Madeline Kujabi stirred a curry-like concoction of chicken, peanut butter and tomato in a tall, slender metal pot. The dish, called domoda, emitted a heavy aroma, providing an olfactory nostalgia of the home Kujabi left four years ago: The Gambia.
Kujabi came to Syracuse to continue her schooling as an international student. Now a senior at Bishop Grimes High School, Kujabi enjoys sharing her Gambian heritage through eating.
On Saturday, Kujabi, along with four other amateur chefs, served local homemade dishes to more than 300 local Syracuse residents at the All Saints Church for My Lucky Tummy. My Lucky Tummy, a pop-up food court series, celebrates the cuisine and people from Syracuse’s refugee and immigrant communities. The event also featured cooking classes on three lentil varieties: moong, masoor and urad dal. Adam Sudmann hosted the seasonal event’s thirteenth pop-up.
Saturday’s menu featured Asian and African dishes, including Afghan basmati rice infused with Seville orange peel, raisin, almond, pistachio and saffron; mohinga, a Burmese catfish noodle soup, flavored with lemongrass and fried bean cake; Eritera’s collard greens, red lentil and spiced garbanzo on top of sourdough flatbread; domoda from Gambia; and a Syrian dessert called haresa, a wheat, tahini and pistachio cake with orange blossom water.
For years, Sudmann envisioned a multinational food court while he worked in New York City as an event planner. Once he moved to Central New York and realized the talent of the region’s large immigrant population, Sudmann said his vision “became not necessarily a food thing… but more about humans, our neighbors.”
“[My Lucky Tummy] gets us out of our bubble and reminds us how people are different,” Sudmann said when asked if the event, in light of the nation’s current state, has a more significant role. “Refugees are often framed as glass half-empty, needing handouts. I want to frame it a bit differently: these are cool people.”
Proceeds from the night went towards the cooks, while Syracuse University Program for Refugee Assistance (SUPRA) tabled with a donation box for educational supplies. SUPRA, comprised of Syracuse University graduate students, works towards reinvigorating the city’s immigrant population through English classes at the North Side Learning Center, among other means.
Monu Chhetri, a My Lucky Tummy veteran, credits the event for involving varieties of people of Syracuse, particularly the Deaf community. Chhetri, a Deaf Bhutanese/Nepalese native, who received her American citizenship in March 2016, has cooked for the event four times. From her multiple years of involvement, she has seen an increased involvement of the Deaf community by providing paid interpreters.
Chhetri said My Lucky Tummy helps bring together people of varying cultures. “[Now that I’ve] seen some Deaf people show up, it seems like that group will be coming more and more. It’s important to have access to interpreters, so it’s an equitable opportunity to communicate with people from here on out,” Chhetri said.
Cultural celebration was the night’s theme. The crowd wandered throughout the room, dimly lit by string lights, sampling dishes and freshly brewed beer from Griffin Hill Brewery. Though guests ranged from multiracial friend groups to families with children, they all joined together in the enjoyment of other cultures.
Because of food, Kujabi said she was able to share her love for her home country, which is often overlooked because of its small size, in a tangible way.
“[The Gambia is] called the smiling coast of Africa,” Kujabi said. “It’s such a beautiful place and it’s known as a very peaceful country. I wanted to share that with people.”
Genet serves Eritrean dish of Sourdough flatbread, collard greens berbere, red lentil and spiced garbanzo. (Photo: Shweta Gualti)