I’m very excited about today’s episode of “Illustrations For Women About Women,” which will take us on a journey to Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, and home to not-too-internationally-popular Italian dishes rooted in fusion cuisine and a multi-cultural flavor. Today’s post will be featuring Italian food writer and novelist, Simonetta Agnello Hornby, whose novels are international bestsellers, translated into more than twenty languages!
My husband and I are obsessed with food, not just for its variety and flavor, but because it offers us the wonderful opportunity to learn more about our own diverse cultural background, as well as other world cuisines and cultures. When we heard that an Italian writer was in town to chat about food in Sicily, we were so excited about making it to her talk titled, “Sicily, the meeting point of food and culture in the Southern Mediterranean.”
Italian Novelist, Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Explores Cultural Identity through Scrumptious Sicilian Recipes
Learning about Sicilian food and culture from this particular author was truly fascinating. It really is inspiring to see this island’s culinary heritage through Simonetta Agnello Hornby‘s eyes and unique perspective as a strong, independent, and creative woman – who has chartered her own path in literature and in life.
Born and raised in Sicily, Agnello-Hornby got married in England in her early twenties, which kind of helped further her passion for exploring cultural fusion through her writings and advocacy work with Black and Muslim communities as well as Arab women. In her talk, she gave marvelous anecdotes and examples of the cultural fusion in Sicily, considered by some as “the world’s oldest colony” and a place where many civilizations have laid anchor.
Because of this, the Sicilian cuisine shows traces of all the cultures that have passed through it over the last two millennia, giving the Sicilian food its own textures and flavors. The Sicilian cuisine does have a lot in common with the Italian cuisine, but it also boasts strong Arab influences – as well as Greek, Spanish, and French culinary hints and characteristics.
Agnello-Hornby’s enjoyable story-telling can take you on a journey about food, not just as an edible experience, but also as a conduit for cultural fusion and identity.
She speaks about how “The Italian language will never die out due to food,” as in her opinion, “Food is culture.” Her culinary wisdom extends to areas related to cultural identity, with unique insights such as: “The identity of a person is [rooted] in food. The culture of a person abroad continues through food and not through language.”
Her insights touch upon Sicilian roots and origins, for instance how “Many food-related words in the Sicilian dialect have an Arabic origin.”
Agnello-Hornby also speaks about “similar traditions,” for instance the traditional feast at the end of the pistachio harvest in Sicily, which is celebrated with boiled lamb served with vegetables. “I found the same tradition and the same type of cooking in Aleppo [Syria]. I also found the Sicilian eggplant meatballs (Polpette di melanzane) in Egypt. The same type of Sicilian sweets (from the convent) are also the same in Aleppo,” Agnello-Hornby explains.
Food and Empathy
I’m truly blessed with the opportunity to learn about Simonetta Agnello Hornby‘s literary work and culinary insights!
I do personally believe that food is a great place to help us transcend our biases and prejudges as women and as people from different corners of the globe. Food offers us an opportunity to build cultural openness, and a flexibility in understanding and constructing our own identities, in a way that emphasizes empathy, peace and love above everything else!
Thank you for stopping by, and I do hope to see you again in my next illustrated episode!
NOTE: The writer’s talk, hosted by the Italian Cultural Center (La Dante), was in Italian language only, and so my husband ended up going on his own (my Italian is still very rusty). Being the lovely person he is, my husband interviewed Agnello-Hornby, took a photo of her to help with my (above) illustration, and brought back quotes and notes from her talk to use on both our blogs. Please feel free to check his new Italian blog about calligraphy and lettering, as well as his handletterd post about Agnello-Hornby’s unique take on Sicilian food and culture.
Early May 2016, Yaansoon launched her new series, “Illustrations For Women About Women,” featuring portraits of ordinary and extra-ordinary women from the 20+ countries she has been to, including matriarchs from her own family. Yaansoon’s artist nickname is closely linked to her creative message – as it is inspired by the Aniseed plant, a multi-cultural aromatic plant and Southern-European and Mediterranean herb that makes a great herbal tea packed with amazing healing properties.