Photos by Viktor Richardsson
Anna Gyulai Gaál is one of the two initiators of the supper club "Refugee Dinners". The Hungarian-born Berliner has cooked up a unique concept to not only feed bellies and feed minds, but to contribute to the refugee cause in a much more meaningful way than simple donation. Tipped off by Bulgarian blogger/journalist/activist Boryana Ivanova, she invited Syrian refugees into her home to cook for guests, Gaál and Ivanova not only introduce hungry Berliners to new culinary experiences, but give us a chance to hear the refugees share their experiences as well.
The next dinner (including some great wine) is on Saturday, March 5 at 6:30pm. You can sign up here and all proceeds go to the refugees.
What's your background? How did a Hungarian expat come to host a Syrian dinner?
I am a journalist from Hungary – although I haven't lived in Hungary for a long time now, and I don't share the government's anti-refugee mentality, as you can see! Cooking has always been a great passion of mine, I’ve learnt a lot from old family recipes and even worked as a cook for a while. With my original Hungarian dinners here, I was hoping to show Berliners there's Hungarian cuisine beyond Goulash! The Refugee Dinners are a different story. I have realised that the people arriving in the middle of this crisis are missing human contact the most. In the “Heims” there is no kitchen, and they hardly ever leave. How could they integrate on any level if they don’t have connections to the outside world? That was the motive – to start a conversation.
Who are these women cooking?
I have teamed up with a fellow journalist, Boryana Ivanova, who writes a great blog about refugees. She knew these Syrian women – mothers, daughters, housewives who have been missing cooking and hosting because they all live in the Heim, without a kitchen or a proper stove. They have great practice and put so much joy and pride in it. As I usually do with my dinners!
So what's their food like?
The whole meal looks like a dinner would look for them back at home, very comforting but still healthy. There's a little bit of everything: meat (mostly chicken and lamb), rice, Syrian salad, aubergine hummus, oven-roasted potatoes… All served on the floor, with guests comfortably sitting on pillows, tearing away at the same piece of Arabic bread and partaking of the great feast prepared for us.
What's your favourite dish?
They boil chicken with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and chillies, and bake the meat in the oven afterwards so it becomes soft and crispy at the same time. They cook rice in the same spicy water they used for the chicken before, so it sucks in all the flavours... amazing trick! Never had anything like that before.
Is this another gimmicky refugee event?
Well, I really would like to think that it isn't! We have turned the whole method around. When it comes to donations and helping refugees, locals are usually on the giving end and refugees are just receiving. Here it's mutual giving. The ladies don’t work, but they didn’t even want to take the money at first because they so enjoy sharing their cuisine, their culture and stories. As for the guests, it's a great opportunity to get to know actual refugees and help them in a meaningful way (all the profit we make will be given to our Syrian cooks). But it's also about eating great homemade food!
Is it just another supper club, then?
It is a form of supper club, yes! Eating, socialising – who knows what comes out of it, right?