Syrians cook for locals as part of Sligo Global Kitchen event
Monthly lunch invites people living in direct provision to make dishes from their country
Saturday’s Sligo Global Kitchen at the Model Art Gallery, where lunch was cooked by Syrian refugees based in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon. Photograph: Brian Farrell
If music really is the food of love, then so too is Ozzi, Fattoush and Baba ghanoush, especially when cooked up in Sligo by a group of enthusiastic Syrians and served to an apparently ravenous mix of people from around the globe.
There was also Chakalaka and Pap on the menu, at the town’s Model Arts Centre on Saturday, when hundreds of locals and Sligo’s new communities queued, some for 90 minutes, for a selection of Syrian signature dishes complemented by some African delicacies.
All morning, and for much of the afternoon, five Syrians who had left their Ballaghaderreen base at 8am, had toiled in the kitchen once presided over by celebrity chef Conrad Gallagher who briefly ran a restaurant at the Model.
Conrad is long gone and a lot of the cooking at the Model these days is done by residents of Globe House, a direct provision centre in Sligo who participate in a novel monthly multicultural event known as Sligo Global Kitchen (SGK). SGK was the brainchild of local artist Anna Spearman who wanted to show solidarity with those living locally in direct provision, by providing them with a rare opportunity not just to cook for themselves but to invite locals to sample their food.
“It’s a way of reaching out to new communities by using food and hospitality to help integration,” explained Marie Louise Blaney, education officer at the Model which is supported in the project by the Community Foundation for Ireland.
‘It’s quiet here’
When it started two years ago less than 30 people turned up. Crowds have been growing gradually, and Saturday’s event billed as “the Syrian Story” attracted so many people that they ran out of plates (200 had already been filled) and an emergency dash to the shop was called for. Proceedings were delayed for 20 minutes before another 100 hungry mouths could be fed. There was no charge – just a donation bucket and a promise of some Syrian music and a display of Syrian dance moves, once the meal was over.
Cameroon-born Mabel Chah who lived at Globe House for two years before getting refugee status has been involved in SGK from the start. “You feel useless in direct provision because you do nothing – you cannot work or study. But when you can cook food and serve it to others, it is empowering,” she said. More than 50 Ballaghaderreen-based Syrians were at Saturday’s event where the cooks included 23-year-old Maher Almousa, formerly a medical student in Damascus, who has lived in the Co Roscommon centre since last March. “I volunteer in the kitchen in Ballaghaderreen,” he explained. “It’s quiet there. It’s a nice town, the people are nice but just very quiet”.
‘It’s nice to be busy’
Also helping on the day was Amina Ramadan, who was a nurse in Syria before coming to Ballaghaderreen by way of Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. “Today is good, it’s nice to be busy,” she said. Among the locals lining up to taste the fruits of their hard work was Sligo mayor Hubert Keaney . “It’s a great way of getting our immigrants and local people together,” he said. Hilary Gilligan, a lecturer at IT Sligo, is another SGK regular. “We’re a town in the west of Ireland, not a big melting pot of cultures . We might see Filipinos and the local Indian community in the St Patrick’s Day parade but we never see them again. This is a great way of meeting people from other countries socially.” The goodwill probably should be bottled – and according to Ms Blaney there are plans afoot for a SGK chilli chutney, while more than one local farmers’ market is knocking on their door.