For the last seven years, a small takeout restaurant in Pittsburgh has been shining a spotlight on the cuisines of nations with which the United States is in conflict. Conflict Kitchen, founded by art professors at Carnegie Mellon University, has featured the cuisines of Iran, Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), and currently, Palestine.
We’ve had Conflict Kitchen on our radar for years, and on the actual achievements roster since last year, but forces have always seemingly conspired to prevent us from making it out. However, when we learned that sadly, after a critically lauded (and at times controversial) run, Conflict Kitchen would be closing down, we made a point to trek over to its concrete location in Schenley Plaza and sample a bunch of stuff at the little metal tables that are lined up outside.
We started out with some appetizers. We had a round of hummus and salata gazawiya, which is a zesty, zippy crushed tomato dip with fresh dill and flakes of red chili pepper. Both came with a helping of thin, flaky pita bread. The hummus was very good, but the salata was especially tasty (if a bit messy due to its drippy oil and my current Penguins playoff beard).
We each got an entree to share. Fox went with the falafel on pita; the falafel was probably some of the best prepared we’ve had, with just the right level of frying and a tenderness when bit into. The vegetables — particularly the pickled beets — were a welcome touch that added some nice flavor counterpoints.
I opted to have the chicken shawarma, served on pita with a similar medley of vegetables. While a bit saltier than the falafel, it too was delicious. Between the two of us, we could only finish half of each entree.
Simply put, if you’ve not been to Conflict Kitchen, try it out this week. If you’ve been…go back! (But maybe let a first timer jump your place in line. 😉 )
One last note: though the actual takeout facet of Conflict Kitchen is closing down, their overall project — which is to foster critical thinking and empathy for marginalized and less-heard cultures — will continue. Check in with them periodically to see what will come next.
Conflict Kitchen is located at 221 Schenley Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. They’re open from noon til 7pm (though as they wind down they’re closed on Sundays). It will be closing on May 31st, 2017.