SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – As the Bay Area marked World Refugee Day Wednesday, several San Francisco restaurants spiced things up with unique dinners created by talented refugee chefs.
Iraqi spiced flat bread with scallions were served fresh out of the oven at the trendy Eastern Mediterrean restaurant Tawla in the Mission. It was just one of a handful of dishes that come from Muna Anaee’s home country Iraq and highlighted on Wednesday night’s special menu.
Tawla is one of five San Francisco restaurants hosting a refugee chef to help serve pop-up dinners this week.
“Iraqi food is not very well known here in the Bay Area and definitely in the US in general. The region — the Middle East as a whole — is usually clumped up into one big area. So the nuances get lost,” said Tawla owner Azhar Hashem.
Hashem sees her participation in the San Francisco’s first Refugee Food Festival as an opportunity to showcase lesser known foods.
Hashem is Palestinian. She grew up in Jordan and moved to the U.S. when she was 16.
“I am a daughter of refugees, so I definitely connect very personally to the hardships of moving somewhere new and creating a home and feeling welcome,” said Hashem.
The festival began in Paris two years ago and coincides with World Refugee Day.
California resettles more refugees than any other state. It’s taken in more than 100,000 refugees in the last 15 years.
“This provides an opportunity for them to integrate into society and use the power of food to communicate about their experience,” said Sara Shah, the Project Manager for the Refugee Food Festival in San Francisco.
Anaee hopes to one day open her own Iraqi restaurant in the Bay Area.
Speaking in Arabic, the Oakland resident told KPIX 5 she worked as a private chef in Iraq.
“What she found very useful and effective here is she gets the chance to learn from an executive chef in a formal restaurant experience,” said Hashem, serving as translator.
The festival’s goal is also to help the refugee chefs land permanent jobs at the restaurants if they’re available.
At the end of the week, a portion of the profits from all of the dinners will go to local nonprofits and organizations that support refugees.