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Mention North Korea or Iran, for that matter, and the conversation might turn to embargos or nuclear weapons or political repression. Well, a restaurant in Pittsburgh is hoping to broaden the discourse and people's tastes at the same time.
From member station WDUQ, Erika Beras takes us to Conflict Kitchen.
Ms. DAWN WELESKI (Conflict Kitchen): Hi, did you order dinner yet?
Unidentified Man: Yeah, I had one.
Ms. WELESKI: One? Okay.
ERIKA BERAS: Dawn Weleski is leaning out of a storefront window talking about Iran, handing out sandwiches and taking $5 bills. She's at Conflict Kitchen, a new takeout restaurant that only serves food from countries the United States is in conflict with.
There's nowhere to sit and the sole menu item is a sandwich from Iran.
Ms. WELESKI: And that's the only thing we're serving is kubideh, which is ground beef with sumac on top, with a little bit of parsley, basil, fresh mint and onion all wrapped in freshly baked barbari bread.
BERAS: Weleski is one of the co-creators of the restaurant. The eatery is experimental public artwork, with the sandwich wrap as the medium.
Conflict is defined as anything from armed dispute to embargos. They picked Iran because they knew people there - and Iranians in Pittsburgh.
She says opening the restaurant added a layer of cultural diversity to the city. It's the only Iranian restaurant around. At the same time, though, they didn't want to alienate Pittsburghers.
Ms. WELESKI: We wanted to choose a food that was sort of the every man's food, a food that you would find in the streets of Tehran. And everyone understands a sandwich. It's something that you can take with you - there's a little girl running by right now, skipping and eating her kubideh sandwich at the same time. And a lot of people have said they feel like it's a Persian hamburger.
BERAS: The entire experience is meant to spark conversation. The Conflict Kitchen's colorful exterior boasts Farsi words. The sandwich comes in a wrapper covered with information and perspectives from interviews with Iranians on everything from film to nuclear power to the Green Movement.
Mr. DARON CHRISTOPHER: (Unintelligible) films.
BERAS: Daron Christopher is a grad student. He came by with some friends.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER: Opposite sex cannot touch each other in films. Violence is not allowed. And you cannot make fun of any religion.
People have a negative image of a lot of countries based on the leadership in that country. And I think what they are doing here is promoting the idea that what's more important is the people and customs and culture, that sort of thing.
BERAS: In a few months, the grant-funded restaurant will switch countries and cuisines. In September, it'll serve food from Afghanistan. After that, maybe Venezuela or North Korea.
The proprietors themselves cook in the kitchen.
Joni Perri works nearby. She's become a regular.
Ms. JONI PERRI: And, you know, it's like, it's delicious. Every bite full, delightful. And it's just but smashing that stereotypical myth because there's conflict in those countries and they - terrorists, you know, and that's very realistic, that exists. But I don't let it stop me from buying good food.
BERAS: Weleski says what most people know about the featured countries is through the media. To further the discussion, she'll host events such as live webcam meals with diners in Tehran.
Alex Ward recently paid his second visit to the Conflict Kitchen. Between visits, he read up on Iranian culture, learning about religion and literature.
Mr. ALEX WARD: We have a lot more in common with Iran than I would have guessed.
BERAS: Ultimately, though, he came back because he liked the food.
For NPR News, I'm Erika Beras in Pittsburgh.
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