Kitchen Arabic

How My Family Came to America and the Recipes We Brought with Us

Kitchen Arabic

How My Family Came to America and the Recipes We Brought with Us

Stories and recipes that celebrate Lebanese American culture and foodways

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  • Description
  • Reviews

Immigrant children first speak the language of their mothers, and in Toledo, Ohio’s Little Syria neighborhood where Joseph Geha grew up, the first place he would go to find his mother would be the kitchen. Many of today’s immigrants use Skype to keep in touch with folks back in the old country but in those “radio days” of old before the luxuries of hot running water or freezers, much less refrigeration, blenders, or microwaves, the kitchen was where an immigrant mother usually had to be, snapping peas or rolling grape leaves while she waited for the dough to rise. There, Geha’s mother took special pride in the traditional Syro-Lebanese food she cooked, such as stuffed eggplant, lentil soup, kibbeh with tahini sauce, shish barak, and fragrant sesame cookies.

As much a memoir as a cookbook, Kitchen Arabic illustrates the journey of Geha’s early years in America and his family’s struggle to learn the language and ways of a new world. A compilation of family recipes and of the stories that came with them, it deftly blends culture with cuisine. In her kitchen, Geha’s mother took special pride in the Arabic dishes she cooked, cherishing that aspect of her heritage that, unlike language, has changed very little over time and distance. With this book, Geha shares how the food of his heritage sustained his family throughout that cultural journey, speaking to them—in a language that needs no translation—of joy and comfort and love.

Joseph Geha brings his distinctive voice, Lebanese American cultural traditions, and meticulous attentiveness to the fine art of fiction to every word he writes. Many of his peers consider him a national treasure; read this book and you will be convinced that they do not exaggerate. His rich images, carefully honed characters, humor, and insights will linger with you for years.

—Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Jesus for Farmers and Fishers: Justice for All Those Marginalized by Our Food System

Joseph Geha deftly blends treasured family recipes with the memories—comic, sad, and sweet—they evoke. A moving memoir of immigration, struggle, and the love that holds a family together across continents and generations.

—Susan Muaddi Darraj, author of A Curious Land

Joseph Geha's writings are eloquent in their prose, moving in their imagery, and exemplary in rendering Arab American life legible. His newest book, Kitchen Arabic, is a masterful example of how immigrants interweave new identities stretched between Lebanon and America. It deftly uses traditions of Arabic storytelling (with nuance, humor, and superb recipes) to evoke memories that invite us into his parents' kitchen.

—Akram Khater, author of Embracing the Divine: Passion and Politics in the Christian Middle East

Kitchen Arabic is an engaging migrant’s tale that pulls you around the table to hear the storyteller and to enjoy a feast of words and food. Geha’s voice is nostalgic and genuine as we witness his family build a life in America and share the joy of Arabic food. Recipes are part of the story here, not just an adornment, and Geha gives them vitality and meaning as each one resonates with his journey.

—Elmaz Abinader, author of This House, My Bones

Richly flavored with personal and cultural history, Kitchen Arabic hits the sweet spot between food and memoir. Moving, pensive, filled with color, detail, and wit, these stories bring to life the journey of an all-Arab-American family along with a wealth of tantalizing recipes. A captivating read from one of our finest storytellers.

—Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Fencing with the King and The Language of Baklava

About the Author/Editor

JOSEPH GEHA is professor emeritus of creative writing at Iowa State University. He is the author of Through and Through: Toledo Stories and Lebanese Blonde. He lives in Ames, Iowa.