By Aria Brent,
Special to the AFRO
Food is something that is so personal all the while being extremely universal. Regardless of where you’re from, how it’s prepared or what utensils are used- everybody eats. Often tied to some of people’s most sentimental memories, food is a vessel for love and camaraderie.
Mera Kitchen Collective has taken this idea and become the embodiment of it for the Baltimore area. What started off as a series of community dinners amongst a group of immigrants has since grown into a small restaurant with a big heart.
Co-founder Aishah Alfadhalah moved to the United States from Kuwait in 2010 to attend college at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis. She recalled eating by herself being such a weird and unfamiliar thing for her because eating had always been such a community-oriented event in her experience.
When she moved to Baltimore and began to volunteer at the International Rescue Commission, she found the sense of community she had been missing. As the business has grown, keeping community first is something they’ve continued to pride themselves on.
Alfadhalah shared that although Mera Kitchen Collective (MKC) is a restaurant, it is also a community space where the sharing of recipes and food doubles as a way to share community and culture.
The minority owned restaurant has allowed people to share their stories and their heritage, but also pursue their passions on a whole new level. Emilienne Nebie-Zongo joined MKC in 2018 after helping them put together their immigrant arts festival. Lillian, another co-founder of the collective asked Nebie-Zongo to make some traditional African for the event and she’s been involved ever since.
Nebie-Zongo’s involvement has not only allowed her to sharpen her chops as a chef but it has also brought her great joy to see how much others enjoy her food. She’s contributed a multitude of recipes to the menu and has even curated a specialty menu with dishes that are influenced by her native country, Burkina Faso, West Africa.
Believing that food can not only be good to the spirit but also the body, Nebie-Zong takes great pride in the ingredients and presentation of her dishes.
“Food is like a medicine,” she said. “Good, healthy food is good for your body. I make all my food with very good ingredients.”
With a menu rooted in love, culture and community, MKC is a close-knit family that’s always looking to add more members. Front of the house manager, Alexus Snovitch further spoke to this point noting that you can feel the love when you’re in the restaurant and eat the food.
Like many others, food holds a very special place in her heart due to her upbringing. Growing up in a low income family in New York City, Snovitch’s family didn’t have a lot so grocery shopping was a big deal and her mother’s cooking was cherished.
“Food, to me, is everything. We grew up with hardly nothing, so my mom used food to show her love,” she expressed. Snovitch is continuing her mother’s tradition of expressing her love through food by taking her son out to eat. It was something she never got to do with her mom, so being able to provide the experience for her son is something she really enjoys.
The dishes offered at MKC come from so many parts of the world that one might consider the menu intimidating but the people of Baltimore have taken very well to the restaurant and their diverse cuisine options
Alfadhalah shared how supportive the Baltimore community has been to them and how much they value the relationships they’ve built within the community. Noting that it never feels competitive, and that they’re a space of abundance.
“There’s space for everybody,” said Alfadhalah.
Although they would like to see the restaurant expand both in size and quantity, they don’t want the aesthetic and communal feel of the restaurant to be lost. They want to continue to create a community no matter what.
For the people of Mera Kitchen Collective, food is so much more than something to eat. It is an introduction to a new world, the preservation of one’s identity and a vehicle of memory that takes them home.