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  • A taste of home

    Last week, I had the oh-so-arduous task of visiting four local, Catholic-owned eateries and writing about their ethnic cuisine. Each time I walked through the door of a new restaurant, I experienced a little piece of someone’s home and home country. 

    Opening the Lebanese Taverna in Arlington was her father’s way of keeping a piece of home close as he raised his children in a new land, said Grace Abi-Najm Shea, who now owns the restaurant with her siblings. Like Shea, Richard Micheli of the Portofino Restaurant in Arlington was practically raised in the family restaurant. 

    Micheli family photos from Italy adorn the walls of the Portofino, including a portrait of Richard, his father, Sergio, and his grandfather, Adelmo — three generations smiling together in their chef hats. Non-stop Sinatra tunes played from the speakers of the 51-year-old establishment. 

    I wasn’t always aware of what I was getting into tastewise at each restaurant, but I was greeted by hospitable guides. Siblings Julia and Cesar Argueta, owners of Pupusas Express in Alexandria and immigrants from El Salvador, took the time to explain unknown-to-me Central American ingredients and the proper way to eat a pupusa — with your hands, and with a bit of salsa and cabbage curtido in each bite.

    Veronica Musie of Vera's Kitchen in Manassas not only fed me, but also showed me a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The way she explained it, as soon as people smell their neighbor making coffee, everyone comes running to sit, sip and share the daily news. 

    Coffee is poured for a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony at Vera’s Kitchen in Manassas. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

    coffee ceremony

    All of the owners were immigrants or children of immigrants and they spoke lovingly about their home countries as well as the opportunities the United States had afforded them and their families. Musie said she is especially grateful to be able to practice her religion without persecution. “When I came from Ethiopia, things were bad,” she said. “This country gave me a chance to leave, to become a citizen, to raise my kids and worship freely.”

    While I set out to write about what's on the menu, what I really took away was how much culture, family heritage and love goes into every dish.

    © Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

    @Zoey Maraist