Abraham Paroya Culture and Identity Envoy Food Temple Rome

Snacking in Rome

By: Abraham Paroya

For Black History Month, the Temple University Culture and Identity Envoy program hosted local activists and educators Cinzia Adanna Ebonine and Denise Kongo to have a facilitated discussion about race in Italy. Both individuals were asked a series of questions and gave their answers regarding pressing issues about race in Italy and around the globe. 

One important concept that Denise brought up was regarding how other citizens of Italy view her. Oftentimes she says she is confused to be an Erasmus student or someone who is in Italy studying, not someone who lives there. She explained that this idea of being seen as outsider from other Italians can be frustrating and at times isolating. She explained that in every way she felt Italian and expressed her love for Roma but her skin color is what dictates her validity as a citizen to others. Cinzia said she faced a similar sort of interaction among the general Italian population. As Black women in the education system she said she was often questioned regarding her involvement in the education system. 

An overall take away that I received from this meeting was the importance of connecting with your own race and culture while studying abroad. After this meeting I decided to take a trip outside of the center city of Rome to a part of Rome populated with more ethnically diverse shops and restaurants in a neighborhood called Pigneto. 

Photo: Blocal

Two of my friends, Adila and Kyle and I took the metro all the way from Otaviano to Giulio Agricolo to explore this part of the city. Once we got there the first palace we visited was the Istanbul Market. Back in the United States, going to any of the Asian markets in my town  to get halal meat and specific groceries with my mother was a staple of my weekend. Continuing this tradition in a new country gave me a new way to connect with my culture and roots while abroad. The most important thing I got from the neighborhood in Pigneto were Medjool dates. Eating dates reminds me of my childhood and spending time with my cousins during Ramadan so being able to indulge in them as a snack tends to keep me grounded. Another item I got was a type of rose syrup called rooh afza. This syrup mixed with water or milk is another snack I used to have as a child and heavily associate with my identity and culture.

Photo: Istanbul Market Roma

After shopping at the market we headed over to a South Asian restaurant. Upon entering the restaurant the owner immediately recognized I was from Pakistan as he was too and began speaking to me in Urdu. Hearing the language I grew up with and speaking with my family members at home gave me a sense of peace. We had a conversation in our mother tongues regarding where he was from in Pakistan and what I was doing in Rome. I was able to build a connection with this individual because of our shared minority experience. Being able to speak in my mother tongue was relieving and allowed me to feel connected to my culture while away from home.

Photos: Rawpixel/Getty Images

This experience of going outside of Rome and connecting with individuals with whom I share a similar culture with made me feel more connected to the world. It makes me feel as though in most countries I will be able to find fellow Pakistani-Muslim individuals to talk to. Among these interactions with these people I also always feel that I will be in good hands. I remember specifically when leaving the AFG Baba Pane restaurant the owner wishing me best of luck in my future endeavors. This is not something I would normally hear when leaving a restaurant in Rome but because of our shared history we have an already sort of kinship that makes us connected.

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