As food establishments go, the Conflict Kitchen is pretty unique. Focusing on one country at a time, the Conflict Kitchen only serves the food of that country in which the United States is in conflict. Its main purpose is to educate the American people not only on the conflict, but on the country itself-its people, what life is like there, and most notably, its food. Since its inception, the Conflict Kitchen has hosted North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Cuba, Venezuela, and most recently and currently, Palestine.
The Conflict Kitchen is a take-out only venue, located in the city’s Oakland neighborhood (home to numerous universities which are in turn home to ethnically diverse student, faculty, and staff populations). Last summer I got food while Iran and Venezuela were “up,” so as it had been months since I was last there, I was anxious to return to try the Palestinian food.
When the Palestinian food first debuted, there was some controversy that sprung up (you can read more about that by clicking here). Thankfully it simmered down relatively quickly, although I will say that I think Palestine is not quite in the same category as the other countries it’s showcased (relax, that’s as political as I’ll get). As a concerned global citizen, I feel it would be even more beneficial and prudent to expand the concept and instead focus on any country in which there is a conflict currently going on (Darfur, Kashmir, Syria), instead of just those tied to the United States somehow. Any conflict needs and deserves the attention and care of the global community.
During the warmer weather, there is ample outdoor seating (the Conflict Kitchen is located in a park-like environ along with other food takeout spots, although mostly all are shuttered during the winter). However, in a month like February that option is obviously out. But the Conflict Kitchen does recognize this and thanks their customers for willing to brave the cold while waiting for their food by offering hot black tea free with any purchase (nice touch). Along with the food there are also pamphlets you can take which feature interviews with people from those countries, touching on everything from the food, the politics, way of life, and more. So pretty nice when you can have a little education with your shawarma.
As I had wanted to sample as much as possible, here’s all that we got (Palestine will actually be sticking around until May; however, shortly after our visit the menu slightly changed with some things being swapped out for new options).
Salata Sazawiya (formerly on the menu)
This is what I would describe as a “soupy” tomato salad (although soupy in a good way, nothing negative). I’m not sure what it was but the salad definitely contained something that gave it a bit of a spicy kick.
Shawarma is what D selected for his main course and it is one of the most popular and well known Middle Eastern street foods. It consists of thinly sliced spit-roasted chicken served with pickled vegetables, herbs, cucumber, tomato, and tahini sauce on Arabic bread.
Rumaniya (formerly on the menu)
This is probably the only thing that we got I didn’t overly care for. It was basically an eggplant and lentils dish, two foods that I normally like. However, just as with the Salata, this also had a very spicy taste to it (well, spicy to those with more weak palates) so that somewhat dampened my overall opinion of it (i.e. I couldn’t eat globs of it at one time).
This is what I selected for my main course and overall was pretty pleased with it, even though most of it broke when being put into the takeout container. Musakhan is a toasted flatbread that’s topped with roasted chicken, carmelized onion, sumac, and toasted pine nuts. I liked the chance of being able to try something non-cooking pot based yet still ethnically authentic.
Halva (formerly on the menu)
We saved this for another day as we were too stuffed after our Palestinian feast of sorts, but this was our sweet finish. Halva is a popular dessert found throughout the Middle East, Mediterranean, North Africa, and even in the Balkans and Central Asia too. While there are two types of halva (flour based and nut-butter based), the version served at the Conflict Kitchen was the former. It’s an extremely simple dessert (as many are outside of the United States and Western and Central Europe), yet still utterly delectable. It just has nice faint traces of sweetness, which I like.
While I think I preferred my Iranian food the most out of my now three dining experiences at the Conflict Kitchen, I still liked this venture. And as I said, it’s probably the most unique dining experience you’ll ever encounter, not to mention for an entirely worthy cause (the Conflict Kitchen is a non-profit organization). We definitely need more of those in this country.
Conflict Kitchen (Pittsburgh): Restaurant Review
221 Schenley Drive | Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | 15213