Peace ‘n’ Spice. Into the route of food as creative entrepreneurship interpreted by refugees in Northern Italy

Alice Brombin, anthropologist, Italian Team

Peace ‘n’ Spice, restaurant located in the centre of the University historical district in the city of Padua, is not just an “ethnic” venue. Peace ‘n’ Spice is a project of a gourmet cuisine, designed as an exploratory taste trip alongside routes travelled by a group of refugees and asylum seekers who started the business and manage the restaurant while keeping hiring other migrants. 

I’d already visited this place in the past. First of all, the colourful setting attracts your sight then, your smell is engaged in identifying scents and flavours not familiar to your nose, finally your taste comes into play. An experience that definitely implies many senses.

I returned to Peace ‘n’ Spice this winter as an anthropologist, worried because of the pandemic and also because the face mask fogs the lenses of my glasses. The place is as I remembered it, I was welcomed quite warmly, the spirits did not seem down nor overwhelmed by the difficulties caused by Covid19 that forces this restaurant, like all those in the city, to close early in the evening and to welcome a small number of customers. I looked into the kitchen and observed a busy chef preparing take away food and delivery, a strategy to face the restrictions due to the pandemic. The owner arrived and the stories began.

Ali and Hadi, two of the founding members, come originally from Afghanistan. They arrived in Italy as refugees and were able to create a restaurant where every dish is the memory of a journey. The menu mingles with the stories of many young people of different nationalities: Kurds, Afghans, Iranians, Syrians and Albanians.

“When I arrived in Italy I was very young” says Hadi, “I was just 16 years old, I was exhausted, I didn’t have a penny to hit the road again, I didn’t even have the strength … but when I reached Venice it has been love at first sight”.

It took more than a year for Alì and Hadi to arrive in Italy through illegal crossing from Iran to Turkey and Greece. The passion for local cuisine raised from these forced pathways, as well as the desire to experiment different dishes, revisiting recipes, mixing spices and creating new flavours.

It is right in the core of the Veneto region that the entrepreneurial journey of the two partners began. Between 2012 and 2017 they opened three restaurants “African Experience” and “Orient experience1 and 2”, employing the migrants of the Venetian reception centers.

To design their restaurants’ menu Alì and Hadi invented the “refugees masterchef” a kind of culinary competition:

“We invited the guys from the reception centers, about fifty people, and we asked them to prepare the best plate they were able to cook. Since you can’t find many ingredients here, I gave an extra point to those who would prepare a hybrid culinary experience: for instance an Ethiopian girl cooking a dish she tried in Libya received a higher score, since she was offering me her travel experience and this is what we were looking for. […] The best dishes were chosen and then the winners become part of the restaurant staff as interns then, if we feel good and they seem to love the job, we adopt a more stable working arrangement”.

Peace ‘n’ Spice works in the same way, and hybridization seems to be a winning way:

 “We adjust our menu depending on the ingredients we find here in Padua, and we also change spices and flavours because if we make the dishes as they are cooked in Afghanistan or in Pakistan only the 2% of our customers would like them, it would become a very specific restaurant and only people who appreciate all these spices would come to eat. So for this reason we balanced the entire menu, we wrote it on our website, the dishes fit the Italian taste, we tried to westernize them, and this is a winner because in Padua, the Paduans like it a lot”.

Peace ‘n’ Spice is a creative and successful entrepreneurship intended to overcome the category of “ethnic” food, generally assigned by the larger host society to similar venues by offering to a predominantly Italian customer a large variety of dishes in a constant interplay between breaking the home culinary tradition and taming it to meet the local taste.

Photo credit: Peace ‘n’ Spice


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