Even in a city as diverse as New York City, few people have ever had a taste of momo, the bite-sized dumplings that are popular in Nepal. The traditional Nepalese dumpling is filled with meat, flavorful spices, wrapped in delicate dough and then steamed or fried. Thanks to a new food delivery company based in Queens, more people will get an opportunity to sample unusual world cuisines, all cooked by refugees.
Eat Offbeat is a food delivery startup that employees seven people – all of them refugees or asylum seekers who were granted entry to the United States. Lebanese immigrant Manal Kahi founded the company with her brother last November. Kahi came to the United States to go to graduate school, where she started thinking about food-based businesses. At the same time, the world’s attention was turning to Syria, where political refugees were fleeing the country.
Many Syrians flooded into neighboring Lebanese. Watching the horror unfold, Kahi felt hopeless about the situation, but it also gave her an idea. What if she could start a business where refugees made the foods of their homeland?
The idea stuck. Kahi and her brother teamed up with chef Juan Suarez de Lezo. De Lezo had experience in some of the highest profile restaurants in the world. They contacted the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian organization that helps resettle refugees and asylees.
Rachana Rimal was one of Eat Offbeat’s first hires. She fled her native Nepal after unrest in her country made life too unsafe for Rimal. The radical communist group called Maoist terrorized Rimal’s family, demanding money and killing her brother. Eventually reunited with her family in the United States, Rimal’s first job was cutting up onions and tomatoes for Subway. When she got the call from Eat Offbeat, Rimal was excited about the opportunity to cook her native food. She has taught the other chefs how to make momos, and her fried cauliflower Manchurian dish has also caught on as a customer favorite.
So far Eat Offbeat makes about 200 meals a week. Delivery is limited to groups of five or more, but if the company continues to grow, it will expand to individual meal delivery. The company intends to keep the food they offer closely tied to the people who make it.
Many immigrants were granted refugee or asylum status after the Iraq war. One Iraqi woman, Dhuha Jasif, is now cooking for Eat Offbeat, making such popular dishes like baba ghanouj. Jasif, 26, left Iraq after her husband was almost killed in a bombing. During another terrorist attack, she was separated from their young son for hours. Jasif was forced to quit school and stay indoors as part of a 6 pm curfew. Her life in America is vastly better. Her son attends school in the Bronx, and she is supporting her family by cooking traditional Iraqi food.
Even Kahi is offering up her own dish, her grandmother’s recipe for hummus. Although hummus is a popular dish in America, Kahi said it was impossible to find hummus exactly like the flavorful dip that is found in her homeland. Kahi hopes to influence public opinion on refugees. “We want New Yorkers to say, ‘Wow, we’re really lucky to have them here,” she said. The six countries represented at Eat Offbeat include Syria, Nepal, Tibet, Iraq and Eritrea.