Passport to Nashville program exposes Nashvillians to ethnic foods around the city


Emily Goncalves

Nations in Our Neighborhood’s founder Renuka Christoph deliberates about details of the Passport program at a team meeting in February.

Sarah Friedman, Senior Writer

Renuka Christoph’s mission is to defy prejudice, racism and bigotry. How does she plan to take on such a large goal? Through food.

“Cuisine is a powerful cross-cultural connector,” Christoph said. “In my own personal life, I’ve found that food is a great way to connect people. I’ve been in tough spots, and you break bread together and it’s amazing what that does.”

Christoph founded Nations in our Neighborhood after leaving her position as a Communications Consultant for Vanderbilt’s Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion with the goal of encouraging the exploration of ethnic dining in Nashville. The organization has several initiatives, the main one being a Passport program, which provides passport holders with an exclusive chef’s plate from over 15 ethnic Nashville restaurants between June 8 and Oct. 4. Additionally, each week during this time period, one restaurant will offer a prix-fixe meal for $21.95. Restaurants included in the program range from Japanese food from Ken’s Sushi to Kurdish food from House of Kabob to Jamaican food from Jamaica Way.

Each passport holder will also receive a free meal delivered to their home from Gigamunch, an organization that delivers meals prepared by local immigrants and refugees to individual’s homes weekly. Each meal is complete with dessert and a playlist of music from the chef’s home country. The passport costs $39.99 and can be purchased on the Nations in our Neighborhood website. Christoph noted that there are a limited quantity of passports available.

There will be a kickoff celebration event at Plaza Mariachi on June 1 from 6 to 9 p.m. for passport holders to pick up their passports. Anyone unable to attend this event will have their passport mailed to them. There will also be a closing celebration at Bavarian Bierhaus on Oct. 4 complete with live music, food and beer.

Christoph, who is now working as a marketing consultant for printing services at Vanderbilt, is collaborating with graduate students at Owen and Peabody to flesh out the logistics of the passport program’s launch. She connected with the students through Vanderbilt’s Turner Family Center for Social Ventures.

“The idea is to create something that unifies people. We are aiming to get in touch with college students and young professionals, because those are the two groups that will be most drawn and easiest to market to,” said Katie Burns, a second-year student at Vanderbilt’s Peabody School Education Policy & Management who spent two years consulting in China and has traveled in Kenya.

In addition to the Passport program, Nations in our Neighborhood offers a detailed guide to the Nashville ethnic food scene on their website, organized by country. Christoph has also taken it upon herself to print and distribute wristbands that say “Embrace the Nations in our Neighborhood,” which Burns handed out on campus by tabling on Rand wall Feb. 20. Christoph plans to have another tabling session sometime soon.   

“The more you get to know people, the less biased you are… Nashville is a cool city, we’ve got all kinds of people,” Christoph said. “It’s not about DACA and deportations other issues smeared in the headlines, it’s about the human beings.”

All photos by Emily Gonçalves. 

View the Passport by clicking below: 

[aesop_document type=”pdf” src=”” caption=”Passport to the Nations in Our Neighborhood”]