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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Taste of home offers comfort to nostalgic migrants

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Like many migrants who leave their family and friends behind, Laura Linares finds that when she misses Venezuela, preparing traditional dishes from her childhood helps to ease her homesickness.


"I want to feel close to my family, to my grandmother, to important moments," the 29-year-old told AFP while cooking in her small apartment in the Mexican capital.


Linares moved to Mexico to study for a master's degree in linguistics after leaving her crisis-racked country five years ago.


She was one of the winners in March of the international culinary and cultural competition Sabores Migrantes Comunitarios (Community Migrant Flavors), organized by IberCultura Viva, a cooperation program between the governments of the region, chaired by Mexico.


Linares, who hails from the Andean city of San Cristobal, won the competition with a typical potato stew from her region called turmada -- made with milk, chives, cheese and hard-boiled eggs.


"It's a warm dish. You feel like you're at home. You feel like you're being hugged," she said.


Migrating -- as seven million Venezuelans have done in recent years -- has not been easy for Linares, even if it means she can enjoy food like apples, which have become something of a luxury in Venezuela.


The South American country is going through an unprecedented crisis, with the national economy contracting by 80 percent between 2013 and 2021.


- Building a community -


To overcome the emotional highs and lows of leaving home, Linares immersed herself in preparing dishes from her country.


As well as turmada, she makes pastel de platano -- banana cake -- and bollitos alinados, a type of corn dumpling made with fried onions and seasoned with paprika and sweet pepper.


Cooking is a way of "bringing my home" to Mexico, Linares said.


It has also helped her create a community around little-known dishes not usually found in Venezuelan restaurants in the Mexican capital.


Around 340,000 foreigners settled in Mexico in 2022, according to official figures.


When "we are in another country, we experiment with other foods, but we always come back to the origin of our food, the one that our mothers gave us, to feel this connection," said Edizon Muj Cumes, a Guatemalan researcher on the food systems of indigenous peoples.


It is part of an "identity process that is forged from the moment we are born," he told AFP.


Jose Bustillos, a 45-year-old Venezuelan, said that he cried the first time he tasted an arepa -- a kind of cornmeal patty -- two and a half months after arriving in Mexico.


"My country, my city, my people came back to me," he said.


In front of a shelter for migrants in the Mexican capital, a group of Haitians gathered around a compatriot selling chicken.


For the price of one serving, the equivalent of $5.50, they could buy up to eight Mexican tacos.


But the chicken is seasoned like on their island, so for them it is worth it for a taste of home. — AFP


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