Malala Yousafzai: A Journey Marked By Two Milestone Meals
Image Credit: Facebook/@Malala

This post was originally published as part of our daily newsletter, Just One Thing. Sign up here to get a free copy delivered to your inbox through the week!


IN I Am Malala, descriptions of food are not overly evocative, but everyday. Meals are mentioned in passing, as part of the background, but present and seemingly delicious all the same. In the portions of her autobiography pertaining to her early years in Mingora (in Pakistan’s Swat Valley), Malala Yousafzai includes references to the particular smell of the rice fields that wafted into her home during the summer season; the dry fruits and coins scattered in her cradle to celebrate (contrary to societal customs surrounding daughters) her birth; the rice that her mother would scatter for the birds; the rice and meat dishes that would be served to visitors who’d stream in for discussions with her father. She writes of the tea — milky, sweet, flavoured with cardamom — that her brother Khushal demanded constantly, and which her mother finally grew tired of preparing. 

A more whimsical touch is added with the mention of the boxes of rose and pistachio sweets the family would carry to their village for Eid, when Malala was visiting her paternal grandfather. Or pots of sherbet that girls carried down to the river when they were playing at “picnic”. Meanwhile, the young boys of the village would fish in the river for “chaqwartee”, which Malala describes as “not particularly tasty”. Then there are the almonds she once pilfered from a handcart and was scolded for — only for her father to later buy a whole measure of them and place them in a glass dish so Malala could have them each night before going to bed.

Then there are the vendors she’d see as her bus made its way to and from school: ice cream, chicken; the aroma of bread and kebabs from elsewhere. She’d see them along the route on October 9, 2012, as well, just before militants accosted her schoolbus and shot her in the face. On that fateful morning, Malala writes too of eating her usual breakfast: sugary tea, chapatis and fried egg; she was accompanied by her parents and brothers at the meal.

That same breakfast makes a reappearance much later in I Am Malala, around the part where the young activist writes of adjusting to her new life in Britain. While her family’s world has changed beyond recognition and their environs in Birmingham often feel alien, food remains a common thread. Lunch and dinner are still rice and meat. The fried egg-and-chapati breakfast has an addition in the form of honey — Malala’s youngest brother Atal’s inclusion. There are also Nutella sandwiches on occasion, another favourite of Atal’s.

A far different sort of meal was the one Malala was served in Stockholm during the 2014 Nobel banquet, as she was honoured with the Peace Prize for that year. The three-course menu, prepared by chef Klas Lindberg (with desserts by confectioner Daniel Roos), featured cream of cauliflower soup, mosaic of red king crab, peas and lemon pickled cauliflower florets, spiced loin of red deer, carrot terrine, salt-baked golden beets, smoked pearl onions, potato purée and game jus, followed by mousse and sorbet of wild dewberries from Gotland, saffron panna cotta and brown butter sponge cake. Servers in immaculate white uniforms bore flaming trays of dessert aloft as they descended down the grand staircase towards the seated Laureates, guests and other dignitaries. 

This elaborate dinner and homely breakfast span (part of) the journey of Malala.