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Muhibbah, Meals and Memory

I attended an amazing event last week —The Muhibbah Dinner.

Muhibbah is a Malaysian word that doesn’t have an exact translation, but loosely means people from different backgrounds coming together to share food and exchange diverse experiences.

Muhibbah Dinner co-founder, Chef Ange Branca, sees food as part of a cultural narrative, a reflection of our diversity, a way to connect people: bridging cultures, building community.

And co-founder, Anita Davidson, is the daughter of one of my dearest college friends. How great to see Anita, all grown-up — a “change agent” like her parents, using food and collaboration to highlight the immigrant experience as an essential part of our nation and collective heritage.

It was a fun evening with new friends and old. The conversation was surpassed only by the cuisine, so delicious! Every dish was amazing—from Pinaputok Na Isda — grilled Pocono trout stuffed with lemongrass and tomatoes, and wrapped in banana leaves, to Canederli with Maitake Mushrooms, and St. Malachi Cheese — bread bound with egg, cheese and cooked in stock —7 dishes in all. Chef Ange’s motivation for the dinner got me thinking about how food connects us to our fondest memories going back to childhood.

The food-memory connection is becoming even more apparent as I work on an idea. For now I’m calling it Project Memory Keeper. I am asking people to share a memory of someone who has or had alzheimer’s or dementia, BEFORE the disease struck.

It’s easy—grab your smart phone, go to the camera setting, push video and start talking. If you are camera shy, talk while pointing your phone at a photo or favorite possession of your person. Or send me a photo and a paragraph sharing the memory. As I’ve started asking people about their memories, it often times involves food, starting with me.

When I think of my Aunt Vera — it is not her decline from dementia that stands out. I remember a kind, loving, incredibly funny woman who called me “Nate,” and had a list of sayings a mile long. For example, “nothing shakin' but the leaves on the trees,” or “Good Lord, Good Meat, Good Food, Let’s Eat.” Some of my fondest memories are around Aunt Vera’s kitchen. Her barbecue sauce, her fried chicken and OMG, her pies. Lemon with mile-high meringue and cherries, the berries coming right from her backyard, that is, until a bolt of lighting killed it (I haven’t thought about that in decades). It would seem food — its smell, its texture, its flavor, drives memory.

At the Muhibbah dinner when I told one of my dinner companions about the “Memory Keeper’s Project, her face lit up, and she enthusiastically recommended, “Unforgettable The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfort’s Renegade Life.” Acclaimed chef Paula Wolfort has Alzheimer’s and her book is about food and memory.

Research tell us that often times one of the deepest connections in the brain is to music. I wonder if the evocative nature of taste and smell around food could also, in the same way, connect with Alzheimer's patients. Hmm… food for thought.

If you would like to be a part of the project, please send me an email, or just send the video or the picture, and written memory to:

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