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Lunch Series: Istanbul’s Migrant Kitchens


Istanbul is often billed as the city where “East meets West,” but to many it is a place where those geographies pass each other on the way in and out of town. Afghans, Iranians, sub-Saharan Africans, Bosnians, Bulgarians, Armenians, Filipinos and many other nationalities end up in Istanbul, struggling to get by or to move on. Though not always understood and much less frequently welcomed, the migrant communities of Istanbul represent significant cultural diversity and could make a much greater contribution to the city’s cosmopolitan culture, if embraced.

In Kurtuluş, where the streets start sloping down toward Dolapdere, there are enough African migrants to make up an entire soccer league. In Kumkapı, call center windows are plastered with tiny flags and by-the-minute rates for phone calls to dozens of countries. Follow your nose through these neighborhoods and you may find a big lunch of injera and dibs taking place in one of the many makeshift community centers tucked into the middle floors of a building. Though struggling, these communities survive and the simple act of cooking the food of their homeland, day by day, helps to hold them together. One migrant cook told us that cooking helps you to “forget where you are.”

Istanbul Eats has joined with the International Organization for Migration (IOM [2]) to support a series of culinary activities as part of “Intercultural Weeks on International Migration in Istanbul.” We spent time in the kitchen with Freda from Cameroon, Presley from Liberia and Sara from Ethiopia, watching how they adapt their traditional recipes to life in Istanbul. We joined them on shopping trips to hunt down the right type of greens for Liberian collards and rice. We met with one link of an Ethiopian spice supply chain for berbere, shiro and niter kibbeh (spiced, clarified butter). Finally, during the planning phase we had the pleasure of tasting the three cooks’ creations. The results of these delicious experiments will be offered up for sampling during the “Art of Migration” exhibition at Cezayir [3].

The lunch series starts with a taste of Cameroon on Tuesday, November 6, followed by Liberian food on Monday, November 12 and Ethiopian cuisine on Tuesday, November 13. All tastings, which take place between noon and 2 p.m., are free and open to the public. We hope you will join us in support of these great cooks.

For more on Tuesday’s event, click here [4]; for more about the IOM’s Istanbul initiatives, click here [5].

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