The sensorial life of amba: Taste, smell, and culinary nostalgia for Iraqi Jews in London and Israel
Abstract: This chapter explores the connectivities and discontinuities of collective memory and sensory practices among two diasporic populations of Iraqi Jews in London and Israel. It shows how the Iraqi foodways of amba, a mango pickle condiment originating in colonial India, generate cultural value and social distinction across political borders. Following ‘the thing’, the research generates distinctive patterns of culinary meaning mediated through sensorial practices among migrant communities of Iraqi Jews. The chapter observes how culinary nostalgia is felt as a sensory form of memory that connects the body to place in the diaspora. Despite a melancholic reality of rupture, the recalling of eating amba connects Iraqi Jews in London to their homeland. Whilst amba’s arrival in Israel was marked by discourses of gastro-racism towards Iraqi immigrants, its popularisation has led to widespread consumption by Jews and Palestinians, and its distinct taste and aromatic persistence has generated gendered discourses that move beyond politicisation. The fragmented continuities between urban networks invoked by culinary nostalgia, taste, and smell offer an alternative reading of place. The articulations of place as sensorial mappings call for a relational understanding of food and the geography of city space.