Street food as an ethnic border: Kebab as a symbol of home among young Swedish migrants in Oslo


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Anthropology of Food;12


Anthropology of Food

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The background for this study is migrants’ shared problems of finding familiar or culturally important foodstuffs, as well as the tendency for foodstuffs and cuisines to become emblematic symbols for minority groups. The case in question is young Swedish labour migrants living in Oslo in the first decades after 2000, and the article discusses how one specific dish – the German-Turkish döner kebab – is used as symbolic border-marker towards Norwegians by Oslo Swedes. My aim is to explain how an arguably originally Middle Eastern dish could take on such a surprising role among Nordic youth. The study is based on fieldwork on a large Facebook group for Swedes in Oslo, conducted from 2008 onwards. This is supplemented by a media study exploring the trajectory and perception of kebab in Scandinavia. The döner kebab, invented in Germany in the 1970s, has become a semi-international dish, changing according to local tastes in different countries. While it is strongly associated with postcolonial migration in Europe, I show that it has taken on somewhat differing symbolic values in different countries. In Scandinavia, among these specific migrants, at a certain point in time, knowing what a good, Swedish kebab should taste like has become an identity marker. The döner kebab has become important in establishing an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ for Swedes living among Norwegians. As such, it is a good example of the relative arbitrariness of banal nationalism, and of identity formation in urban, internationally-oriented but locally lived youth culture.




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