“We love to share our food with friends and celebrate being together”: Refugee perspectives

“I was training to become a wrestler back in my home country, I hope I can one day be sponsored to continue my passion in Hong Kong”, says Roman*, an asylum seeker from the Caucasus.

Roman’s place of birth is only recognised as an independent country by a handful of nations. To the rest of the world, it is a break-away territory in the Caucasus, sometimes called a post-Soviet “frozen conflict” zone.

Despite only having several hundred thousand inhabitants, it has witnessed considerable violence and bloodshed through numerous civil wars and campaigns of ethnic cleansing against minorities, such as those from Roman’s background. There is an ongoing military presence and the nation has been a Russian occupied territory for nearly ten years.

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Preparing lamb for Ostri. Photo: Denis Tsoi

Six months ago, Roman came to Hong Kong in the hope of finding more stability and a better livelihood for himself. His family remain in his home country although they are still in touch.

On the agreement of de-identification, he spoke to us and prepared a dish with us called “Ostri”, a stew which is very popular in the Caucasus during holidays and other large celebrations.

Although often made with beef, Roman opted for lamb, his preferred meat. He learnt how to make this dish from his mother and grandmother, cooking it reminds him of them.

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Ostri (ოსტრი). Photo: Denis Tsoi

Although happy to be in relative safety in Hong Kong, he laments that cooking dishes from home are not the same – ingredients are expensive for asylum seekers on a meagre food allowance and many spices that are required for these dishes are not readily available.

“I would like to open Hong Kong’s first restaurant for food from the Caucasus!”, he says jokingly. “In my country, we love to share our food with friends over wine, taking turns to give a toast and celebrate being together.”

*not his real name.

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Photo: Denis Tsoi

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