Meghan Collins Sullivan’s excellent article in NPR, “Introducing Roma Cuisine, The Little-Known ‘Soul Food’ Of Europe” explores the rising trend of Romani “soul food” against the antigypsyist sentiment and legislation in Europe. She reports, “A development group in Slovenia has just opened the first large-scale Roma restaurant in Europe. Romani Kafenava in Maribor, Slovenia, began serving up traditional Balkan Romani dishes like stews and grilled meats in April.” In Slovenia, like many other EU countries, Roma suffer discrimination, poor living conditions, and racial profiling, but Roma and Romani activist are hopeful that the new interest in Romani cuisine will educate outsiders about the culture and encourage coexistence and tolerance.
“Slovenians have a lot of stereotypes, prejudices about Roma community,” says Simon Simoncic, the restaurant’s project manager. “Roma culture is different from us. Of course some of their habits we can’t understand, but coherence and coexistence is … a fact nowadays. So Romani Kafenava is one [way] to break stereotypes.”
The dishes at Romani Kafenava hail from the Balkans — and more specifically Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia. The eatery serves a lot of grilled and baked meat and vegetables, often spiced with paprika and chili. And there’s a bit of a Mediterranean influence; stuffed peppers and grape leaves are mainstay.
“Roma food deserves attention,” says Ian Hancock, a Roma scholar, author and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “You can equate it with the emergence of soul food in this country. Soul food was poor people’s food and it has become fashionable.”
Hancock says the concept of a Roma restaurant is not new – there are many small, family-run businesses elsewhere — but that this one takes a fresh approach on a larger scale.
I love the idea of Romani culture becoming more visible and accessible– the best way for outsiders to understand Romani culture is for them to fall in love with it, and there is a lot to love.