A traditional Burmese tray holds condiments that are sprinkled to taste on a tea leaf salad.
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Vietnamese shrimp rice-paper rolls with a peanut dipping sauce.
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An assembled Burmese tea leaf salad.
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At a Tapestry Suppers event this past spring, 30 people, mostly strangers, took their seats at a long table in a bright Sunnyvale backyard, enjoying plates heaped with spicy, sweet, complex Burmese curries, and splashed with colorful condiments of herbs, dried chilies, peanuts and slices of lime. The host, April Chou, arrived in the United States as a teenager with her family, eager for a new beginning after the trials of life under Burma’s military junta. Her guests were there to hear her story, learn about a culture and cuisine, and raise funds for refugees.
Tapestry Suppers, the brainchild of Bay Area blogger and photographer Danielle Tsi, seeks to break down barriers with a universal connector: food. Each gathering is hosted by an immigrant home chef, whose narrative is as much the draw as the dishes from their homeland. “I wanted to bring people with different perspectives into an open dialogue in the same physical space,” explains Tsi, who emigrated from Singapore a decade ago. “We’re growing apart as a society, and we’ve forgotten how to have an exchange of ideas.”
Launched in March, the series has consistently sold out; Tsi is currently working on the scheduling for the rest of the year. The cost to attend varies—the Burmese event was $40, while a later Iranian one was $65—with profits going to charity. Thoa van Seventer, a refugee from Vietnam, hosted the inaugural supper. She wanted to participate because she believes “exotic food makes people curious about other races, other cultures and brings them closer to each other,” she says. “It will help us become more openminded, more tolerant, more generous to people who are different from us.”
Amy Wilkinson, a guest at the Burmese get-together, echoes this sentiment. “It is a way to appreciate all the variety of lived experience that exists here in Silicon Valley,” she says. “There are a million stories, and yet it is so hard to find opportunities to sit, to listen and to understand.… When I sit at a Tapestry Suppers table, surrounded by neighbors and eating delicious home-cooked food, hearing stories about the lived experiences of my neighbors, I feel engaged, connected and happy.”
Originally published in the July/August issue of Silicon Valley