“Food is an international language and we just wanted to share Iraqi food as a way of connecting with people,” artist Rana Ibrahim says.
Which is why she and her fellow Iraqi friends have opened a pop up cafe in Woodstock‘s The Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum twice a month, and we were there to enjoy the Middle-Eastern mezze.
Sitting in the sun of the extensive gardens there, it was a delicious lunch. Low key yes, served through a hatch in the museum’s kitchens on paper plates, but memorable none-the-less.
The highlights? The tabola salad (also known as tabbouleh), that intoxicating mix of finely chopped parsley, with tomatoes, mint, onion, bulgur, and a piquant lemon dressing. It was so good that I actually snuck back to the kitchen hatch to ask for a second helping.
“This pop up cafe enables these iraqi women to be proud of who they are and where they come from”
Other delicious additions included the dolma – vine leaves stuffed with rice and veg which were more seasoned and spiced than their greek counterparts, Iraqi salad (often known as sumac with toasted flatbread and succulent tomatoes and peppers), a tabsi eggplant stew, (the chicken version selling out fast), home-made flatbreads, a zingy jajak salad (yoghurt cucumber and mint, like a middle-eastern raita), a traditional Iraqi white bean stew and some beef kibbeh (spiced ground meat, onions, and bulgar wheat encased in pastry).
Trooping back for our dessert; Iraqi delicacies such as date rolls, baklava and a wonderful clear tea.
“People seem to really love our pop up cafe and it helps bridge the gap between Iraqi and other communities in Oxford”
All the money raised goes back into the Iraqi Women Art & War group (IWAW) who are not only exhibiting their artwork in the museum there (they also had a four month exhibition at the Museum of Oxford recently), but have now branched out into cooking as well.
Rana set up the group in 2018 to gather Iraqi women together who live locally and might be struggling: “This pop up cafe enables them to be proud of who they are and where they come from,” she says.
“Many are vulnerable women who might struggle with the language or low self-esteem,” Rana tells me, “but they are all very proud of sharing our food and our culture.”
So how’s the pop up cafe going? “People seem to really love it and we hope it helps bridge the gap between Iraqi and other communities in Oxford. In fact it’s going so well we hope to increase our pop up dates vey soon.”
In the meantime, the next pop up cafe is on October 15, and then the first and third Saturday of every month from 12 noon-5pm. To find out more about the pop up cafe or the art exhibition go to https://www.iwaw19.com/Iraqi-Food-Exhibition.php