The Story of a Habibi in America

My name is Taif
Taif Jany in Paris, France.

My name is Taif (like Knife but with a T) and I’m just a habibi who lives in the United States with a big appetite.

I was born and raised in Baghdad. When I was 16 years old my father was kidnapped on his way home from work. I was forced to flee Iraq with my remaining family and seek refuge in Damascus, Syria. We’ve never heard a thing about dad.

After spending about two years in Syria, I came to the United  States as a student. I went to school at Union College in Schenectady, NY and moved to Washington, D.C. right after graduation.

Being alone in America, away from my family and my favorite falafel stands, I was  forced to teach myself how to cook. This is mostly because I really missed my mom’s homemade food, but also I started craving Iraqi food in general. When it comes to food, Iraq (in my humble opinion) is the hub of food in Western Asia (YES, IRAQ IS IN ASIA! Bet you didn’t know that.) From world-famous sumac kebabs and lamb stews, to dolma and masgoof (grilled fish), Iraq is where it’s at!

That being said, I quickly learned that America is a place of abundance in many ways, and food ingredients is no exception. In the United States, I can access many items that we don’t have in Iraq. One in particular has forever changed my life. Let me tell you all about it.

During my very first day of school at Union College, brand new to the United States I went to the dining hall for breakfast with few folks I met during orientation. I was blown away by the amount and variety of food options they had there. However, only one food item stood out to me the most. It was a tray full of crispy red strips of meat. It looked so delicious I didn’t even bother asking what it was. My friends were also very insisting that I should give it a try. After I took the first bite, my friends were like “oh how do you like pork?” and I responded “this is the best thing ever what is it?” And that’s how I learned about BACON!

Very quickly, I was also brainwashed by America’s steak culture. If you ask any of my friends what I love to eat at any day and anytime, they would say steak. I don’t care what cut or shape it is, grilled, seared, or broiled, I love STEAK.

Infusing Iraqi flavors into America’s diverse food options makes cooking a very exciting hobby for me. I see it as a vehicle to bridge our cultures and end decades of misinformation. I firmly believe that Iraqis and Americans can benefit so much by learning about one another. Heck, we have so much in common: we are good looking, we are fun, and we love food.

My dad always loved the people of America and I now see why. His loss did not go in vain. It helped me adapt to and appreciate the people who are around me, no matter where I am.

I understand that not everybody here can relate to me being an Iraqi, and not everyone loves to cook or experiment different cuisines. However, I  know that food is the best way to get to know people and learn about their different backgrounds and cultures. Let’s eat!

8 Replies to “The Story of a Habibi in America”

  1. I’ve been hoping you’d share the recipes that always make me hungry when I see your food pics! Looking forward to more posts. LET’S EAT

  2. So happy you have embraced your new country, it’s always a joy to read your posts…you always make me feel hungry! Looking forward to trying out your recipes ?

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