It all started—as many ideas do—with an off-the-cuff conversation. While brainstorming concepts for a possible restaurant project in Pittsburgh, artists Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski started listing types of food they couldn’t find in the city. “We realized we were naming cuisines from countries that the U.S. government was in conflict with,” Weleski says. And just like that, Conflict Kitchen was born.
Every three months, the take out-only spot in Schenley Plaza rotates its menu—and its design scheme—to reflect a different destination, one that they hope will stimulate thoughtful political conversations. So far, they’ve featured Venezuela, Afghanistan, and Iran, and Cuba is up until October.
Diners should pay close attention to the food wrappers, which are covered in quotes from citizens and expats that address issues in the featured country. For example, the Iran version touched upon Israel, women’s rights, and poetry (among other topics), while the current Cuba wrapper includes interviews about the embargo, Fidel and Raúl Castro, and the local economy.
While the interviews definitely help jumpstart discussions, Conflict Kitchen employees are a big piece of the success of this project. As Weleski puts it, “We see them as professional conversationalists who can get diners to stay and talk after they receive their food, and create a community for public political discourse, which often doesn’t happen in the U.S.”
So what’s next? The team just returned from a trip to South Korea to prepare for their upcoming iteration, which will include both South and North Korean dishes such as bibimbap and naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodle soup), respectively. Palestinian and Israeli cuisine will follow.
Brooke Porter is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.