Friday, August 12, 2011

...Conflict Kitchen

Can’t we all just get along?

I’m not a big fan of confrontation.  Kind of ironic, considering that a.) I work with teenagers, who love to argue b.) I’m a teacher, and I am constantly defending myself AS a teacher, and the profession itself, and c.) I work in customer service at an amusement park, so I am constantly getting yelled at for the pricing, policies, moody teenage workers (hey, didn’t I mention them already?) etc.

This is probably why I am not a fan of politics.  I try to understand what the political arguments are – and then I get frustrated with the argument, and I feel completely apathetic to the situation.  Politicians are constantly in conflict with each other…and not always for the right reasons.

Like I said – can’t we all just get along?

In my search for restaurants that serve “traditional” Latin-American foods, I came across the page forConflict Kitchen , a take-out window on the side The Waffle Shop of in East Liberty.  I thought it was interesting that it changes every 6 months to highlight the conflict between the United States and another country – first Afghanistan, then Iran…and most recently…Venezuela.


This idea is genius – if you really want people to learn about something, especially one that may be a little harder to care about – serve food.

But…I had no idea what the conflict between the United States and Venezuela was.  I set off on my journey to Conflict Kitchen because I was curious, but mostly because I wanted to try the food that they were serving – Venezuelan arepas.

On July 27th, I put the address in the GPS of my phone and set off to S. Highland Ave., a street with which I was pretty familiar, since I have driven to that part of town to go to Shadyside Hospital to see my mom (she works there) and visit family members who were in the hospital from time to time, and also to go to Whole Foods, which wasn’t far, either.  I drove down the road…and realized that I had passed The Waffle Shop, never seeing the brightly colored façade that was in the picture on Conflict Kitchen’s webpage.  Where was this window?  I drove around the block, past the AAA office…and saw that the window was actually on the Baum Blvd. side of The Waffle Shop.  I drove around again, parked in what was once a metered space (the meter was there, but the coin slot had been removed), and walked to the window.

There was someone putting the last finishing touches on the façade with paint, so I approached delicately.  A few other people were waiting for their food nearby, so I approached the window and was greeted by a young man, probably fresh out of college, who explained that they had just switched over from Iran to Venezuela a few days earlier, so they were finishing up the façade.  He explained the concept to me, and said that they were serving 3 types of Venezuelan arepas – queso (cheese), chicken & avocado, and black bean.  He also explained that normally they wrap it in a colorfully decorated paper (he handed me the previous two from Afghanistan and Iran), but the Venezuelan ones were not complete yet, so they would be served in foil.  I ordered one of each at $5/each.

While I waited, a few other people came by to order and ask what the place was all about.  Everyone seemed fascinated by the concept, and more people ordered arepas.

When my food was ready, the young man offered me a box to carry my arepas in to take home (there was no seating outside).  I explained to him that I am a Spanish teacher, and he informed me that they sometimes do lectures on site to educate people on the conflict.  Good to know!

I took my food home, eager to try them.  

Wait…I still didn’t know what the conflict is between the United States and Venezuela!  Ugh.

Thank goodness for Google – I found a lot of resources on the conflict, which dates back to the Bush administration.   It seems boring and petty, like most political conflicts, but it has to do with Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, and oil trade.  I won’t drone on about it, because you probably won’t want to hear about the food if you have to read about a boring political conflict, but if you want more details, click here:

So – the food…

I tried the queso arepa first, which, if you look at the second picture, I could not pull apart – I mean, cheese does melt, and I was afraid that it wouldn’t look pretty if I tried to pull it apart.  It tasted like corn cake grilled cheese, so if you’re a picky eater, this is a good choice for you. 

I then tried the chicken & avocado, about which I was really excited because I am such a fan of avocado.  It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great.  I am, after all, very picky about my guac, and this reminded me of the store-bought guacamole that is in the dairy section of Giant Eagle next to the sour cream (in a word – ick…is that even a word?)  It didn’t help that my brother was at Las Velas at this same time, since it was their re-opening day, and was texting me pictures of the chips and guac that his friends were eating at the time (remember – he’s a party pooper and doesn’t like guac…but he loves making me jealous).

The black bean arepa was definitely my favorite.  It had more flavor than the other two, thanks to the beans themselves and what seemed to be an oniony-salsa mixture with it.  I only took one bite of that one, though, and saved the rest for my dinner at Kennywood later, because I was so full from the other two.  Corn cake is a pretty heavy food, and two were more than enough for a hearty lunch.

I do recommend visiting Conflict Kitchen soon for 3 reasons: 1.) It’s only around for 6 months, so it will change over again in the winter, probably after Christmas – hurry in while supplies last! 2.) The concept is novel and has a great purpose with an educational message 3.) Where else are you going to find arepas around here?

Que la paz esté contigo.

Conflict Kitchen
124 S. Highland Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
(Baum Blvd. side of The Waffle Shop)

Conflict Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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