Reader impression: Going home by Sophia Lindop

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This reader impression was written and sent to LitNet on the writer’s own initiative.

Title: Going home
Author: Sophia Lindop
Publisher: Annake Müller Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-620-86994-2

Sophia Lindop is the daughter of a father of Lebanese descent and an Afrikaans-speaking mother from Cape Town. The combination of these two cultures and her own love for food prompted her to write Going home, which she describes as a "journey of the heart" and a "culmination of years of cooking and baking, mixing and stirring, smelling and tasting". Going home not only celebrates the stories behind the rich food culture of Lebanon – both historical and contemporary – but also highlights the true meaning of life, which is found in togetherness, sharing, laughter and good food.

The author made a promise to her dad (Richard Phillippe Joseph, 1939–2018) on his deathbed that she would visit the land of her forefathers. Until then, she knew Lebanon, the homeland of her ancestors, only through its food. "Learning from the dinner tables and menus of her mother, grandmother and aunts, she was encouraged to observe, to explore, to taste and experiment" (blurb). Maya Angelou’s quote is quite apt in this instance: "The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned." Sophia reflects on years gone by on page 128 and quotes Tadeusz Kotarbiński as having stated: "Emigration is a funeral after which life still goes on."

Sophia did not visit Lebanon only for its food. She also went in search of her identity. She states on the back cover: "Stepping into the streets of Beirut that first day is like taking a step back in time. There’s an immediate sense of belonging, of recognition. I feel it on my first visit, and I have felt it ever since. A familiarity that keeps calling me back for more" and "Here Sophia explores the nuanced flavours and aromas of markets and cafés, of restaurants and home kitchens, ranging from the simple tastes of freshly harvested vegetables to Lebanon’s treasured homestyle cooking, combining a seemingly endless variety of herbs: mint, parsley, oregano, coriander; spices: allspice, sumac, baharat, nutmeg, aniseed, cumin, and cinnamon; and the extraordinary flavours of rose- and orange blossom water used in both sweet and savoury recipes."

His Excellency Mr Kabalan Frangieh, Lebanese ambassador to South Africa, writes in the foreword: "Sophia has two wings: the wings of her country of origin, Lebanon, and that of her home country, South Africa. This book embodies the link between the two." He states:

This book is a welcome and much-needed aid to understanding our national heritage. It is, too, a very important contribution to the relationship between South Africa and Lebanon, a reference to a better understanding of Lebanese cuisine being enjoyed at a time when Lebanon has initiated a gastrodiplomacy campaign across the globe to introduce societies and communities to its evolving and innovative style of cuisine.

Going home is so much more than just a recipe book. It also documents Sophia’s pilgrimage of June 2018 – or, as she describes it: "a homecoming for my soul and taste buds" (9). "Visiting Lebanon would be a rebirth after a year of tragedy; the closing scene in the narrative of this part of my life, and the birth of something new" (9). "For me this is a journey back in time. Back to when a hopeful young man and a trusting young bride left their homes. And even further back to when Beirut was ‘the Paris of the Middle East’, of good times, opulent times ..." (11). Award-winning photographer Hein van Tonder’s photos ensure a delightful visual feast. The family photographs Sophia shares with her readers are a real treat and make her stories come alive in a beautiful and poignant manner.

Sophia shares much of her Lebanese trip in between each carefully selected recipe. She introduces Lebanon along with its friendly people and delicious food in a way that entices the reader to turn the pages and try out the recipes. She writes about a day’s excursion on page 56: "Fruit, vegetables, sweets, cakes and so much more; all are there for the day’s enjoyment. People are animated – some calling out for you to enter their stalls, others bargaining and placing orders. Prices are shamefully low. And all the while I am being enveloped by the fragrances of spices and other goods."

On her return to South Africa, she immediately began to market the inaugural Sophia Lindop Food Tour to establish a platform to keep on returning to Lebanon, "acting as a gastronomic ambassador and sharing with my guests the irresistible magic that characterises this still mostly undiscovered and exotic destination" (66). How fortunate her readers are to share in her adventure of learning!

She shares a recipe for a heavenly rack of lamb on page 108 – a dish in which she combines the flavours of the two countries that define her. "Both in South Africa and in Lebanon, there is a culture of cooking on an open fire, although more so in South Africa." Her clafoutis (fruity French flan) on page 20, khoubz (Lebanese pita bread) on page 42, chicken and artichoke pie (page 50), tabbouleh (parsley salad) on page 98, lamb pies (page 178), kofta (meatballs) on page 181, sambousek (deep-fried pastries) on page 213 and halawa chocolate truffles (page 25) are to die for. Going home is a soft-cover book (265 mm (height) x 210 mm (width)) of 256 pages filled with beautiful stories, photographs and dozens of recipes. I am very proud of my copy and keep it in my kitchen where I can easily flip through it when I need to prepare a hearty meal for my family or guests.

Sophia holds a three-year diploma in food service management, alongside a diploma in South African and international wines.

You can purchase Going home here.

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