The asylum seekers’ restaurant was a hit in Tampere

Liisa Takala
Liisa Takala
Liisa Takala

On Restaurant Day, anyone can open a restaurant. The residents of the Punkalaidun reception centre opened a restaurant in Tampere.

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Zaid is a barber by trade, but could fool anyone as a professional chef.

– Some of us are born to love cooking, Zaid smiles, ladling excess broth from a kettle filled with vine leaf rolls.

Niran and her husband Raad are lifting tin foils off warm, shallow dishes filled with beef meatballs, Iraqi vegetable pastries, lahmbajeen mini pizzas, rice and meat pastries, kibbeh, and coconut balls. The people have spent all night preparing them, and now everything is ready.

The 16 cooks at the event have at least two things in common: they are all asylum seekers from Iraq, and they are all staying at the Punkalaidun reception centre, less than 100 kilometres from Tampere.

Raad, a former carwash owner from Baghdad, loves Punkalaidun.

– Believe it or not, I’d love to stay there. There’s no noise or cars, and the people are polite. Besides, I come from a farming family, he says.

Cooperation between asylum seekers and a food marketing office

The restaurant in Tampere fills up quickly. The customers sit by the tables, on the sofas, and even on windowsills. The Dahlgrens, AnnaMikaelAada, and Venla, settle on the floor. The children are happily tasting new things.

– An excellent idea, says the mother, Anna, wishing she could offer more support to asylum seekers.

– Somehow, the everyday life rushes by.

The idea for the asylum seekers’ restaurant was formed by the employees of the Trust Food food marketing office.

– We thought we should do something for Restaurant Day, says Marjut Kuula from Trust Food.

They contacted the Punkalaidun reception centre and suggested opening a restaurant together. The idea was taken enthusiastically.

– This is far from one-way charity: it has been loads of fun for us, too, Kuula adds.

Sold out in under two hours

Sleet is falling down outside, but inside, Arab pop is blaring, the dance floor is filling up, and the windows are steaming. Tareq weaves his way between the customers, serving sweet black tea.

Raad stands aside with his arms folded and a smile on his face, and watches the rapidly emptying serving table and the breathless dancers on the dance floor.

– Unbelievable, just unbelievable, he sighs.

In ninety minutes, every last bit of food is gone.

– And we thought we’d have to carry all the food back to the reception centre, says Maiju Kari from Trust Food.

Four hours after the restaurant was opened, even the last customers have left. The exhausted cooks sit on the sofas.

So much money has come in that it covers all the costs, and even a refreshment day for all of the asylum seekers who were involved. The Iraqi cooks stagger a “kiitos” (“thank you” in Finnish) after Maiju Kari, and raise their glasses.

Text: Veera Moll