In the community

Fusion food truck offers new tastes in Ontario

Amal’s Ethnic Fusion food truck is ready to serve up Middle Eastern specialties at the Four Rivers Health Clinic location in Ontario. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon)

ONTARIO – To bring more Middle Eastern food to Malheur County, the Four Rivers Welcome Center is opening a food truck called Amal’s Ethnic Fusion this Saturday at the Four Rivers Health Clinic in Ontario.

The food truck, named with an Arabic word meaning “hope” or “aspiration,” has the goal of supporting local refugees through economic empowerment, community-building and sharing cultures.

Inspired by cuisines from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan and Somalia, the menu offers kebabs, shawarma, sambusa, falafel, jeweled rice, salads, flatbread and desserts. 

Customers can reach the food truck off either Southwest Fourth Avenue or Southwest Sixth Street.

Renee Cummings, director of the Welcome Center, came up with the idea for Amal’s after the center opened last year. 

“I had been thinking of different ways to showcase their food for a while and explored pop ups and cooperatives but the truck seemed to be the most realistic option,” Cummings said.

Cummings had previously managed the soup kitchen at Harvest House. 

“I’ve done food service types of things before in a nonprofit way. But a food truck? No.” 

Now, she has to work with a different kind of kitchen.

Cumming’s kitchen is down-to-earth, hard-scrabble and full of people with different ethnic backgrounds. Her head cook is Hamid Sediqi, an Ontario resident with 30 years of cooking experience at restaurants in Afghanistan. Sediqi and his family came to the Treasure Valley five years ago.

“The interesting part is that he speaks Persian, or Farsi, which no one else in this community does,” Cummings said. “His son, who lives in Europe, has been doing some of our interpreting over the phone. So that’s been one of our challenges.” 

The kitchen staff also includes Taha Almuthafar, a refugee from Iraq, and Sarah Altalbanee, an Ontario High School senior from Iraq. 

“Sarah’s step mom is Syrian, so she has a lot of Syrian influences in her food knowledge,” Cummings said. 

Cummings added that she is hoping to get Altabalnee’s stepmother a domestic kitchen license for the baking and desserts.

 “We’re just trying to keep it simple to get it open,” Cummings said. “I’m really focused on making it clean and keeping it that way and keeping the quality really good.”

She said that one of the main challenges has been overcoming the laws and regulations for operating a food truck.

“America has a million food safety rules. That’s just part of all the challenges,” Cummings said. “It’s been a learning curve but really rewarding.”

Cummings said she hopes the food truck will be a way for refugees to develop a place and sense of community for themselves and other fellow refugees. She also hopes the food truck will be a place for people to learn new skills and start a career in food service.

“I’m really hoping that this’ll be an incubator for training people, some place they could get some training and use that to do other things they want to do, maybe even open their own restaurant business,” said Cummings. “A lot of our refugees come from countries where you do a lot of entrepreneur kinds of things.”

In pricing the dishes on the menu, Cummings said she looked around at other food trucks in Ontario and “priced the food accordingly.”

“Although I have to make a profit to keep going, obviously, that’s not the goal,” said Cummings. “The goal of the food truck is outreach, it’s getting people to know the food, know the people, and it’s hopefully like a training spot for people to get comfortable.”

Cummings said she wants to model Amal’s Ethnic Fusion’s customer service after a Guyanan food truck she visited in Portland where the cook talked about Guyana with his customers while he cooked their meals.

“He did a little history lesson and just talked to us about his home country,” said Cummings. “I’m hoping Amal’s is going to be like that, where customers ask questions so that people get to learn about one another’s cultures.”

Have a news tip? Reporter Kristine de Leon: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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