In September 2016, I sat down to meet Rascha and Somaya at an Expat and Austrian Aid for Refugees member’s house. Over coffee, in broken German, we tried to communicate the proposition of them cooking Syrian food in our homes for other women: a seemingly simple concept, which became quickly riddled with several lingering questions and uncertainty.
Our attempt to convey that we were not offering to pay for their services, but rat
her offering an opportunity to socialize and learn more about Syrian culture, was met with some scepticism. However, after a combination of hand gestures and short phrases, the ladies agreed and we set a date.
The pilot dinner took place on the 14th of September. It was hosted by Catherine, one of our founding members. Catherine had invited 15 women, the majority of whom came from the expat community, creating an international and diverse guest list
At 4pm that day the ladies arrived at Catherine’s house. Together in the kitchen they laid the food out on serving dishes, chopped the salads, set the table and added the finishing touches to the enormous meal they had prepared.
At 6pm the guests began to arrive. Greetings at the door were a tad awkward as all of the women, most of whom were strangers to one another, began to shuffle into the living room. Once everyone had arrived, the clink of a knife to a glass quieted the room as Catherine made a formal introduction. She explained the concept of Food for Thought and kindly asked everyone to toast to the ladies for all of their hard work and beautiful preparation. Following this, everyone began to fill up their plates with helpings from what can be best described as a banquet of Syrian food.
Everyone agreed that the food was outstanding, and the ladies took real pride in expressing themselves through it, detailing the ingredients and preparation of each dish. The guests positioned themselves in a large circle around the room, relaxing into the common ground of food and cooking, quickly flowing into conversations.
The pilot dinner was a great success. The contrast in the way in which the women greeted each other to how they said goodbye was staggering from entering quietly into an awkward atmosphere to leaving with warm embraces and heartfelt thanks.
Food is a perfect introduction into Syrian culture: the diverse influences fuse together in bright colours and bold flavours. The act of sharing a meal together breaks down cultural and social barriers, leaving a relaxed environment. This meal had brought women from an abundance of nationalities and differing ages together, and from this great success we founded Food for Thought.