One Big Table — an international tasting

Emma Polen | News Editor | The Organization of Chinese Americans performance ensembles danced across the stage in traditional costumes at One Big Table on Monday.

Emma Polen | News Editor

March 16, 2023

Red, yellow and blue balloons framed the stage at Stage AE this Monday as the city of Pittsburgh celebrated the diverse host of cultures within its community.

Literacy Pittsburgh, a non-profit for adult and family education, put on their One Big Table: An International Tasting event on Monday night in the event space at Stage AE. One Big Table is Literacy Pittsburgh’s major annual event that promotes the organization’s mission of inclusivity and community building through education, according to their official website.

For five years now, the education non-profit has held One Big Table, inviting international vendors from right here in the Pittsburgh area.

This year’s event was led by Literacy Pittsburgh’s Tim Richart, director of development.

“The focus is on the smaller immigrant owned restaurants that represent our students,” he said. “Our students are eating at these restaurants.”

For non-vendor visitors at One Big Table, Richart hopes to expand palettes with foods that attendees might not have otherwise tried.

“It’s good to get out of your comfort zone, try something new…It’s important to be exposed to all the different cultures in Pittsburgh,” he said. “There’s something for anybody.”

“I like the diversity – young, old, multicultural,” said event-goer Ginnie Haid from Baldwin. “The entertainment and the food enlighten me to other cultures.”

Haid and her husband appreciate the opportunity to support Literacy Pittsburgh’s cause. They “help the underserved in the Pittsburgh community,” she said, and the couple were at the event for the second year on Monday night.

“I like it because it’s high energy,” said another visitor, Shelly Cohler, from Jefferson Hills. She said there were so many things to do at the event to be entertained, including food, artists and entertainment.

General admission to the event was $85 per person and included free food sampling and entertainment, an open bar and open seating. All proceeds benefited Literacy Pittsburgh students and programs, said their website.

One Big Table provided immigrant vendors and artists with a platform to spread awareness about their business.

“It’s not meant to be a craft show,” Richart said. “We want to highlight international art by international students and individuals.”

Bringing the traditions of Pittsburgh to the event, a Pittsburgh Cookie Table and bingo-style raffles were also held – and highly popular – at the event.

Outside of Pittsburgh-specific traditions, vendors represented cultures from all over the world through samples of their work.

Lilian Kababa and her daughter make African handmade jewelry. Their designs represent African trades, such as rolled paper bead necklaces.

“This is from the motherland,” Kababa said. “It’s unique, it’s different.”

Many of their materials come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and others are authentic from other regions of Africa.

Carlina Cabeza sells natural diffuser bracelets. The inspiration for her brand, You Can Call Me Yoko, came from a desire to have another employment opportunity for herself and her sisters who immigrated from Venezuela after her.

Cabeza’s business name is based on the relationship she has with her sisters and her Venezuelan heritage because “You can call me Yoko” was something her sister said when they entered the U.S. and tried telling people her nickname, she said.

Assisted by her sister, food vendor Natalie Manjeen cooked up her restaurant, The 98’s, signature rose-shaped (chor muang) dumplings with a Thai family recipe.

“Whatever our family made…this is what we brought to Pittsburgh. Fresh ingredients imported from Thailand,” she said.

The combination of cultures was also what inspired Chicken Latino’s (@chickenlatino) owner, Shelbin Santos, to initially bring her Peruvian food to Pittsburgh back in 2007, making her business the first authentic Latino Peruvian cuisine in the city of Pittsburgh at the time. Since then, many more Peruvian restaurants have joined the food scene in the city.

“It’s nice the Latino community is growing in Pittsburgh,” Santos said.

Santos brought selva negro, black forest cake, and rice pudding samples to One Big Table. Rice pudding is a classic dessert in Peru, where Asian culture has been incorporated as well, she said.

“I love cooking. It’s my passion. I don’t feel like it’s work for me,” Santos said. “For me it’s very important I cook. I want to share a little bit of our culture.”

Other popular food stations at the event included Jackie Kennedy Catering’s shrimp and grits, the Nook in Lawrenceville serving Şekerpare and Instituto Mondo Italiano, which displayed the process of making fresh mozzarella and served it on a caprese salad.

“We are a collection of friends and brothers,” said Chrisala Brown, a dancer, teacher and choreographer of Urban African, the first group to perform at One Big Table. The ensemble’s purpose as a music and dance group is to always be learning more about African culture, she said.

Dance troops Zang TKD and the Chinese Americans performing ensembles finished off the event with a dance and martial arts routine.

“Diversity is a big part of Literacy Pittsburgh,” Richart said. “We look for unique, diverse entertainment.”