Kitchener's Faisal Mohammed has duú fiça recipe included in UN cookbook: Andrew Coppolino

Faisal Mohammed, 24, of Kitchener and his recipe for a Rohingya dish called duú fiça have been included in a new cookbook by the UN Refugee Agency Canada, writes Andrew Coppolino.

'It’s the best thing you will ever taste, especially in the morning,' Mohammed says of his dish

Faisal Mohammed, 24, of Kitchener has had his recipe for a Rohingya dish called duú fiça included in a new cookbook by the UN Refugee Agency Canada. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

A new, free cookbook from the UN Refugee Agency Canada is sharing the stories and tastes of people who have re-settled in Canada.

Created in the aftermath of the Second World War, the United Nations Refugee Agency is on the ground in 130 countries. To celebrate its 70th anniversary on Dec. 14, 2020, it launched a free online cookbook called Tastes from Home: Recipes from the Refugee Community.

It represents 13 regions of the world, and Lauren La Rose of UN Refugee Agency Canada said the book is about the connections food can make.

"No matter where you come from or where you grew up, everyone has their own special connection to food, whether it's a favourite recipe that a loved one made or something you grew up eating," La Rose said.

Kitchener man's recipe included

Included in the book is 24-year-old Faisal Mohammed of Kitchener and his recipe for duú fiça, a Rohingya dish.

In 2015, Mohammed performed in a local play called I am Rohingya. It drew the attention of the agency, and he was asked to contribute to the book — which also includes recipes by Canada's 26th governor general, Adrienne Clarkson, and Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen,.

For Mohammed, food played a significant role during his time living in a Bangladeshi refugee camp. 

"I was interested to be in this cookbook because I wanted to share my experience of how my life was back home. There were food vendors on both sides of the street, and you would walk down the middle. You could smell all different types of snacks and food that you wanted to try," Mohammed said.

His parents fled Rakhine State in Myanmar, and the genocide there, while Mohammed's mother was pregnant with him. His family arrived in Canada from the refugee camp when he was 12.

In Canada, Mohammed attended school and eventually Conestoga College's police foundations program; he's working toward a University of Guelph degree in criminal justice with hopes of becoming a police officer.

Duú fiça is a sweet Rohingya dish made with rice flour and something like a dumpling. The dish is steamed with brown or white sugar. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

'Best thing you will ever taste'

Duú fiça is a sweet Rohingya dish made with rice flour and something like a dumpling; its flavours and aromas are stamped on Mohammed's senses from when he was a kid.

"This is one of my favourites," he said. "The dish is steamed with brown or white sugar, but I personally like brown sugar because it adds more flavour and colour. It's the best thing you will ever taste, especially in the morning."

It's high praise for the rich and sweet dish, thanks to the brown sugar, with some interesting texture notes from the rice-flour dough and shredded coconut; it goes very nicely, indeed, with a cup of hot black coffee. 

According to La Rose, stories like Mohammed's reveal the role food plays in our lives.

"Some people in the book are food entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, or chocolate factory owners. The vast majority, however, aren't professionals, but food is so important within their lives, their families and is part of their cultures and traditions," she said.

Sharing food increases bonds with family, friends

When he gets take-out from a local restaurant today, Mohammed looks for a good biryani.

"I'm a foodie guy and love trying different foods. My interest was built from back home. Here, I always tell my friends, 'Let's go try this place and try different foods,'" he said.

But duú fiça still resonates with Mohammed; it reminds him of the food experiences in the refugee camp and what eating a meal together means.

"When we buy food and share together, our bond gets stronger with family and friends," he said, adding that it's something he misses even today.

There's a bittersweet part to the dish, too, as he acknowledges that conditions where he was born have become very serious with millions of people fleeing Myanmar, he said.

"Where we used to go to get firewood, people are living there now. Friends and relatives there say it's not the same, so I don't think I would have the experience walking down the street with friends enjoying the food and snacks again."

For the recipes, including duú fiça, download the online book from the agency's website (a French version has just been released). For each download, a donation to the UN Refugee Agency will be made by anonymous donors to help the millions of displaced people around the wold.