by Omar Dewachi

On April 23 , the New York Times published an article, “A Bit of Old Baghdad With a Western Twist,” in its ‘Dining and Wine’ section, reviewing La Kabbr, an Iraqi restaurant in New York City. Instead of drawing on an expert of Iraqi cuisine, the author of the article chose to focus on the Times Bureau Chief in Baghdad, now the editor of the world section of the Times Magazine, who had spent 4 years covering the war. The article celebrated how this restaurant in New York has become a “clubhouse for journalists and officials who have spent time in Baghdad, and for Iraqi expatriates and Iraqi-Americans.” Aparisim (Byline, Bobby) Ghosh the Baghdad Bureau chief seems to speak as an authority of Iraqi cuisine when he is quoted in the article saying:

“I wonder why Iraqi cuisine is not more sophisticated,” he said. “It is essentially peasant food, which I happen to love because it fits my palate perfectly. But intellectually, you wonder why, with all of its influences, the food isn’t more complex.”

Feeling somewhat disturbed by the article and its problematic Orientalist and naive representation of Iraqi cuisine, I chose to write the following short letter to the editor, fitting their word-limit requirement:

To the editor,
I find your article “A Bit of Old Baghdad With a Western Twist, Dining, April 23” to be somewhat offensive, ill informed and badly researched. I am an Iraqi who grew up to the delights of the Iraqi cuisine and unlike Mr. Gosh—who had spent time in Baghdad perhaps eating in restaurants around the green zone—I had a very different experience. I completely disagree with the portrayal of Iraqi food in this article as “peasant food” and not “complex.” I find such statement reminiscent of the simplistic media representation and understanding of Iraq and Iraqi society. Iraqi dishes vary from one region to the other and many are ‘complex’ dishes that require skill and years of experience. I recommend that both Mr. Gosh and the author read Nawal Nasrallah’s cookbook, Delights from the Garden of Eden, which explores both the history and the various recipes of the Iraqi cuisine. As an Iraqi, I find it disconcerting that even our food now has to be reduced and simplified by western media reporters.
Omar Dewachi
Cambridge, Mass.

I received a phone call a few days later from the New York Times Dining and Wine editors asking for permission to publish the letter. To my dismay the letter appeared in the April 30 issue completely butchered and sucked out of its life. Here is how the letter appeared:

Simply Not Peasant Food
To the Editor:
Re “A Bit of Old Baghdad With a Western Twist” (April 23):
I am an Iraqi who grew up to the delights of Iraqi cuisine. I disagree with the portrayal of Iraqi food in the article as “peasant food” and not “complex.” Iraqi dishes vary from one region to the other and many require skill and years of experience.
I recommend Nawal Nasrallah’s cookbook, Delights From the Garden of Eden, which explores both the history and the various recipes of Iraqi cuisine.
Omar Dewachi
Cambridge, Mass.

This is a very disturbing form of censorship and silencing of critical Iraqi voices who seemed to have lost even the ability to speak for their own food and cuisine. As simplistic representation of Iraqi society continues to predominate Western media, Iraqi cuisine seems to become now its latest victim.