Ever since Buffalo has been called the City of Good Neighbors, the people who came here to make their lives in the steel mills, grain elevators and automobile plants introduced themselves with food.
That’s why most modern Buffalonians have their favorite plate of chicken Parmesan, or spaghetti and meatballs, whether they’re Italian-American or not. Fish fries aren’t just for Catholics, and the open-faced chicken souvlaki has transcended its Greek roots to gain fans of every color and creed.
On Thursday, the new cultures shaping Buffalo will be introducing themselves, plates in hand, at a once-a-year event held at Asbury Hall, 341 Delaware Ave. It’s called Buffalo Without Borders, and it’s a food-centered fundraiser for the International Institute of Buffalo, one of the city’s refugee resettlement agencies.
Participants will be issued a “passport” they can have stamped at each stop as they take an exotic culinary tour without leaving the room. On offer will be edible glimpses, if you will, inside the cultures of Burma, Ethiopia, Peru, Japan, Jordan, Jamaica and India, as well as Puerto Rico and Italy.
“I think of food as an introduction,” said event organizer Erin St. John Kelly. “This is really to introduce everyone to each other.”
The passport will include a map, and a listing of ingredients, to demystify the dishes. By the time you fill out your passport, you’ll have a meal, Kelly said.
Burma will be represented at two stops. Sun Restaurant, Buffalo’s first Burmese restaurant, will offer owno koksware, chicken coconut noodle soup with crispy noodles, and a salad of black rice with mango, avocado and cucumber. (Sun’s Kevin Lin, a longtime sushi contractor for Wegmans, will also turn Wegmans’ donation to the event into sushi rolls, for the Japanese table.)
Rakhapura Mutee and Sushi, one of the ethnic food entrepreneurs at the West Side Bazaar on Grant Street, are Arakanese, one of the many cultures of Burma. They’ll be offering Rakhapura egg rolls, plus banana mango roll sushi for dessert. Another bazaar vendor, Martha Sosa’s Pure Peru, will have aji de gallina, chicken stew with pecans, potatoes and garlic, plus baked potatoes stuffed with beef, egg and olives.
Gatur’s, the Ethiopian restaurant on Allen Street, will serve a vegetarian wat, or stew. Vegetarians and vegans will be welcome, Kelly said, with much of the sushi vegetable only. Then there’s the za’atar manakeesh, flatbread topped with a thyme and sesame centered spice mixture and olive oil before baking. It’ll be on the Jordanian table, through the efforts of Manakeesh and More on Hertel Avenue.
People can try Jamaican jerk chicken or curry chicken with pineapple, from Bailey Avenue’s Caribbean Experience.
Taj Grill, on Delaware Avenue, will provide vegetable makhni in a light spiced cream, and chicken biryani, a savory rice pilaf. Niagara Cafe, the Niagara Street Puerto Rican restaurant, will dish up rice and peas.
Besides the food, the night will include ethnic dance – bellydancing, Bollywood-like Indian Bhangara, and Karenni folk dance. There’ll be a silent auction, and a gift bazaar that includes the efforts of a Bhutanese sewing collective from Canisius College. There will also be a trio of Polish fortune tellers, who will offer readings divined by dripping red wax through a key into a bowl of water.
If you’re interested but can’t make it, consider buying a ticket for someone who can’t afford one, Kelly suggested. “At this event we try to have members of the refugee and immigrant communities come too. We set aside a certain number of tickets for them to come, and people donate more.”
The event is 6 to 9 p.m., Asbury Hall, 341 Delaware Ave. Tickets are $35, available at the International Institute of Buffalo, 864 Delaware Ave. (883-1900 Ext. 303), or online at iibuff.org.