Iraqi-Jewish fusion kitchen shares stories and culture through food

The Awafi Kitchen, a Boston-based popup-kitchen, is combining Jewish and Iraqi cuisines to create historically rich and culturally significant food. 

Founded in 2017, Awafi kitchen functions as a space to share traditions and stories of Jewish and non-Jewish Iraqis. “We saw an under-representation of Iraqi food so wanted to share our family story and recipes with others,” owner Anabel Rabiyah told the Food Tank website. 

The kitchen launched its first popup event in Boston at Mamaleh’s Delicatessen which offers modern renditions of traditional Jewish deli food. The venue provided the perfect space to launch different interpretations of familiar Jewish foods, Rabiyah says. “We were able to combine different narratives of Jewish cuisine and people were very interested.” 

One of Rabiyah’s dishes includes an interpretation of matzo, which she prepares as a flatbread that is softer than the traditional brittle form most diners are familiar with. She also uses dates as the base for her charoset – a dip typically made of wine, apples, cinnamon, walnuts. 

Rabiyah explains that many of her recipes come from family members and other Iraqi-Jews who fled Iraq in the years after Saddam Hussein’s rise to power in 1979. The inspiration for her recipes, which represent a variety of regional flavors, are drawn from Kurdish, Turkish, Persian, and other cultures. 

Rabiyah also makes an effort to share the story behind the dishes she serves. At every meal, she interacts directly with diners to share details about the traditions and the ingredients that go into the food they are eating. 

Rabiyah told Food Tank, “Incorporating the narratives into the meals is incredibly important. It offers an opportunity to connect people to their heritage and learn about new cultures.” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Awafi Kitchen transitioned to a virtual setting, offering Zoom-based cooking classes open to people around the world. While Rabiyah says that she could no longer engage with eaters in the same room, it was important to her that the dining experience remained interactive “We do not want geography to limit the connections that we can make,” she explains. 

Moving forward, Rabiyah says that the Awafi Kitchen is looking to expand its platform. “We want to build a content base of history and stories for our meals and make a cookbook.” 

by Matthew Wein

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