Food artist, cook & archivist

History of The Sudanese Kitchen

The idea to write a Sudanese cookbook came about as I was collecting recipes from my mother. I’d recently moved from Birmingham to Manchester (UK) for university and gravely missed my mother’s wonderful homecooking. At the time there was very little accurate information written in English about how Sudanese foods are prepared. The recipes proved to be very popular by Sudanese and non-Sudanese alike, and were soon in high demand. Living virtually on Machester’s famed “Curry Mile” in Rusholme, I understood how food can be a vehicle of culture that create a sense of home and comfort while existing in diaspora. I realsied then the potential of a Sudanese cookbook, not only to give Sudan its rightful place on the food map of the world, but to help others in my positon – empowering them with tangable culture of their own making as they navigate their diasporic experience.

A mock-up of how my Sudanese cookbook might look

Sudan has deep historical ties to a variety of foodways that pass through its neighbouring regions. Owing to its location in northeastern Africa, Sudanese cuisine has been shaped by these long-established ties to the eastern Mediterranean, Arabian Peninsula and West Africa. As such our foods embody a very unique fusion, an amalgamation of customs and cooking practices propagated by travelling groups as they traversed great planes in search of fresh grazing pastures. This is the reason why a lot of Sudanese foods are based on dried goods which are easily transported and prepared over a simple campfire. Ingredients such as sharmout, dried meat powder, weka, dried okra powder and dageeg zhura, sorghum flour are examples of lightweight dried food items which were easily portable and provided basic sustenance for these groups. The use of fresh ingredients depended on what was cultivated both locally and seasonally, such as meat and meat by-products, fish, local grains, and seasonal vegetables and fruits. Settled groups also played an important role in establishing the foundations of regional Sudanese foods.

Map showing the spread of Islam in Africa, and in turn the various routes of migration and subsequent cultural influences over the past 1,000 years

Due to the nature of how our unique cuisine, certain uncommon ingredients are not readily available on the international food market. The upcoming cookbook aims to provide introductory recipes using common ingredients that can be easily found in any part of the world – from the local food store, market or specialist supplier. As such, recipes including certain uncommon ingredients are excluded from the cookbook selection for the time being and instead will go into an extensive archive of Sudanese recipes. In the future, I hope to make these uncommon ingredients available through an online store and release more unusual Sudanese recipes for the more adventurous cooks and foodies.

At the first Sudanese Kitchen pop-up event in Parade, Hackney, East London

I hope you enjoy discovering and taking part in perpetuating Sudanese food through the information and recipes provided on this site, and its upcoming cookbook. Feel free to send us a message, leave a comment on a featured recipe, provide us with more information or recommend a dish you’d like to see included. Please bear in mind that this work is intended as an introduction to Sudanese food, as is not (yet) a comprehensive archive.

About Omer

As an infant in our family home in Khartoum 2, circa 1986

My formative years were spent in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, where I first developed a strong bond with Sudanese homecooking. In typical Sudanese fashion, my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins all lived under one roof. Our family is known widely for their appreciation of traditional food and, like most families, have large family gatherings serving traditional food and drink after every Friday prayer. I grew accustomed to hovering in the kitchen, snacking while soaking up the atmosphere as a flurry of female activity made magic happen before my eyes. I remember weaving between bustling bodies to get to the uncooked batter of baked biscuits and cakes, eating out of the mixing bowls with my fingers. At the table, we indulged in no less than four or five main dishes with a host of sides making up the typical mezze style adopted into Sudanese dining. My favourites were a messy bowl of kisra and mullah, lamb shank fattah (dul3’a) with peanut chilli dip and any madeeda for dessert.

Wearing blue shorts, eating watermelon with my siblings and father, circa 1990

As the political situation deteriorated into the early 1990s, my immediate family and I moved to the UK, which has since been a home away from home. We returned to Khartoum a least once a year and even into my late teens, often reluctantly, would visit family and maintain the relationship with my estranged homeland. As I grew accustomed to life outside of Sudan, it was my mother’s strictly Sudanese home cooking that transported me back with each mealtime.

Pictured in the middle rocking a stripped sweater, on a frosty morning in Nuneaton, with siblings and family friends, circa 1993-94

In dedicating all my free time to gathering these recipes, I began widening my own understanding of Sudanese food. I realised that Sudanese food is not one cuisine, but rather a combination of various foodways that depend on historical and regional variations of the land and its people. As such Sudanese food remains largely undiscovered, even by our own people – with most Sudanese only knowing about their own regional foods, but our food innovations continue to surprise in its own special way. I hope that through this work we can all understand and appreciate the variations in our cooking, to have a more complete understanding of our cultures and people.

On location carrying out research in Kadugli, South Kordufan. Photograph by Ala Kheir

I enjoy an active social life (corona permitting), team sports such as football and basketball, as well as cycling, longboarding, independent cinema, gardening, naturopathy and sustainable farming practices (to name just a few).

Thank you for reading!


Food so good, you’ll want to start a revolution

Omer Eltigani
All rights reserved by Tukul Enterprises 2021