The idea of national cuisine is a strategy rather than a reality: It performs cultural homogeneity where it does not exist, and helps build loyalty to an imaginary nation in the service of a political state. Minority communities and culinary traditions that don’t obey the borders of a nation-state are effaced and disregarded by this idea. Food, as a rule, transgresses borderlands, even in highly politically charged spaces. In these circumstances, the naming of a national or communal cuisine can work in the opposite direction. It can be an act of resilience against the violently exclusionary state politics that would rather absorb or suppress the existence of such communities.
This map looks at four borderland cuisines, offering a guide to the best restaurants and cafes in London serving Kurdish, Kashmiri, Uyghur, and Basque food. The region of Kurdistan was carved up by the French and British after the First World War and divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. At the hands of Iraq in the 1990s, and more recently Turkey, the Kurds have been subject to waves of state repression. The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group native to Xinjiang in Northern China, which borders many Central Asian countries. Over recent years, the Uyghurs have suffered widespread abuse and persecution at the hands of the Chinese government. Kashmir has been subject to more than a half-century territorial conflict between India and Pakistan (a legacy of the end of the British empire), in which it is estimated more than 100,000 people have died since the end of the 1980s. Under these challenging circumstances, taking pride in naming, cooking, and serving Uyghur leghmen, Kurdish hajari, and Kashmiri kabargah are acts of resistance, hope, and joy.
By contrast, the Basque country — which straddles Spanish and French territory — is a relatively safe place to live. Basque food is even globally celebrated. In Michelin star terms, the Basques have the whole Milky Way. It hasn’t always been this way, though. During the Franco years, regional cultural practices and languages were repressed. The post-Franco years, however, were a period of creative flourishing for the gastronomic Basques, and in the 1970s the New Basque Cuisine — molecular wizardry that has since won over the world — was born. Here, then, is another story of resistance and persistence. It’s a reminder of what’s possible when people cease to be persecuted and are allowed to live freely.Read More