Over the last year, Californian nonprofit Refugee Transitions has supported 1,750 newcomers to San Francisco, Oakland and the wider Bay Area through its education, family engagement and leadership programmes.
Originating from over 50 countries including Afghanistan, Nepal and Somalia, many of these people were forced to flee their homes with few belongings and little preparation for their new life in the US. Cooking traditional food – and sharing it with new friends – has provided some continuity amid this change.
Last year, RT launched Between Meals – a compilation of recipes and back stories from some of the refugee women it has worked with. Inspired by the success of the cookbook, RT has partnered with four Bay Area restaurants for World Refugee Day this year (20 June) to pilot a ‘dining with a difference’ experience.
For the event, San Francisco eateries Mau Viet Kitchen, Hillside Supper Club and Burma Superstar, and Oakland restaurant Bissap Baobab, are donating to RT a percentage of profits taken on World Refugee Day.
Jane Pak, director of strategy and development at Refugee Transitions says the restaurant project seemed a natural progression from the cookbook: “Food is a universal language with intimate cultural particulars. Between Meals documents the cultural foodways of our remarkable newcomer students, and the restaurant project takes inspiration from this.”
RT worked closely with its restaurant partners to devise special dishes for their World Refugee Day menus. Mau chef Khai’s take on Canh chua ca (sour soup) combines pineapple from south of Vietnam and dill from the north – a reflection of her family history as her northern grandparents migrated south in 1954.
Pak hopes the event will provide Bay Area foodies and the wider community with a glimpse of RT’s work and the vibrant communities with whom it works: “We aim to raise awareness about our wonderful refugee community in the Bay Area, our cookbook, and the work of RT through the diverse food cultures that our restaurant partners represent.”