Difference Makers: Refugees, immigrants bring a taste of home to New York City


NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Refugees and immigrants from around the globe are making a new home for themselves in New York City, and working to make your life more delicious.

People might not be able to travel much during the pandemic, but that’s not stopping your tastebuds from taking a trip around the world.

It’s no secret that New York City is a cultural hub and the chefs at Eat Offbeat are working to bring the flavors of their home countries to the five boroughs.

Chefs from Venezuela, Senegal, Palestine, Lebanon, Sir Lanka – and that’s just one shift.

“Chicken dish from Afghanistan, rice from Iran, another idea from Senegal and dessert from Venezuela,” said Manal Kahi.

She oversees 20 chefs from 14 countries and the business she founded all because she didn’t like the hummus America was offering.

“I would buy some and it was never up to my standards,” she said.

Kahi, an immigrant from Lebanon, turned to her Syrian-born grandmother for some help.

“I called up my grandmother, got her recipe, started making it at home and that all of a sudden became successful,” she said.

Then Kahi had the idea to invite other immigrants and refugees to come together to make and sell their native dishes.

“For us, we as a community of refugees, of immigrants, of new New Yorkers, we’re here to help New Yorkers discover something new and go off the beaten path. We’re here to make the New York food scene richer,” Kahi said.

Now, tons of immigrants and refugees who haven’t necessarily been formally trained as chefs are working out of a professional kitchen in Long Island City to sell their dishes all over the city.

“They aren’t learning something new,” said one chef who comes from Sri Lanka. “They are here and there but, mostly they are cooking what they cook at home to serve around New York City,”

The pandemic stopped the catering business they had created, but now they can sell packaged meals to deliver to people’s homes at around $14 per plate – which is still cheaper than the average takeout order in New York.

“It’s really, for us, it’s all about flipping the table and current narratives around refugees, around immigration. We’re here to contribute to the local economy,” Kahi said.