Soul Roots: Ancestry, Food, Love
Soul Roots is a project of love in honor and dedication to my grandmothers, Taita Elaine Ghawi and Abuelita Julia Chahine– the women who shaped my identity.
Our brand celebrates delicious ancestral foods of the Levant, high in nutritional value and made with love. These are the foods my grandmothers fed me and found on tables throughout Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Syria.
My earliest memories around the table are of warm steamy, butter-scented rice textured with “sha’arie” toasted vermicelli noodles, served with piping hot homemade minted yogurt and “kibbeh”--bulgur crusted meatballs, filled with prized Levantine pine nuts whose size, taste and origin were the subject of lengthy conversations amongst the women in my family.
My paternal grandmother, Taita Elaine reminisced about the pine trees “back home” that produced the largest, most succulent and delicious “snobar” in the world. Taita lived next door to our church in Los Angeles, our community center and the vessel for our family’s worship as well as a sanctuary for the preservation of our culture and values. Much as my father begged her to move into our spacious house in the burbs, Taita refused.
She wanted to wake up close to the structure she associated with “back home”. Back home- a land so incredibly beautiful-- her eyes welled with tears when she described its riches, the generosity of her people and all she left behind. Our community connected her to her identity and gave her a sense of belonging. I am sure that the smell of incense, the arched walls, the melodic bells calling to prayer and the familiar Arabic chants projecting across that LA parking lot and through her apartment window gave her hope for a return “back home”. As much as we pleaded with Taita to leave her small apartment beside our church, with a Jaffa lemon tree planted into a large pot on her balcony--- this time she was unwilling to leave.
And now, I find myself here- in the Levant, my grandmothers’ (and grandfathers’) ancestral place. By a complete stroke of serendipity. Each day I live here--even on the hardest ones--I give thanks for the beautiful, sometimes painful, deeply connected feeling that floods me daily. I’ve been longing for this feeling all my life.
I was born into beauty but also, into loss. And now, finally, by experiencing the Middle East, by living “back home”, by tasting and smelling and seeing all that was described to me as a child--even the profounding palpable struggle... by taking it all in and sharing it with my family, I am finding at least a piece of what was lost. And on most days, it is a sweet, deep, achingly beautiful feeling.
It is this “finding” that Soul Roots seeks to share with the world. This connection can only come from a sensory connection with the land of our origins. Culinary traditions are a gift from our ancestors. And Soul Roots brings you the very best flavors s from Lebanon and the Levant. So you too can enjoy the authenticity of this place wherever you may be. And contribute to the lives of our farmers and the youth of this precious land.
SaHtain! To your Health! And to Hope!