Did you know that there are 91 different languages spoken in Bristol? That means 91 different cuisines too! So what better way could there be to bring all these colourful and varied cultures together than food? Afterall, it’s what unites people of all nationalities, right? Enters 91Ways To Build A Global City – Bristol’s latest social enterprise with a mission to unite diverse communities. How? By giving them the opportunity to share their stories, food journeys, and recipes! At the core of the initiative is the desire to build a rapport between language communities that call Bristol home.
Founder and award-winning ex BBC Production Head, Kalpna Woolfe’s vision is to create a space for people to share their food with each other and forge a greater understanding between cultures, which she hopes will help people make lasting connections and live in a more united, global city. Curious to know more, I offered to help out at the ’91 Ways Supper Club: Flavours of Burma’. Set up to raise funds for their pop-up ‘Peace Cafes’, the aim is to unite people through the power of food. Empowering community cooks, they hope to showcase their talents and with it, the international cuisines that are available at our doorsteps.
The chef in residence tonight was Petunia! Born and raised in Bristol, she’s actually from Burmese heritage. Petunia has a wealth of experience in the food industry and has actually worked in many places around the world. Yet, she always seems to find herself back in Bristol – her home. Tonight, with her mum and dad, I had the chance to get a glimpse of a typical Burmese feast. I even learnt some culinary secrets! Whilst grating lemons, I couldn’t help but feel a part of a family affair, listening to Petunia and her dad argue about the width of potato slices.
To start we had a kyaw, a selection of tempura bites. These included budhi kyaw (courgette fritters), aloo chet thun kyaw (shredded potato and onion fritters) and my favourite, pe kyaw (split pea crisps). These crispy golden wonders were served on large lacquered platters with a sweet and sour tamarind dip. What’s more, we also feasted on big colourful bowls of chickpea, cucumber, tomato and lemon salad.
What I loved about this evening was the real commitment to forge connections. With long communal tables and sharing platters, it was the perfect affair to get to know one another. You could move around and change seats which helped to get conversations flowing. Many people found themselves sharing memories of Sunday dinners from their youth with people they’d never met before. I even had a conversation with someone about where to buy the best crispy seaweed!
So I weaved my way through the crowds, stealing pe kyaw’s from the tables and conversed with guests of different backgrounds. It was striking how a love of food (or simple gluttony in my case) breaks down barriers and puts people at ease. Everyone has a story about the favourite thing they love to eat, and this was the place to share it.
Next followed the coconut chicken curry. Thick and velvety, this beauty was served alongside large beds of traditional egg noodles. With a butternut squash alternative for our vegetarian friends, this was foodie heaven. Interestingly, Petunia mentioned that this was traditional Burmese street food. Comforting and moreish, it explains why I fell in love with it! What’s more, the curry came with a selection of toppings you could choose from. From sliced hardboiled eggs, thin strips of raw onion, coriander, shreds of spinach, fish sauce and chilli flakes, you had it all! Guests looked over each other’s shoulders and peeked at their neighbour’s plates. There was a burst of laughter when someone discovered the difference between tamarind and fish sauce, the hard way.
Dessert was the real show stopper – shweghi sanwei makin. That’s crumbly little golden semolina pudding cakes garnished with toasted flaked almonds. It’s also made with kyauk geor which is a beautifully layered two-tone coconut jelly.