Taste of home

DC Startup Uses Food to Share Stories of Displacement

IOM - UN Migration
Sep 20, 2017 · 3 min read

The taste of his mother’s cooking — this is what Majed Abdalraheem misses the most about being away from home. “Nothing compares to the taste and the smell of the food prepared by my mother,” said Abdalraheem, who is himself a chef.

Abdalraheem fled Syria to Jordan in 2013. Like millions of Syrians, he no longer felt safe and his future was compromised by the ongoing conflict.

Chef Majed prepares a dish at the Foodhini workspace. Photo: Hajer Naili/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Abdaraheem is known as “Chef Majed” at the Foodhini workspace located in the Union Kitchen business incubator in the Northeast’s Ivy City neighbourhood of Washington. D.C. Foodhini is an online restaurant that hires immigrant and refugee chefs, giving them a space to cook their local cuisine and sell it to the D.C. residents and visitors.

Noobstaa Philip Vang, whose parents moved to the U.S. from Laos as Hmong refugees in the late 1970’s, opened Foodhini in October 2016. Like Chef Majed, Vang missed his mother’s cooking when he moved from Minnesota to study in Washington, D.C.

“I was missing my mom’s cooking and I wished I could find some food from an auntie or a grandma in the neighbourhood and buy something from them. That’s how I came up with creating a space to get some authentic food from people like my mom,” said Vang.

In addition to enabling immigrant and refugee chefs to effectively use their skills to generate their own income, Vang aims to use Foodhini as a space to connect customers to the chefs themselves and their personal stories.

Photo: Hajer Naili/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Currently, Foodhini counts 4 chefs preparing Syrian, Lao and Tibetan food. Chef Majed, who joined Foodhini earlier this year, is one them.

Back home, Chef Majed studied at a culinary school and worked as a sous-chef at a restaurant before being displaced by the war. He lived in Jordan for three years until he was approved for resettlement to the U.S. In June 2016, with the help of IOM, the UN Migration Agency, Chef Majed arrived in Tucson, Arizona. He immediately started to work at American and Mexican restaurants before he moved to Maryland earlier this year.

The food startup currently receives between 125 and 150 orders weekly, according to Vang who also plans to hire more chefs. Soon, it will also start offering cooking classes, providing more opportunities for D.C. residents to interact with and learn culinary skills from migrant professionals.

Photo: Hajer Naili/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

“I am happy to cook Syrian food [for] American people. This food [represents] my country. I am happy for this,” said Chef Majed, while peeling eggplants that will go into the Baba Ghanoush that he is preparing.

Hajer Naili is the Communications and Social Media Coordinator at IOM Washington, D.C.

IOM - UN Migration

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Official account of IOM, the United Nations Migration Agency.