Authentic International Cuisine on the Menu at Innovative Memphis Restaurant15 Jan 2019
Assimilating to life as an immigrant in the United States can be an exciting chapter of life that’s full of promise and possibilities. But it also can pose extraordinary challenges. There may be a new language to absorb, unfamiliar cultures and customs to grasp, and fresh relationships to forge with neighbors and coworkers. Amid this whirlwind of change, many immigrants strive to maintain a connection to their native country in a relatively easy and accessible way – by cooking and eating the cuisine of their homeland. Now, a groundbreaking new café is using food prepared by immigrants to make a positive impact throughout a local community.
Global Café, a food hall nestled in the Binghampton neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee, hosts three immigrant / refugee chefs who cook and sell food from their native countries of Sudan, Nepal, and Syria. As part of the Crosstown Concourse, a sprawling upscale urban village featuring artisanal shops, restaurants, and galleries, the café is attracting a diverse and devoted customer following. And that’s just what Sabine Langer, an immigrant from Switzerland and Global Café’s founder, was aiming for. “I eat a lot of ethnic food, and often found myself in hole-in-the-wall places in not-so-great neighborhoods,” she recently explained to NPR. “I thought, what if we could create a place for an Average Joe who would love to try something else, but hasn’t had the courage to go to a neighborhood that’s a little more [salty] to get it?” [See How a Memphis Food Hall is Transforming Refugee Lives and the Community by Kelsey Ogletree, NPR, 02.Jan.2019.]
Indra Sunuwar, who arrived in the U.S. from Nepal as a refugee seven years ago, and Ibti Salih, a fellow refugee from Sudan, were co-workers at another restaurant when they met Langer several years ago. Her idea for the Global Café, which allows food entrepreneurs to set up their own food business at no upfront cost, immediately resonated with the two women. When Fayha Sakkan, a refugee from Syria, agreed to join the enterprise, the concept of Global Café became a reality. Now the three women prepare and serve authentic dishes from their home countries seven days a week, retaining a connection to their culture while connecting with the Memphis community around them. Being a part of Global Café “means a lot to me,” Sunuwar reflected to NPR. “Cooking is like, the way you get connected with people, or how you can prove yourself and learn about different countries.”
Langer concedes that the process of settling into a new country as an immigrant is a lengthy and arduous one, and the entrepreneurs of Global Café still face obstacles as they adjust to life in the U.S. But the opportunity to prepare and serve the food they love in the neighborhood where they are building a new life is an integral part of creating their American dream. As Salih explained, “I miss my country a lot, but when I cook, and share my stories and my food with the people, it gives me a really good feeling about my culture.”
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