THE AFFAIR: a story of unbridled passion for Mexican Islamic cuisine

The past few weeks I have been troubled. The question I keep asking myself is if our Mexican restaurant should stay open or if I ought to start looking for a job. I don’t know what the future holds for me. I suppose nobody really does.

I feel bummed by the uncertainty and that it’s prompting me to give up on my dream.  We were starting to become a major player in the food and beverage service industry.

Opening an authentic Islamic inspired Mexican restaurant hasn’t been an easy dream to realize. I suppose no dream really is. If the controversial publicity we received is anything to go by, I have definitely taken a stand for self-expression and my passion to serve Mexican Islamic cuisine in America with honest humor and thought-provoking respect.

I won’t go down without a fight. I can’t. I owe it to everything and everyone that inspired me, a Kenyan Muslim of Indian descent cum USA immigrant to start an Islamic influenced Mexican restaurant in the first place.

I ate my first Tex-Mex Burrito in 1975 in Santa Monica, California. A big, fat flour tortilla wrap stuffed with ground refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes and red salsa smothering. The fire of spice and delight kissed my eager tongue and ignited my tummy in a way no chicken biryani ever had. I fell in love. I couldn’t figure out why. I suppose we don’t always figure out why. I was nine years when the aromatic affair began. I knew magic was cooking.

My father, a young, slick and handsome tennis player had just passed away. He had a penicillin allergy and that’s exactly what the doctors used to treat his condition. We inherited his daring zest for adventure and taste for foods of the world.  

My mother, a ferociously independent women, a smoker and whisky lover whose style, sex appeal and unanticipated directness made everyone around her uncomfortable, decided she would take me, her youngest child, to Santa Monica. As a single, un-intimidated mother of five children, she taught me to always do things my way, to consider the other and to always live free.   

The spicy fire of my first love stayed with me. When I migrated to the USA in 1992, seventeen years later, while I couldn’t get enough of Tex-Mex, I sought the authentic Mexican experience too. My belly swelled into a hot air balloon sized ‘panzon,’ feeding on fajita skillets, tortilla chips, mole, posole and guacamole. I didn’t care. My mouth danced in ecstasy with every bite.

In 2014, twenty-two years later, my mind caught up with my mouth and I transitioned my incessant dietary trance with Mexican food into an intellectual pursuit.

I heard a mind-awakening presentation in Alburquerque, New Mexico on Islamic influence in the Americas and met afterwards with the Director of the Hispanic Cultural Centre.

I understood then that the foundation of post-Aztec Mexican cuisine (which Fernando Cortés ‘introduced’ to the now Mexico City) is the aromatic Persian Islamic culinary tradition that had been influencing Spain.

At that point, the comestible jigsaw puzzle of my life formed a clear picture of identity and purpose; a Muslim man of Kenyan Indian descent, a now citizen of the USA, falls in love with Mexican cuisine and opens a Mexican Islamic restaurant to honor his appreciation of cultural heritage and integration.

Perhaps this mix of identity and purpose is the only certainty I will ever have about my dream. Perhaps the only certainty I will ever need.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. I suppose nobody really does. What I can commit to is authentic food and beverage service the Mexican- Islamic way.

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