Photo courtesy of Lauren V. Allen
Qatayef from World in a Pocket.
It’s difficult to sift through the media pile of trendy food blogs and Instagram accounts and find the one gem that makes you want to dig deeper, beyond just a double tap or “like.” The World in a Pocket
—started by North Carolina native Lauren V. Allen, a photographer and food stylist, and photographer and creative consultant Mackenzie Anne Smith—is one that truly shines.
The two friends launched The World in a Pocket
as a storytelling platform to explore the common thread of “food inside other food” through different cultural traditions. Within the first few weeks, the pair featured a story about qatayef
—a sweet Egyptian pocket made during Ramadan—told by Kariman Allam, a Muslim woman in Morrisville (see video below).
Both women now live in Texas. We caught up with them via phone and email and learned more about pocket foods than we ever thought possible.
INDY: What is your favorite pocket?
MACKENZIE ANNE SMITH:
New Mexican-style chiles rellenos
hold a big place in my heart. In Texas, we look forward to chili season in the fall every year. When I was a kid, my dad would have impromptu relleno parties where he’d call up anyone who’d answer the phone and tell them to come over.
LAUREN V. ALLEN:
Tamales take the win for me because they hold such a dear place within our family heritage and traditions (including all our superstitions about making them, ¡ay cucuy!
). I grew up as a child of the air force, so when we’d return “home” to Corpus Christi, Texas, for Christmas every year, my mom, tías, cousins, and grandma would all gather around the table for our annual tamalada
What did you grow up eating?
My mom is an excellent cook, but my dad has always been the one who takes on long projects and meals to show off to anyone he can feed. He is from New Mexico, and chiles rellenos and enchiladas are always made for special occasions in our family. I moved to New York City when I was twenty-one and had my first soup dumpling, or xiao long bao, and everything changed for me.
Both my parents are great cooks, and my grandmothers were superb at their specific niche of cooking. But more than anything, I grew up under my parents' mantra to always try something at least once, and traveled around at a young age. From authentic Mexican food at Grandma’s house, to the national food of England (Indian food), to mullet fish in Northwest Florida, to Tom Thumb sausage in eastern North Carolina, and to the many unknown street foods of Shanghai, my overall experience with food and the culture that surrounds it enthralled me.
Why did you decide to document food traditions in this way rather than, say, sandwiches or another food item?
Well, if you think about it, every culture has some form of a pocket food: dumplings, samosas, tamales, spanakopita, crepes, momos, empanadas, pierogi, gyoza, khachapuri, turcos, mandoo. The list goes on. It’s comforting and convenient, and damn delicious. I hope that by looking into the different pocket foods of the world, we can celebrate what’s different, and see that we’re all sort of the same.
Where did the idea for The World in a Pocket come from?
In 2012, I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking about the idea that every place has a pocket food, and that humans inherently love food stuffed with food. As it turns out, a few books had already been published on the subject; those books fueled my quest to dig a little deeper into this concept. Lauren and I met in 2015. Lauren moved to Dallas in June 2016, and I moved to Austin in September 2016. I had been sitting on the [website] domain for five years, often riddled with anxiety that I’d never get it off the ground. Turns out, the only thing missing was Lauren. She responded to the idea with so much enthusiasm and so many ideas that I had never thought of—this project may have been my idea, but it wouldn’t exist without Lauren.
What upcoming stories are you excited about publishing?
Oh, man. I just published a piece on Las Hermanas Wang
, the sisters who created a handheld map of Chinatown, complete with a corresponding map of China so that you can understand where the restaurants in the neighborhood connect to different regions. They are so smart, and the map really helps you understand and dig into Chinatown in a better way.
I just published a tasty piece on qatayef, a sweet dessert dumpling served during the month of Ramadan
. I met up with Kariman Allam in Morrisville to document her process and listen to her wax poetic for her love of chemistry and cooking. We’ve also got a post about one of Durham’s newer Main Street restaurants, Luna. We met up with Shawn Stokes, chef and owner, to talk to him about how his work improving global food systems in Latin America influences his restaurant here. His insight on local food sourcing and philosophy on cooking is all wrapped up in their empanadas, which, by the way, are creative, savory, and delicious. The story I’m most proud about right now that I’m working on (and drooling over) is a story on my grandma’s turcos, which are a thrice-cooked sweet pork empanadas with a cinnamon-anise- infused dough. Through her genealogy research, she has traced our family back to the Spanish Inquisition and has learned about our family history through this food.
Qatayef from The World in a Pocket on Vimeo.