Brown Girls Food Club to shine a light on Sudanese dining with Dubai iftar

The supper club was created for women from ethnic minorities to explore and celebrate minority-owned food spaces

Events organised by Brown Girls Food Club have been held around the world including the US, UK and UAE. Photo: Brown Girls Food Club
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Five years ago during Ramadan in Austin, Ayesha Erkin launched what would become known as Brown Girls Food Club – a supper club experience centred on women from ethnic minorities and minority-owned food spaces. She and a few online friends started meeting in person to break their fasts together and then, after Ramadan, continued to meet at lesser-known food spots around the city.

“We started posting the restaurants we went to on social media, and garnered a lot of interest from other women in the city, so decided to extend the invite online,” Erkin tells The National.

Today, Brown Girls Food Club has divisions in cities across the US, as well as in London and Dubai. On Friday, it’s hosting an Eye on Sudan iftar at Kave in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, bringing authentic Sudanese cuisine and traditions together for an evening of culinary delicacies and community building.

A club for all women

Erkin, who has mixed Turkic and Arab heritage, lived in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan before emigrating to the US in 2006 as a teenager. There, she learnt first-hand how food has the power to bring people together. As the new girl in high school, she ate lunch alone on her first day – and when she returned the next day, asked some girls if she could join them.

“They were so kind, and it was easier than I expected,” recalls Erkin. “Food became a medium for me to connect with others and during my four years in high school, I went out of my way to invite anyone who seemed like the 14-year-old foreigner version of me.”

For Erkin, making sure her initiative was centred on “brown girls” – or “women of colour” – who are doubly marginalised because of gender and race, was critical. “It didn't matter if you're black, Asian, Latina etcetera, having a space that was inclusive yet exclusive for a minority that continues to face discrepancies, was our way of making a haven for women, and supporting like-minded business,” she says.

As the group grew larger, it became apparent that the appetite was not only local, but international as well. Since the pandemic, the supper club fast-tracked its shift online, becoming a digital community with members across the globe.

At the end of last year, Brown Girls Food Club launched in Dubai, after Erkin had been discussing a potential regional group with Dubai resident Roha Daud, who is now head of community and growth.

The first local event was hosted at home-grown, female-owned Afghani restaurant, Kishmish. It falls under Brown Girls Food Club’s “Ingrained” series, which focuses on different rice and grain dishes from across the world.

What to expect from Eye on Sudan iftar

Chef Hanan Ahmed Kheir, who works with Sudanese farmers to export their products globally, will be preparing the menu. It will include traditional Sudanese dishes such as salata aswad (a black bean salad), dalee (a lamb or sheep rib cooked with spices, onion and garlic) and madedat helba (a dessert made from fenugreek seeds, milk, sugar and flour).

From the venues they select to the chefs they recruit, events are carefully curated with attention to detail and a powerful personal element. “In a world of faceless fronts and mass production, we work with real people," she says. "It always starts with their story – why are they cooking? What can we learn from them? What can we do to support them?

"We particularly try to use local chefs and concepts to uplift any disadvantaged populations. We don't shy away from 'difficult' conversations, instead, we encourage our chefs to proudly say and cook what their hearts tell them to.”

Daud adds the storytelling at the coming iftar will extend beyond the taste and history of the cuisine. It will shed light on the reality of farming in Sudan – a nation suffering severely from civil war, widespread displacement and looming famine. “The country has been at the top of our minds since the conflict started, and we wanted to connect our community to Sudan through a meal,” says Daud. “I truly believe in the power of food to build empathy for others.”

The holistic experience will also include interactive activities including a corner for Sudanese coffee brewed in traditional “jebena” pottery flasks, an opportunity to take photos in “toobs” – traditional Sudanese attire for women, and a table showcasing Sudanese perfumes and skincare products. And while most Brown Girls Food Club events are women-only, the Ingrained series is open to all – with the guestlist capped at 25. “We like to keep our supper clubs intimate, so they're as interactive as possible,” explains Daud.

Creating meaningful connections

Since its creation, members of Brown Girls Food Club have made meaningful social connections and unexpected culinary discoveries, Erkin says. She has developed a taste for Somali food – particularly, suugo suqaar, a spaghetti bolognese dish served with a banana. “I hadn’t known that Somalis eat their savoury meals with a banana to add in a sweet balance, and thought it was a genius – and delicious – approach,” she says.

Erkin believes Dubai is an optimal location for her initiative. She and Daud plan to expand the club’s footprint across the Middle East. “Despite it being diverse, many cities post-Covid saw a rise in the hunger for meaningful connections – Dubai being one of them,” says Erkin.

“And what better way to get to know one another than by breaking bread together?”

Eye on Sudan iftar is at Kave in Alserkal Avenue on Friday; tickets cost Dh330; seats are limited;

Updated: March 29, 2024, 4:04 AM