In the darkest days of Spain’s financial crisis, Catalina Lescano Álvarez and a team of unemployed women from Peru and Colombia set up a little restaurant in Madrid’s Oporto neighbourhood. Going by the name of Sabores del Mundo, it was a brave and passionate project with two key objectives: to create employment for immigrant women and to provide a filling meal every day to vulnerable members of the local community.
The project began in 2009, when Catalina pulled together just enough capital and brawn to found a business – one that would eventually grow into something capable of sustaining multiple people’s livelihoods. With money earned by renting her old flat in Peru, she joined forces with a group of women to create a worker-owned cooperative that defines its key values as equity, solidarity, equality, democracy and responsibility. The employees own the restaurant equally, and all business decisions are made as a team in a horizontal management structure.
Though the restaurant centres around Catalina’s culinary knowledge and passion for cooking, it’s no secret that she is motivated by the struggles she sees within her community. What makes Sabores del Mundo so exceptional is its unwavering commitment to helping others: unemployed people and pensioners receive a subsidised meal, partly funded by profits from the still-very-reasonable €8.50 for a menú del día.
“IN THE HEART OF OPORTO”
This is how their website describes the location of the restaurant. So, on one unusually rainy Saturday afternoon, we set off on foot (with an umbrella) for a hearty Peruvian lunch and to see what this employee-owned restaurant looked like. We arrived just before 3 pm and the restaurant was empty, but within 5 minutes a stampede of walk-ins had the place packed to the rafters.
A group of seven teenagers were the last to arrive, and we offered to change tables so they could squeeze in. We spotted other smaller tables doing a bit of accommodative shifting too, because who doesn’t love a packed restaurant – especially when its primary aim is to accommodate anyone and everyone.
It was one of the teenagers’ birthdays and they’d come for lunch to celebrate. Most of them were Peruvian and, as they explained their favourite dishes to their Spanish friends, we were reminded of how remarkable Spain’s youngest generation is. Having grown up alongside one another without ever questioning their differences, they’re the most integrated generation in our society – and the future of multicultural Spain.
Chefs Jose and Avelino have recently been integrated into the business. They’re both from Peru and are passionate about authentic food from their home country, especially Incan dishes, which are all so colourful and bursting with flavour. So, without further ado, here’s what the two of us had…
The portion sizes border on opulent, so make sure you arrive hungry – there’s simply no polite way to leave food on your plate here. And bear in mind that Sabores del Mundo have a shop next door where you can buy all the ingredients from their menu.
SPREAD THE WORD
Catalina plays a valuable role in Oporto’s community: in addition to the restaurant, she organises cultural events and workshops for the neighbours. Catalina also speaks at universities and has done several TV interviews, including on how to make a few of the recipes. Here’s a fun picture of Catalina, Jose and Avelino from their Facebook page, though I think those microphones might be fake…
Catalina’s determination is impressive, and she shows no signs of slowing down. If you’re simply after authentic Peruvian food, this is a wonderful no-frills place, and if you want to chat to Catalina about her work, don’t be surprised if she pulls up a chair.