What are the expectations about the use of public spaces when it comes to cooking on the street?

The title picture shows the “PopUpGrill” (http://journal.aetherapparel.com/2014/04/03/pop-up-grill/). A great project by Jonas Rylander which we find very inspiring for our design challenge you can read about in the following post.

What are the expectations about the use of public spaces when it comes to cooking on the street?

Even tough I already put up a short résumé of our research phase here, now follows the detailed version to allow an even better understanding for everyone interested. Also we would like to share the other surprising insights we have gained so far. Maybe they are helpful to one or the other and maybe some of you would like to contribute. What are your thoughts on and what is your interpretation of all this? We would be very thankful for any comments!

To first introduce us: We are a group of 4 university students from Berlin, three product designers and one socio economic communication designer and call ourselves “A Taste of Home”. How we came up with the name and the following design question, I will tell below:

“How can we help newcomers to use public spaces to their full extend because they do not know which activities are legal in these spaces and do not want to act against the law?”

Two month ago we went into the field asking ourselves “How can food preparation contribute to make people on the move feel at home and include other people living in this “foreign” country?” Amongst others we ended up talking to one 24 year-old guy from Syria and one girl from Korea about the same age. One had to flee home and the other moved for love.

Both of them are living in a caring environment. One in a shared flat with wonderful people (“locals”) who are all very closed to each other and the other together with her boyfriend who originally is from Germany. After having found out about this we dropped the second half of our starting question “[…] and include other people living in this “foreign” country?” , because we did not see this need anymore. They are already sharing their everyday life with “locals”, therefore also cooking with them. At least in this context one could say, they are well integrated. This left us with “How can food preparation contribute to make people on the move feel at home?”

In terms of food culture we found out that it is mostly about eating as an occasion. It’s about the taste, but even more about the surrounding atmosphere. The Syrian guy once got invited to the home of a Syrian family also living in Berlin for dinner. The food was “yummy” and “It tasted, just like it does when my mom cooks.”, but what he enjoyed even more were the conversations, the way things were handled around the table. The two little boys of the family were fighting over the remote control just like he and his siblings used to do back home. There was a lot of fooling around which not just he but everyone enjoyed.

Both the Syrian guy and the Korean girl are still cooking dishes they know from back home, even though it never tastes as good as it does when their moms cook. They both said that they left home to early to develop great cooking skills and learn all the tricks. In Korea traditionally a woman would only start cooking by herself after her marriage. Nowadays a lot of young people are leaving the country, respectively their parents’ homes, not being married and therefore without the entire knowledge. But as said before, they are both still trying and sometimes calling their mothers to ask for help. The Korean girl once even tried to sign up for a traditional Korean cooking class to improve her skills but unfortunately it was immediately booked up. Since then she has been hoping for a new opportunity. It seems that missing the food one grew up with is a good motivation to become active. Good food triggers people to do something. It is important to put the emphasis on the word something, because both of the interviewees recognized that it is also the missing time, which keeps them from cooking all the recipes they used to love back home. Some just take too much time in preparation: “Maybe 4 to 5 hours.”, the Syrian guy told us. Having to divide their time between work, German classes, socialising and cooking most of the days they are not willing to spent these many hours on the latter.

Before going on and explaining how we reshaped our design question with this knowledge in mind, I would like to share one more surprising insight we gained through the two interviews.

Talking about food and well being the Syrian guy told us that when he had just arrived to Germany, he did not like to eat outside. It disgusted him. Not being able to see the food preparation made him feel uncomfortable. We tried to find out the reason for this, whether it was because he eats Halal, which he does or it was out of cleanliness concerns, but yet could not manage to do so. We still have to ask again. What happened here shows one of the difficulties we had conducting the interviews. The question triggered some awkwardness. This we felt, but why we were not able to tell. Was it because the subject was sensitive to the respondent and his eating customs? Was it because he did want to offend us since we were talking about German food? How can we overcome such awkwardness whenever it occurs in future interviews?

