It’s all sound bites and real bites.
With the Burkini Ban looming over the beaches of France and Brexit hovering around the edges of Britain’s future, BBC’s The Chronicles of Nadiya, which talks candidly about British Muslim identity, is pure joy.
The show is a foodie adventure starring the 2015 winner of the Great British Bake Off, Nadiya Hussain. It follows Hussain as she embarks on a journey to shorten the miles between her blended British and Bangladeshi heritage.
The first episode of the series sees Hussain land in her parent’s hometown of Sylhet, located in the northeast of Bangladesh. She has scored herself an invite to a distant cousin’s wedding and immediately the preparations begin. She plans to bake the perfect cake for the festivities and, along the way, find the perfect outfit.
Hussain is fun to watch. She is bubbly and her narration is vivid and thorough. She explains the nuances of her culture and her faith openly. At one point, while searching for a colorful outfit for the wedding, she discusses her choice to wear the hijab explaining that it is a symbol of her faith and her agency as a Muslim.
“I have been wearing my hijab since I was 14, so 17 years now,” she said on the show. “It’s not specifically because I came from a religious family, in fact I came from quite the opposite, it was something I found myself. It’s a sign of being a Muslim and practicing Islam. A sign of modesty. Hair is seen as something beautiful, you preserve that for specific people.”
Some moments feel like they were made for a non-Muslim audience looking for that sound bite to belie their fears about her story, but some are just a relief for the rest of us.
As a British Bangladeshi she explains that she is constantly searching for the meaning of home, feeling a pull from both sides of her heritage. The conflict pops up almost innocuously, like when she whips up a wedding cake for her cousin using ingredients that are native to Bangladesh. But she still covers the cake with vanilla icing.
“Normally when I’m in Bangladesh I would use spices in curries,” she told Radio Times. “But instead I did the opposite and put the spices in a cake.”
Later, she prepares a freshly caught fish for her family but steers clear from the onslaught of garlic, onion and spices that are traditional to Bangladeshi fish recipes. Instead she opts for some lime, garlic, mustard oil and some mango chutney.
At the end of the episode we finally see the wedding we’ve been preparing for. Hussain acts as a tour guide as she explains the traditional customs a bride may have to follow. She is direct and does not hesitate in calling out a few of the customs as awkward and uncomfortable. She talks about how they were traditions she herself followed as part of her wedding but ones she would never make her daughter go through.
When the episode comes to an end, the hunger is strong — more story, more food, and more explanations will come in the next episode but it still won’t be soon enough.
You can watch The Chronicles of Nadiya on the BBC.