Culinary cultural exchange dinner brings together Mexican, Chinese… and Mummer foods

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On Monday evening, members of the Philadelphia Chinese and Mexican communities got together to have dinner with some of the city’s Mummers. As the latest in a string of after-hours, invitation-only dinners, they each prepared a dish unique to their culture.

A Chinese chef demonstrated how to make pork dumplings, traditionally made for Chinese New Year. The Mummers shared their own New Year’s tradition, made with the same meat: an Italian stuffed pork loin. Rocco Gallelli demonstrated how to make an Italian stuffed pork loin.

“As you spread the cheese throughout, when you bake it, it will act as a glue keeping all the spinach and roasted peppers together,” said Rocco Gallelli of Innovative Catering Concepts.

The lineup of chefs also included Christina Martinez, who entered this country illegally. She prepared hand-made tortillas and tomatillo sauce, just as she does at the South Philly Barbacoa restaurant she co-owns with her husband, Benjamin Miller.

“Christina came by walking across the desert,” said Miller, speaking through a microphone to a crowd of about 30 people, while Martinez busily pressed balls of masa into flattened tortillas. “She’s living here as an undocumented person. Even though we’re married, she still can’t get papers.”

Mayor Jim Kenney was on hand to foster intercultural dialogue. “We all have to stick together,” he said. “The best way is to eat together.”

The structured series of dinners, called “Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers,” starts with a cooking demonstration for each dish, then eating, then facilitators prompt the diners into conversations about food traditions.

This is the sixth such dinner organized by the manager of Reading Terminal Market, Anuj Gupta.

“The last session we did was with Cambodians and South Philly residents,” he said. “At the end, two (people) stood up and said, ‘We realize we’ve been through a similar struggle.’ You wouldn’t have that exchange but for something like this.”

Gupta got help from Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations, the same commission that organized cultural sensitivity training for the Mummers last year, in response to offensive behavior during the New Years Day parade in 2016.

The Mummers were invited to this dinner to continue that multicultural exposure.

“This is absolutely a part of it. No doubt,” said Commission board chair Rue Landau. “A lot of mummers are looking for more opportunity to get to know these groups.”

One of the participants in the dinner was Fred Keller, from Second Street in South Philadelphia. “If I’m from Second Street, I’m a Mummer,” he said.

He used to be the captain of the Jokers Fancy Brigade. Now retired, he’s an officer for the Fancy division.

“We’re part of the fabric of the city, like everyone else,” he said, tucking into the pork dumplings. “We want to let people know what Mummers are. We’re celebrating New Years Day like every other culture has a day that they celebrate.”

This was the final dinner of the first round of dinners. The next round will invite the same cultural groups to shared dinners, with the goal of learning techniques to develop multicultural awareness in their respective neighborhoods.

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