To go on with the process of our research I would first like to recall the reshaped design question: “How can food preparation contribute to make people on the move feel at home?” It still seemed like the question was to broad to be solved in one design project. This is why we changed the target group “people on the move” to “young migrants” (20-30 years of age). We felt that the latter was more suitable for coming up with a specific design and the people we had interviewed both fit in this category. We then went back to synthesising the interviews once more and found that they were totally worth a second look. There was this whole topic of interactive food customs and traditions we yet had not paid enough attention to.

Reviewing our notes we got to understand, that for the people we had talked to “feeling at home” in the context of food culture was a lot about the interactive customs and traditions which they had been surrounded by most of their lives. The Syrian guy misses the Syrian nights where as he tells everyone takes their coaches and pillows outside, drinks tea, smokes, chats and just sleeps on the streets. He told us, that this maybe does not happen in bigger towns but in villages as in smaller or medium-sized towns it does.

The girl told us that she is missing the Korean street food a lot. Once she tried out a Korean street food market here in Berlin, but did not like it. She went there with some friends. They wanted to have some good Korean food, chat and meet new people. It turned out to be a disappointment. It was too expensive – there was even an entrance fee – and the food was just not good. In Korea she always used to eat outside with her friends. Cooking was a family thing; eating out was for all other social events. Considering these stories it made sense to rephrase or specify our question to: “How can we enable young migrants to integrate interactive food customs / traditions they like and bring from their cultures of origin into Berlin’s community life?” Furthermore it was then that we came up with our group name “A Taste of Home”.

It finally was the comment of a fellow student, which led us to modify our topic to what it is about now. She told us about an interview her group conducted with three Syrian refugees. During their conversation the interviewees mentioned the huge summer barbecues they always would have had back in Syria: a lot of friends, family, a lot of food, somewhere in the nature, in a park. Having been asked if they are organising similar activities here in summertime, they denied. They thought that in Berlin it was forbidden to have a barbecue anywhere outside and did not want to act against the law seen their uncertain statuses. Still they miss them. It was this story which made us change the question to: “How can we help newcomers to use public spaces to their full extend because they do not know which activities are legal in these spaces and do not want to act against the law?”

This question has to be considered on different levels. The higher-level question is: “How to harmonize the expectations about how to use public spaces?” What do “newcomers”, what do “locals”, what does everyone using those places want and how can the once being mutually exclusive to each other being handled? The second level is the topic of cooking on the street. Where, how and in which contexts is cooking in public spaces wanted? And last but not least the design challenge is about getting to know the legal frame and making it graspable for everyone.

All this is related to the fact, that there are a lot of refugees staying in camps where they do not have any opportunity to cook at all or even if they receive “food money” instead of catering, they only have access to a shared kitchen. Another guy from Syria we cooked with lives in such a place. He told us, that the huge number of people who are sharing the kitchen there is often keeping him away from cooking. Though some of his friends who are living in another camp without cooking facilities sometimes join him for cooking. How can we enable them to make cooking a regular part of their lives again?

Documenting your design process…

… looks like a very thorough work!

It’s incredible that none of these people seems to be cooks, and yet they are so knowledgeable about what cooking brings to one’s life - and how that’s a part of living a good, peaceful life.

I can only emphasize the importance of shared cooking in communities, it’s an essential part of socializing in Marrakech, Morocco where people gather in parks in the evenings and bring their tagine out to cook and mingle while enjoying the cool breeze from the Atlas mountains…

Do you see diversity there?

Heya, is this about the culture of going out or more of a policy or project for bringing people together?

Hey @Noemi, this is just something cultural that people have always been doing in Morocco, it’s about going out to catch the cool breeze after a hot summer day and of couse cook together…however there has been a change in the policy in the last couple of years, and it is not allowed to cook in public parks any more even though they use a traditional portable clay pot for coal/making fire and there is no hasard in cooking open air in such way…

When people go to the countryside for weekends/holidays, they always take the clay pots to cook their own food in the nature…even though there are restaurants available everywhere.

Cooking on movement


in Greece, many solidarity groups the last years have been cooking on the street for homeless or refugees. Especially the previous year, when thousands of refugees have crossed greece to move on other european countries, solidarity groups in islands, Eidomeni (on the borders with Makedonia) and city centers have cooked for them, or helped them cooking by themeselves. Nowadays, after borders close-down, the refugees remained in camps try also to enrich their poor meals by cooking with self-designed apparatus.