Immigrants appeal to Hungarians' hearts via their stomachs

Thu Oct 1, 2015 7:19am EDT
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By Krisztina Than

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A bunch of restaurants in Budapest have found a mouth-watering way to challenge Hungarian attitudes to Europe's migrant crisis - by serving up tasty dishes from Syria and other countries that are providing many of the refugees.

Hungary's right-wing government has come under fire over its clampdown on migrants fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and beyond. The erection of a steel fence along the southern border with Serbia has prompted particular concern.

But Hungarians are also famed for their love of good food - and the restaurant initiative aims to provide a more intimate, human perspective on the cultures that the tens of thousands of people now flocking into Europe have left behind.

"When we can see various aspects from people's lives or taste the dishes they would have eaten while still at home, then perhaps the barriers people have in their minds can fall," said Hanna Mikes, co-ordinator of the culinary project that has been organized by the Artemisszio foundation.

The week-long event, named "bORDER-Gastrofest in another way", also provides information about everyday life in the four countries involved - Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea - and features brief interviews with immigrants living in Hungary.

Ivan Sandor, manager of the Manga Cowboy restaurant in a bustling district of central Budapest, said the project, in which the immigrants provide recipes that restaurants then prepare, could help dampen tensions fueled by the migrant crisis in Hungary.

"In the past few weeks all sides tried to use the tensions for their own (political) benefit. I think that at a table laden with good food we can perhaps defuse these tensions," said Sandor, whose restaurant is one of 10 participating in the project.

One of the immigrants helping with the project, Akela Sabona, 27, came to Hungary with her family from Afghanistan many years ago.   Continued...

A guest eats "Kibbeh", also known as Syrian meatballs, in the Castro restaurant in Budapest, Hungary, September 29, 2015.  REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo