Food has always been one of our favorite ways to experience a different culture or country. From Italy’s finest handmade pasta to mildly mysterious (but delicious) dishes served on our safari in Tanzania and fish tacos on the beach in Playa del Carmen, we love to savor local fare and learn why those tastes are so connected to the region.
The people behind Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen embrace that culinary curiosity and use it to educate visitors about countries with which the United States is in conflict.
According to their website, “Conflict Kitchen uses the social relations of food and economic exchange to engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures, and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of governmental politics and the narrow lens of media headlines.”
When we visited, the menu featured dishes from Palestine including chicken shawarma, falafel, baba ghanoush and hummus. We even grabbed dessert, namoura, a semolina and yogurt cake soaked in sweet syrup with toasted pine nuts.
All of the food is served take-out style from the Kitchen window; tables are available around the Pitt-student-filled park. Each order comes with a wrapper with quotes and perspectives from the country of focus.
From a student on movement and travel:
It’s difficult to move from place to place in Palestine because of the checkpoints. It can take me three hours to get to my university five miles away in Abu Dis. Sometimes the checkpoint is closed when I try to pass through, so I have to return home and miss class. It really depends on whether the soldier on duty that day wants to let you in. It’s their personal decision. They’re not following any set guidelines.
From a medical professional on health care:
I was an intern at a hospital in the West Bank before I came to the US. It’s really bad over there. The Palestinian Authority didn’t set up a way to govern the hospital system. They have some supplies, but their physicians are not really trained. They can’t do even simple procedures at Palestinian hospitals, with the exception of one in Ramallah. Palestinians have to go to the Israeli hospital in Jerusalem for advanced care. It’s terribly expensive and the PA doesn’t pay for treatment at those hospitals. So who’s fault is this? Who is responsible? Is it the Palestinian Authority? Is it Israel? I think it’s both.
On hospitality and food traditions:
It’s a Bedouin tradition to always serve tea and coffee to guests. The first cup is a “welcome” cup, and we’ll fill it up one-third of the way. If you push the cup back, we’ll fill it another third. You don’t need to say anything, just push it back. Push it back a third time and we’ll add more, making one full cup of coffee. But if you ask for more than this, you’ll be seen as a greedy, unwelcome guest. At this point you should shake the cup to say, “No, no more coffee.”
Conflict Kitchen has been in operation for seven years, but will soon close the restaurant to pursue other educational opportunities.
“Conflict Kitchen will continue to expand our educational initiatives throughout the Greater Pittsburgh region with the production of curriculum, performances, public events and publications with cultural institutions, community organizations and schools.”
We’re glad we got to visit the restaurant before it closed, and look forward to seeing what the people behind it will do next in their quest to open hearts and minds.