Idioms and sayings always sound kind of odd when they're translated. My mom immigrated to the US in the 1970s with her parents and brothers, so we all mostly communicate in English these days, which means that when we say our favorite Assyrian proverbs, we usually say them translated. So having grown up hearing so much in translation, now whenever my grandmother says something like "you have only the donkey's tail," it sounds normal and feels completely authentic, even though I'm sure it would probably sound really weird to just about anyone outside of my family (Assyrian or not!). Sometimes when meaning or feeling gets lost in translation, you wind up with something new in its place.
But anyway—today I'm thinking of one of my favorites, which goes, "if you break ice, you have cold water," or in other words, "you've been working really hard, and here is the pay off." I don't say this one enough, but it's one of my favorites because I usually need the reminder. It's easy for me to lose sight of accomplishments and just keep plugging away, always pining for the next stage. So this weekend, I drank cold water and spent some time reflecting, after finding out that I'm a finalist for the Saveur best culture blog award! It's such an honor to be part of an incredible group of finalists, and I'm very excited to get to know the whole cohort.
Being selected for a category that celebrates regional cuisine has led me to spend some time thinking about Assyrian food, and what defines it. When I went to the Saveur awards last year, I remember a lot of people asking me "What sets Assyrian food apart?" which is something I've always had a hard time answering. Part of me thinks that it's a silly question in the first place, because the food my family makes is going to be totally different than the food from another Assyrian family, and many of our dishes are shared by many other Middle Eastern and North African cuisines. It's hard to generalize accurately and respectfully about food and culture, and it's an uncomfortable (perhaps impossible) task to precisely pin down an oral culinary history.
But of course, this is a totally legitimate question to ask someone who writes about Assyrian food—it's just that its answer is incredibly complex. But now, after another year, I feel like I can finally articulate some of that complexity, and I'm looking forward to the lifetime it's going to take to see the full picture.
So for now, I'll leave you with this list of some my favorite Assyrian dishes, with some (hopefully) satisfying answers to this question that used to annoy me, but now just makes me talk a lot. Feel free to check out family recipes if you'd like even more, or browse my whole recipe collection for a mix of classic and Assyrian-inspired.