Originally from Pakistan, Shamim Ali now lives in Manchester and works with local organisation Heart and Parcel to prepare homecooked meals and learn English with 150 other migrant women
Shamim Ali, pictured above, worked for years as a teacher back in her native Pakistan, helping students with their Urdu and Islamic studies. Married at 15, she later moved to Italy and then to the UK for her children, eventually settling in Manchester.
Ali went from being a busy professional to “just a housewife” and admits to spending most of her time at home in the inner-city area of Longsight. “I like the English language, it’s very beautiful,” she said, “but I can’t read it. I can speak English, but I have no confidence.”
Ali was therefore understandably nervous when she was asked to present and explain – in English rather than her first tongue, Urdu – one of her dishes, during a demonstration session at Levenshulme Old Library.
She did it though, standing up slowly on wobbly legs to explain how to cook khund bariyaan. She learned the recipe for chickpea cakes cooked in curry sauce from her sister-in-law in Pakistan, when Ali was in her teens. Her confidence grew as she listed the ingredients – “garlic, ginger, goji berries, green chillies” – and she finished with a relieved smile.
Ali is just one of more than 150 migrant women from a wide range of cultural backgrounds who have connected with Manchester-based Heart & Parcel. The organisation helps women to meet up and cook – with a focus on the universal comfort food of dumplings – while picking up English language skills in the process. With the support of more than 70 volunteers, the dishes are then sold at markets and regular supper clubs.
The recipe that Ali has carried with her around the world over decades is now among 29 to feature in the Heart & Parcel Cookbook. It appears alongside homecooked recipes from countries including Syria, Greece, Bangladesh, Iraq and the Gambia, with dumplings the main attraction: Tibetan steamed momos, Polish pierogi, Chinese jiaozi and Syrian kibbeh.
All profits from the self-published book, which has been made using only Manchester-based designers and printers, will go towards funding Heart & Parcel’s projects.
For Ali, seeing her photo and recipe in the book, and being able to teach others the food she loves, means the world. “I’m very happy to be a bit more outgoing now,” she smiled. “I’m very happy.”
Photography: Rebecca Lupton