If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, maybe that’s also the most direct route to hearts and minds.
That’s the philosophy underlying a new restaurant in Pittsburgh. Conflict Kitchen, a takeout-style storefront that serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict, rotates its identity every four months to educate diners. Begun in May by four artists, its current iteration is “Kubideh Kitchen,” an Iranian restaurant that serves kubideh—spiced ground meat—in freshly baked barbari bread with onion, mint, and basil. The custom-designed food wrappers are covered in interviews with Iranians in both Pittsburgh and Iran on subjects ranging from government to food to poetry. The temporary storefront is covered in a Persian design.
Naturally, eating kubideh won’t give diners an automatic understanding of the complexities of the relationship between Iran and the U.S. Each version of the Conflict Kitchen is accompanied by events, performances, and discussion about culture from The Waffle Shop—Conflict Kitchen’s permanent home next door—which broadcasts a live-streaming talk show with its customers, and functions as a classroom for students from Carnegie Mellon University and a public lab in social projects. So far, in its two months of operation, Kubideh Kitchen has held an international, live-streamed dinner between diners in Pittsburgh and Tehran as well as a live screening of YouTube videos shot in both places with a Skype conversation between Pittsburgh customers and attendees in Tehran.
What’s up next for Conflict Kitchen? In this interview, the project’s founders, John Peña, Jon Rubin, and Dawn Weleski, say that the restaurant could operate for years, and that the likely next candidates will be Afghan cuisine, followed by North Korea, and perhaps Venezuela.
According to its founders, Conflict Kitchen has received invitations from around the globe to open other spots, and regularly gets emails from families who are hosting their own weekly conflict dinners. Which country would get your vote for next up? What other projects could Conflict Kitchen take on to increase understanding?