefit from the experience. In my links below, I’ve also included some resources that discuss the origins and uses of harissa.
- Eating The Other: Desire and Resistance by bell hooks
- Food is a Feminist Issue: On Food, Race and Appropriation by Bitch Media
- Other People’s Food Podcast Series by Dan Pashman
- The Feminist Guide to Being a Food Without Being Culturally Appropriative by Rachel Kuo
- Exotification and Race: Tracing the Geographies of Difference and Desire by Ragna Rök Jóns
- History of Harissa on Wikipedia
- Food Quality Label Opens Up New Market for Tunisian Harissa by Zhong Xingfei
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Harissa Chickpea Pancakes
- 1 cup chickpea flour
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- harissa to taste
- pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- avocado and cherry tomatoes for garnish
- In a mixing bowl whisk together chickpea flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and water.
- Heat a skillet over medium-high and grease with olive oil. It’s important to grease the pan very well.
- Pour in the batter, sprinkle some harissa on the uncooked side of the pancake and cook for approximately five minutes. If you flip the pancake to early it will break. They’re very delicate and should be cooked well on each side.
- Continue steps one through three until you’ve used up your batter. You can keep pancakes warm by placing them in the oven on the lowest heat setting.
- Serve garnished with cherry tomatoes, avocado and a big side of greens.