From here to diversity

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Southsiders are coming together to find new ways of embracing our cultural differences.

There’s a little oasis of tranquility amid the bustle, trains and car horns where people can go for some quiet time. The Hidden Gardens, partly sponsored by Scottish Ballet and accessed through Tramway theatre, is a breath of fresh air where rosemary, lavender and rose petal waft swathes of tranquility across a furrowed brow.

And, after an opening like that, it feels strange to go on and talk about the boilerhouse; but boilerhouse it is and that’s where all the fun begins. Just one of the events that are scheduled at the boilerhouse is a women’s cultural cookery course – and recently a course for men – where people from various backgrounds can come together and celebrate our differences and likenesses.

So often, food brings people together: around the kitchen table and in little corners such as the Govanhill baths, pop-ups, cookery play-offs at the Glad cafe. And in the Hidden Gardens.

The cultural cookery courses run for 12 weeks and, each week, teaching chef Fatima gets the group around the table, prepping ingredients, making sauces, dips and marinades, mixing fresh, crunchy salads with cooked dishes from world cuisines.

Last week, there was a Mexican menu; next week, it’ll be middle eastern. This week, though, it was all about Asian.

Jeet Kaur, a Brittish citizen from Shawlands and originally from Afghanistan, is already a good cook in her own kitchen but she loves to learn something new, especially a new recipe with ingredients from other cultures.

“This course is great,” says Jeet, as she neatly placed some shredded vegetables and herbs and rolled them into a springroll pancake to be deep fried in a wok. “I love learning new things and the courses that are on in here are great. There are crafts, art, gardening. A lot goes on here.”

Mona Khan, also a British citizen and originally from Pakistan admits she’s not a great cook but she’s so outgoing that half the fun for her is meeting new friends.

She bites the top half off her deep fried springroll and looks around the room, making a sweeping gesture using the other half of her springroll as a pointer and says: “Every face here is new to me. I like the social interaction and trying new things, meeting new people”, then deftly pops the rest of her tasty morsel into her mouth with an approving nod.

Chef Fatima runs a tight ship but some hungry ladies manage to sneak a wee chefy treat in the kitchen before serving the dishes up. Jeet, that can be our little secret. I won’t tell a soul.

The dishes are met with various reactions from group members. In fact, one woman from Shawlands absolutely hated most of it, at one point running out the room, heading for the loo, hand firmly over her mouth.

Naturally, this was no reflection on the freshness of the food or the heat of the chilli. She just didn’t like it.

And that, said Fatima is what it’s all about; not everyone is going to like certain foods but, the point is, that they get a chance to try it. And the buzz around the table among the women, all with varying accents and dialect is exactly the outcome that this cultural programme was designed to produce: get people meeting, talking, breaking bread together, learning from each other and making new friends.

And, I too, ventured into uncharted foodie territory and finally put my tofu reservations behind me. And glad I did, too. With tofu, says Fatima, it’s all about the marinade or what you put with the mild flavoured conduit for various flavourings.

The dozen or so women, mainly local to Shawlands, prepared and presented a feast fit to bursting: Japanese teryaki veggie stirfry; Chinese style spring rolls and Vietnamese rice rolls brimming with fresh veg and dipped in a smoakin’ chilli sauce. And fluffy rice with a peanut and soy sauce.

Many of the courses in the cultural diversity programme are funded and free but there’s a long waiting list so volunteering is a good way of skipping the queue.

There’s a meeting planned for people of mixed faith which volunteers can come to help out with the catering et al. Volunteers are a crucial part of the programmes and organisers are keen for volunteers to get on board. There’s a gardening project where people can lend a hand with planting and learn a bit of gardening guru Jackie’s greenfingered secrets.