Following the chaos of the recent Executive Order and what’s become known as the Trump travel ban, I, like many people, was watching things transpire with absolute horror.
I was heartened by the protests that played out at American airports like New York-JFK, San Francisco, and Dallas-Fort Worth, as well as as the vocal dissent from the tech community and importantly, the travel industry. In the words of Skift Founder Rafat Ali, “travel is the most progressive expression of human curiosity.” The free movement of people, particularly those that have gone through exactly the right steps to properly attain documentation and vetting, is vitally important to business and culture.
The idea I’m about to outline was a nice confluence of unrelated events. I had a Spotify playlist opened that was put together by Kieran Hebden, a British DJ and producer also known by the name Four Tet. He quickly compiled some tracks and called it “Music from Banned Countries,” a range of really interesting works from Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Beyond.
At the same time, I had another browser tab open to a New Yorker review my brother sent me about a Yemeni restaurant in Brooklyn that was highly recommended. We agreed with another friend to make a plan to gather some people and also make a hitlist of all of these interesting restaurants from the banned visa countries: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia. And another email from the same friend came over the transom saying: “Is this called Banned Country Dinners?”
It had a perfect ring to it. A nice play on words, and something that perfectly encompassed what we are seeking to do.
As we’ve seen time and time again through work by people like Bourdain and Roads and Kingdoms, food and hospitality is an incredible lens on culture. At the same time, in a big city, you often get into a rut in terms of the restaurant you visit. So, what a perfect time to gather a group of friends, make a great hitlist of restaurants while also celebrating the fact that immigrants and their food cultures are welcome and valued. Support can be powerful when vocal or shared through social media, but can also be even more impactful when it comes through supporting a small business.
I’m going to put together a series of dinners in the coming months with friends and colleagues, and encourage you to mine through your local Yelp and Foursquare listings to find interesting places to try.
In New York, check out Yemen Cafe on Atlantic avenue, Safari in Harlem for east African cuisine, and start sifting recommendations from your friends and colleagues to make your own list. Document what you had at #bannedcountrydinners, and get your friends to join.
Update: a large fundraising dinner in NYC with music and cuisines from banned countries is currently in the works, email for details: firstname.lastname@example.org.