Skuhna: The Restaurant Integrating Migrants, Changing Menus and Lives

By , 15 May 2018, 15:36 PM Lifestyle
Skuhna: The Restaurant Integrating Migrants, Changing Menus and Lives All images by Skuhna, unless otherwise noted

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May 15, 2018

Ljubljana’s Trubarjeva cesta is known for it’s colourful character (and characters), but also, and increasingly, as the best place in the city to get ethnic food, with the offerings now including, but not limited to, Lebanese, Greek, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, and more, with much of the latter being provided by Skuhna, at #56, where in one recent week alone you could sample dishes from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Syria, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. 

The restaurant is run by a couple, Max and Teja, with the former from Zimbabwe and the latter from Slovenia. We popped in the other day for a meal and the first in what’s likely to be a series of interviews with Max and his colleagues. This time we just let him talk about the place, which is highly recommended if you want to try something tasty, well-prepared and out of the ordinary, and also if you want listen to a talk, join a discussion, play some drums, or join a choir (with the full schedule of events found here), while the group even does catering for events and parties.

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JL Flanner

How did Skuhna start?

It started as a project, in 2012, which was funded by the EU and the Slovenian government. The aim was to increase the employability of migrants, especially from the Global South, by providing them with an opportunity to enhance their skills, particularly in relation to culinary work.

After the introductory phase of the project, when we were basically looking for people to engage, we had some courses for immigrants. In this we covered topics like hygiene, safety at work, and some cooking classes. We also employed six migrants, including myself, before the end of the project.

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The restaurant started functioning as a full time restaurant two years later, in 2014. It took time for training and finding a place, but also for experimenting. We started in 2013 with just occasional dinners, and then twice a week, and so on.

Originally, when we started the project, the aim was to do cooking workshops some caterings and something we called culinary camps. These were outside Ljubljana, and we’d have a group of people and do cultural and culinary workshops, and a bit of catering. But we dropped the culinary camps after a marketing study at the beginning showed that they were not viable. We found our catering was very popular, and good, actually.

We made money from catering to such an extent that by the end of the official project in 2015 we had made some savings. This then enabled us, after the project funding ran out, to continue like we are today. Now it’s an independent restaurant, with no external funding, although sometimes we still apply for certain projects.

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Have the backgrounds of the migrants changed a lot, with the opening of the Balkan Route?

The one constant is change, especially because of the composition of the migrants who come here. We started with people from Morocco, Kenya, India, Uruguay, and now there’s Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Tunisia and Syria, but the make up is changing all the time. Somewhere in between we had someone from the Philippines, from Argentina, Iran. They come and go, but that’s the whole concept.

How do people get to join?

Now we get people mainly from word of mouth. They come here and ask a lot of questions, and we give them all the information, and then if they want to join the team we have really individual interviews. The project aims to increase the employability of migrants, but it’s all very personalised, and some people have a lot of experience in kitchens, and what they need is just some exposure. Others have very little experience, and they need to learn much more before they can hope to get a job in a kitchen, but they have a lot of interest.

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So the aim to have people pass through quite quickly?

Yes, that’s the whole point, to increase their employability by working in the kitchen or bar, and to expose them to the market. Some people also work here and build up networks, and they can move on that way. In fact, we have restaurants that ask for people who’ve worked here.

What about the events here?

Every last Thursday of the month we have an event in the evening, It’s Amazing What Migrants Bring. There’s a humanitarian aspect to it, but that’s not the main goal, which is just for people to share their stories, answer questions, and connect. No one pretends to bring enlightenment about world affairs, but if people are allowed to talk about themselves individually then they’ll bring up certain leads, and if someone is really interested they can follow that story. But yes, the people who speak share their own opinions, and that’s the whole idea.

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Then on Tuesdays it’s really just drumming, and that’s about showing some of the migrants the market here. We offer the space and everything for free, and they can make some money from the contributions. This all helps with our mission, which is empowering migrants, developing their skills, and exposing the people who come here to Skuhna, and sooner or later they’ll become our customers, or they’ll have an idea for a project.

Another event we have is called Skuhna Talk Debates. This is modelled on the TED Talks. This started because many times we think there are misrepresentation of the migrants’ stories, and this is because they’re being told by someone else. We’ve talked about, for example, the IMF and the World Bank, gender issues, migration, poverty, but also about different places, about food issues, Catalonian independence. A very wide range of issues, and the aim isn’t to solve these problems, but about talking and learning from and with each other, and giving migrants a forum to share their views.

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We also have the Friday evening dinners, and those are really an event. It’s a five-course meal, and it costs 15 to 17 EUR, depending on what you take. Those are very popular, and at the end there’s also live music from a rotating group of musicians, who are also migrants. The dinner starts at 19:00, and the music starts about 20:30 and lasts for about 15 minutes.

Then once a week, usually Saturdays, we have something called Skuhna Delights. We’ve had so many different cooks, from so many different places, but then they move on. So we have a chef here who teaches the migrants but also learns the dishes, and then for these events maybe they make something from the Philippines, or something from Gambia, and that’s where you can try many different things.

What about vegetarians?

Vegetarians, vegans, there’s always something for them.

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Skuhna can be found at Trubarjeva cesta 56, 1000 Ljubljana, while it’s website is here and Facebook page is here. The place is open Mon-Wed, 11:30–17:00, Thu and Fri 11:30–22:00, Saturday 12:00–20:00, and closed Sundays,

Max talking about his life in 2014, in Slovene with English subtitles

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