Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.
So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at Knitkin@baltimorefishbowl.com
Iman Alshehab, 46, cooks for the Lord Baltimore Hotel and Mera Kitchen Collective. Her interview is translated from Arabic by Aisha Alfadhalah. Both are founders of the Mera Kitchen Collective.
“I left Syria in 2011. Our house was bombed and there was no place to stay. I went to Jordan because one of my daughters had married a Jordanian and was living there. I got a job cooking for a family, but it wasn’t enough work. I was willing to go anywhere, but I didn’t think I’d get selected to come to America.
I arrived in New York on November 28, 2016. They put us on a bus to Baltimore. I stayed a month in temporary housing in Dundalk. I couldn’t speak English. On the second or third day, I made chicken, eggplant dip and rice with raisins and carrots. I knocked on my neighbors’ doors and they came over and ate my food. I like to feed people. If it were up to me, I’d cook and feed people all day.
The International Rescue Committee helped me move to my apartment in Moravia. In early 2017, I went to a meeting in the Highlandtown Library. Aisha and some other people wanted to do something with refugees but weren’t sure what. That’s when we formed the Mera Kitchen Collective. Since that day, my life has changed 180 degrees. Now I am cooking full-time. It’s my way of expression, my art.
I learned to cook when I was a child. I learned from my neighbors, from this person, from that person. When I was 13, I got a 20 kg bag of rice and I cooked all of it, practicing until I got it right.
Baltimore has opened doors for me. There are work opportunities here.
My favorite thing is the farmer’s market, of course. I feel like there’s life in it. I’m there every Sunday, cooking food at our Mera stand. If I miss one Sunday, the week seems longer.
The stand next to me sells Mexican food. Other stands sell dumplings, curry and kimchi. When I found out I was coming to America, I thought it would be scary. But it’s simpler than I thought. All nationalities can live here.”