Alright, to the kitchen, something quick and easy to take on the train. How about al gatar gaam?

Sunrise: a woman lays in bed thinking.

This week’s been tough, but at least it’s Thursday. Settling into this new job in Atbara hasn’t been easy. Ah, but taking the train to Port Sudan for the school holidays is just what I need right now. Everyone will be there for Suaad’s wedding. Oh yeah, mama told me to bring my jirtig bag for Suaad’s jirtig ceremony. I’d better get everyone up now. Hmm—what should I make for the train journey? There’ll be a few of us and I won’t have much time to cook and pack, so it better be quick and easy.

Mid-afternoon: the final bell rings on the final day of school.

Finally, it is home time. The boys should be making their way to the transport now so I’ll meet them there. Where have they got to? Now we’ve missed the transport and will miss the train to Port Sudan at this rate! Let’s jump in the next rickshaw from outside the school gate to save time. 

Later that afternoon: the family arrives home.

Oh, the neighbour has asked me to take a bag for her relative. Doesn’t she realise I’ve got enough on my plate? I’ll just leave it by the door ready to take to the train. Alright, to the kitchen, something quick and easy to take on the train. How about al gatar gaam? I can use all the remaining meat and vegetables in the pantry for this since we’re going away. I’ll chop onions, potatoes, tomatoes, courgette, purslane, even these old aubergines, chillies and carrots. Then, I’ll add some meat on the bone, red lentils, water, garlic, tomato paste, a bit of oil and season with salt, pepper and ground coriander. Cover and leave to cook on a low to medium heat. I’ll quickly pack then come back and turn it off in 30 minutes. Perfect. 

The golden hour: driving to Atbara station.

Atbara train station looks busy, there must be a lot of people travelling all over the country today. Wait, where’s the jirtig bag? It was on the table by my things—the boys must have thought it was the neighbour’s bag for her relative. What am I going to tell mama? I’ll figure it out later, it’s time to get in our train compartment and celebrate the wedding in a traditional sehra. We sing and play the drums to wedding songs on our way to the wedding and forget our worries! I love it when the other passengers join in.

The train is packed with people, although a lot are street food vendors, quickly moving through the carriages selling their sweets, snacks, and hot and cold drinks to the passengers before the train leaves. One lady sells these delicious small sandwiches of fried aubergine in a tangy peanut sauce and tamia. I ask her if she knows anyone selling kisra for tonight’s dinner. She shouts to another lady on the platform who sells us a few bags through the window. Another man walks by with a selection of street snacks including roasted pumpkin and watermelon seeds, roasted and boiled groundnut, doum pieces, laloub and even baobab seeds. We’ll snack on these while we sing and then have our dinner later. 

Dinner time: an illuminated train crosses a vast plain heading towards the Red Sea Hills.

The al gatar gaam has cooled down, but I’ll use my cousin’s gas cooker to heat it a bit. We’ll also need some more water and biscuits for the tea and coffee to have after. I’ll send my husband Muḥammad and the boys to go fetch it from the trolly while I heat the al gatar gaam and kisra sheets.

Muḥammad and the boys invite an elderly lady to sit in our compartment so she’s more comfortable. Haja Zilal is a small lady with a big voice that commands attention and has traditional facial scarification on her cheeks, typical of the Shaigiya people. She’s just in time for dinner. Two young men from the next compartment also join in. In fact anyone passing by is invited! We serve the al gatar gaam with kisra sheets in a large dish placed in the centre of our compartment and make use of a cardboard box as a small table.

Late night: the train moves through the outskirts of Port Sudan.

After dinner, we serve tea and coffee with biscuits and start singing again. Haja Zilal also sings a few songs. She then proceeds to read everyone’s fortune one by one. The fortunes are written in the coffee cups from earlier, now dry enough for her to examine them and deliver a prophecy. She tells my cousin Amna that she’ll get another job. She tells the young man from next door that he wants to remarry but shouldn’t. She tells me that I’ve forgotten something, but that there’s a blessing to come so I’m not to worry. I then told her we’d left the jiritg bag at home and now we’re on our way to Suaad’s wedding without one. She laughed out loud and said we could use hers, she’ll even bring it herself. Bring it herself she did! Haja Zilal and her daughter joined us for Suaad’s wedding celebrations, saved the day for my mother with the jirtig bag and we all sang well into the night. Hala Zilal told us what a wonderful time she had in our company, our showing her kindness and generosity, and of course, eating the delicious al gatar gaam! To this day my mother and Haja Zilal are close friends.


This story has been contributed from The Sudanese Kitchen project, established by Omer Al-Tijani Mohamed. The Sudanese Kitchen provides information on Sudanese food and drink to the English speaking world. This project specifically targets Sudanese youth, based in and outside of Sudan, who wish to incorporate traditional Sudanese cooking into their everyday lives, as well as non-Sudanese English speaking foodies eager to learn about Sudan’s relatively undiscovered (on an international scale) cuisine. For more information on The Sudanese Kitchen visit

Note to user

Dear user,

In response to current developments in the web technology used by the Goobi viewer, the software no longer supports your browser.

Please use one of the following browsers to display this page correctly.

Thank you.