On Tuesday night, the smells of ful mudammas, znoud el sett, mantu and sambosa wafted through the second floor of Luce Hall as refugee chefs served food to a crowd of students, professors and members of the New Haven community.
The event, titled “The Middle East in New Haven: A Celebration of Community,” was the result of a collaboration between the Yale MacMillan Center Council on Middle Eastern Studies, the Yale MacMillan Center Council on African Studies and the Sanctuary Kitchen at CitySeed, a New Haven non-profit.
“The focus of the event is to celebrate the diversity of the community and bring people together through food. It supports our mission 100 percent,” said Sumiya Khan, the kitchen program manager for Sanctuary Kitchen at CitySeed. “It’s nice for the guests who are coming to see another side of the Middle East that’s different from what they hear on the news.”
The celebration started with concurrent panels on food and community: one consisting of advocates and refugees talking about their resettlement experiences and another taught by professor Shawkat Toorawa, the chair of Yale’s department of Near East Languages & Civilizations on the medieval Arab culinary arts.
At the event, Abdul-Rahman Malik, the outreach coordinator for the CMES, announced that the two panels were “the manna for the mind and soul before the taste buds are engaged.”
After the two panels, four refugee chefs — Zainab from Iraq, Laila from Syria, Fatima from Afghanistan and Azhar from Sudan — formed a buffet line in the back of the space and served their cuisine to the attendees. Each had prepared one appetizer, one main dish and one dessert from their homeland. All four are chefs for the Sanctuary Kitchen and often work through the organization to cater events both at Yale and in New Haven.
The Sanctuary Kitchen is an organization dedicated to promoting cultural sharing in the Elm City and ensuring that new refugee arrivals to New Haven have sources of income for themselves and their families, Khan told the News. During the panel on refugee resettlement in New Haven, Laila mentioned how grateful she was for the organization and the opportunity it gave her after she fled Syria.
In the other classroom, Tooraw shared the secrets of medieval cooking that he has gleaned from his work of translating cooking manuscripts written in Arabic during the Middle Ages and editing them to be made into modern cookbooks. He spoke at length about the diversity apparent in the recipes and described how medieval cookbooks contained steps to maintain hygiene and even make herbal remedies.
“It was really touching to see how, even though this is an event focused on culinary diversity, the food and different cultures are able to bring people together,” said Sarah Mafroud ’22 who attended the event.
Professor Kishwar Rizvi, the chair of CMES, came up with the idea for the annual celebration after he saw the “immense success” of an event last spring featuring New Haven residents Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan, authors of the Pulitzer Prize winning NYTimes cartoon “Welcome to the new world” — a story about a family of Syrian immigrants.
The event is a part of CMES’ outreach programming funded by the Department of Education’s Title VI grant for international and foreign language education.
“New Haven is a proud sanctuary city, with several migrant communities from the Middle East and Africa,” Rizvi said, adding, “This is an occasion in which Yale and New Haven communities can come together and celebrate a shared interest in the culture, history and cuisine of the Middle East.”
In the future, both CMES and the Sanctuary Kitchen hope to continue to build their partnership and work more regularly to connect Yalies to New Haven through food and culture, Rizvi said.
Sanctuary Kitchen was established in 2017.
Jose Davila IV | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Feb. 22: A previous version said that the idea for the annual celebration of the Middle East came from a group New Haven residents. In fact, the chair of the CMES, Kishwar Rizvi, came up with the idea after seeing the success of a similar event last spring.