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C-U’s Restaurant Week features cuisines from around the globe

Co-owner of A Taste of Both Worlds Raz Diaz cooks pancit, a popular dish at his restaurant, which features Filipino and Cambodian fusion.

The 8th annual Restaurant Week is underway in Champaign-Urbana. This year’s event highlights 50 local restaurants, showcasing cuisines from all over the world. 

The event is put on by Experience Champaign-Urbana, a tourism marketing organization. Terri Reifsteck, the organization’s VP of marketing, said that the event is meant to boost local restaurants during a time when they typically receive less traffic. 

She said Restaurant Week also gives people the opportunity to see what the food scene in Champaign-Urbana has to offer. 

“One of the reasons why we started it was to shine a spotlight on our culinary scene because we do have something special going on here, especially with all the international flavors that we have access to,” Reifsteck said. 

One of those restaurants, featuring Filipino-Cambodian fusion, is A Taste of Both Worlds, located in the Broadway Food Hall in Urbana. Raz Diaz, a co-owner of the restaurant, said he was the first to bring Filipino food to the area when he started a food truck called Hunger Force Mobile. 

The entrance to A Taste of Both Worlds displays flags from the Philippines and Cambodia. The restaurant is located in the Broadway Food Hall in Urbana. Elissa Eaton/Illinois Student Newsroom

After seeing the success of the food truck, he reached out to a friend of his who is from Cambodia to pitch the idea of opening up a restaurant together.

 “I told him, ‘Look, there’s no Cambodian restaurant here in Champaign at all, and I started the first Filipino. How about, you know, we put our menu together and start something like this?’” Diaz said. 

Filipino dishes have become more mainstream in the U.S., Diaz said, and he thinks Cambodian food is starting to follow the same trend.

“If you’re talking about Filipino food, it wasn’t as popular as it is now. But now, that’s where Cambodian food is getting to,” he said. 

The most popular item on the menu, he said, is the Cambodian stuffed wings served with pancit — a Filipino noodle dish served with vegetables and a meat of choice. Cambodian stuffed wings are boneless and filled with ground chicken and other spices.

“We stuff it with ground chicken, bean thread noodles, lemongrass and other spices,” Diaz said. “They’re very intricate to make.” 

Diaz said that he and his co-owner aim to make each dish to be as good as it can be. 

 “We take pride in every dish that we serve,” he said. “We don’t ever want to let a dish out that doesn’t look right. That’s our biggest thing, you know, presentation, taste-wise, it’s always there.”

Owner Mubanga Chanda said Stango Cuisine is the only Zambian restaurant in the U.S.. The restaurant is located on Walnut Street in Downtown Champaign. Elissa Eaton/Illinois Student Newsroom

Another spot in this year’s Restaurant Week line-up is Stango Cuisine, a Zambian restaurant located on Walnut Street in Downtown Champaign. Owner Mubanga Chanda said she believes Stango Cuisine to be the only Zambian restaurant in North America.“Hopefully somewhere somehow, one of my fellow Zambians will decide to open and you know, showcase our food,” Chanda said.

A lot of people come to Stango Cuisine expecting to see fufu, a popular African dish, she said. However, Zambians are known for their nshima instead. Nshima is a mixture of cornmeal and water. 

“Africa is a big continent, and we all cook food differently. So in Zambia, we do nshima, [which you eat] with your stews, your beef stew, chicken curry, your oxtail, your goat meat and stuff like that,” Chanda said. 

Restaurant Week continues through Saturday, Feb. 3.

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