Refugee Chefs Prepare Middle Eastern Specialties

Tanabel Table’s first cook Fayza Maamo (center), with her daughter Fadila (left), and Tanabel founder chef Hannah Goldberg. (Photo by Rachel Elkind via QNS)

Tanabel Table, a Middle Eastern catering and event company, will be one of the featured food vendors at World’s Fare, a global cuisine and culture event slated for May 18 and 19 at CitiField in Queens, near the old World’s Fair grounds. Joe DiStefano of QNS speaks with chef Hannah Goldberg, who started Brooklyn-based Tanabel Table after the 2016 election as a way not only to celebrate rich culinary traditions but also employ and help refugee women chefs. The company is named after the Souk el Tanabel in Damascus.

“I felt compelled, as many people did, to get involved, to stand up and affirm what America means to me,” she recalled of her involvement with the refugee task force of a local synagogue in the midst of an influx of Syrian refugees.

As a chef, Goldberg had been committed to helping to preserve traditional foodways at risk of disappearing, so working with refugee women to preserve and celebrate their traditional recipes felt like a very natural fit, she recalls. Tanabel employs women from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, each of whom bring their mothers’ and grandmothers’ recipes and traditions with them.

Tanabel’s very first cook, Fadila Maamo, hails from Aleppo, Syria, and came to the United States with three of her four children in the fall of 2016. Maamo and her family are Yazidi Kurds, with a lot of their own unique traditions, including Syrian kibbeh — fried bulgur torpedoes stuffed with spiced meat and walnuts, with a red pepper and pomegranate sauce and a little fresh cabbage and mint salad on the side — which will be served at the Fare.

Go to QNS to find out how Souk el Tanabel – tanabel means “lazy person” in Arabic – got its name.

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