Foreign Lands and Cultures

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I had no idea Segovia existed until I saw this blog. Spain has been on my travel to-do list, but it has now escalated into the top 5 of “travel there soon”: http://ncsusegovia2017.weebly.com/

Lebanese Food

Eastern influences and comes close to Israeli cuisine. The focus is on herbs, spices and fresh ingredients. Bread is a staple and served with almost every meal in the form of flat breads and pita. Fruit, vegetables and bread outweighs the amount of meat eaten. The national dish is Kibbeh, which consists out of a paste made with ground lamb and cracked wheat for a slightly grainy dish. Mezze consists of a flavorful variety of hot and cold dishes and forms an important part of the Lebanese diet. Hummus, rice, meat wrapped in grape leaves & kafta (kebab), mashed beans, hot & cold salads, pickled vegetables, Tabbouleh, Mujaddara, all form a large part of Mezze. Rarely are dishes presented in different courses, but rather all eaten together. Lebanese dessert is usual Baklava prepared with a flaky pastry, pistachios and a sweet rose water drizzle and served with a coffee called Ahweh, a strong, Arabic brew, as well as the national drink Arak. Arak is a colorless alcoholic drink made from Anise.

Kenya & Zanzibar

Kenyan Sukuma Wiki is a popular Kenyan dish used all over Africa and can also go under the name of Marogo, depending on the culture and language. This consists of collard greens fried in butter or oil with garlic, onion, salt, lots of pepper and sometimes tomatoes. There is no real distinction between appetizers and mains in east Africa and the dish is mostly an accompaniment with buffet style foods the African way. Meals are eaten seated on the ground. Women serve the men dishes in ethnic wooden and clay bowls and the men and women dine separately. The recipes that follow are all part of the main meal, with dessert separate. If you should choose to do an appetizer, use a smaller portion of the Sukuma Wiki and serve it first before serving the rest of the meal.

Zanzibar and Pemba are known as the spice islands because of the spices brought to the islands when colonized by the Yemenis, Persians and Omanis. This brought the most popular dish in Zanzibar, Pilau. It is a beautifully spiced rice dish that can be served on its own or with stews and sauces. Here I serve it as a main with a fish stew in a simple vegetable curry sauce that is also a popular sauce used in Kenya. The Sukuma Wiki accompanies this to complete the meal.

The most famous delicacies of Kenya and most of the east coast including Zanzibar is Kaimati. It is a crunchy dumpling cooked in sugar water. This is served as dessert with Arabica coffee. The coffee from Zanzibar is the strongest, yet the best, coffee I have ever tasted in the world and I often find myself longing for that taste. It is an Arabica coffee grown in the rich volcanic soil of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.

Seychelles

The Seychelles is located in the Indian Ocean south of the equator off the east coast of Southern Africa. Official languages are Creole, French and English. There are 150 islands in the archipelago and only 3 islands are inhabited. Staple foods are curry and rice, which are sometimes eaten 3 times a day. The islands have prolific plant and wild life, both in and outside of the ocean. Giant fruit bats are found everywhere and fruit bat curry is a delicacy. Tourism and fishing is their main source of income and the government does an incredible job with conserving the natural habitat of the islands. Fishing is highly regulated. No coral is allowed to be removed from the ocean. This attitude has resulted in a pristine underwater paradise. Agriculture is also regulated, so deforestation on the islands are unknown. Most people grow their own vegetables in their back yards and live of the land with a very small footprint.

Mauritius

Mauritius is a 788 square mile island, 500km east of Madagascar, with a population of approximately 1.3 million people. Hindus, Tamils, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and others from all over the globe live in harmony and respect the free practice of all religions. Mauritians love music. Women dance the Sega in colorful skirts and crop tops. Men play the drums and guitar and the Sega is heard all over the island, deep into the night. If you happen to be in a bar where the Sega is being danced, the women will pull you in to dance with them. Nightlife is abundant and full throttle. Traffic is brutal and lack of set rules is blatant throughout. Drivers make up their own set of rules and you better learn quick or an accident will result. Accidents are a regular sight on the island. The scooter is often used as a mode of transport and they will transport anything from a whole family, to livestock, to sugarcane. Fresh produce and meat is expensive, as most everything gets imported. Their main source of income is tourism, fishing and sugar cane farming. Even though the island is incredibly poor, the people are peaceful and kind and like to form deep friendships. Their love of children is obvious and it is tough to decide what is more beautiful: the souls of the people or the island itself.

The Maldives

We were very excited about the exotic food at first. Further into the trip however, we realized that everything started to taste the same. Our virgin conservative South African palates were starting to get used to the exotic spices. Tuna is the favorite fish and gets served with rice and coconut. Coconut comes with everything. The islands import all forms of rice, but coconut palms are abundant on the island and fishing is one of the main industries in the Maldives. Indian spices are widely used due to the Maldives’ close proximity to Sri Lanka and India.

Mozambique

Mozambique Main Garlic Prawns
Garlic Shrimp served with Piri Piri Sauce & Rice

Mozambique is located on the southeast coast of southern Africa and used to be a Portuguese colony for many years. Unlike the rest of Africa’s rather dull cuisine, Mozambique is a foodie’s dream. It has a strong Portuguese influence and it is one of southern Africa’s most tropical destinations with beautiful white sand beaches, tropical islands and azure waters. With the exception of dessert, most dishes get served with fries or rice and a side of garlic butter. The most popular dish is chicken piri-piri, a fiery chicken dish made with red chilies. Also introduced by the Portuguese is Pao, or Portugese breadrolls. Prego is a steak roll that is very popular in Mozambique cuisine. Fresh seafood such as prawns, calamari, crab, crayfish and fish is in abundance. Other popular food items include potatoes, steak, cassava and corn porridge that closely resembles grits in the USA. Grilled cheese sandwiches and fries are usually sold at roadside stalls. Adults drink a beer made from maize, usually from a common pot at special occassions. This beer is thick and sweet and can have quite a kick. The food is flavorful with strong tropical influences, such as papaya and pineapple, but be sure to have a good tolerance for fiery chilli!

Israel

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Dolphinarium Nightclub Tel Aviv Bombed by a Suicide Bomber in 2002. Never restored

While doing the research for Israeli food, I was concerned that, because my children live there, I would make a faux pas as to what is true Israeli and what is not. Then I read a note in a beautiful cookbook called “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi that made me relax and add a little of my own stamp to it:

“The food cultures are mashed and fused together in a way that is impossible to unravel. They interact all the time and influence one another constantly, so nothing is pure any more. Over millenia it has seen countless immigrants, occupiers, visitors, merchants, all bringing foods and recipes from the four corners of the earth.”

I expected a war ravaged place, but instead I was blown away by the tastes, flavors, spices and availibilty of fresh produce in Israel. The food was interesting and extremely appetizing. The variety of juices made my heart happy. There were juice stands around every corner in Tel Aviv and the market in Jerusalem. The juices were pressed by hand with a manual press. While in the old city of Jaffa, I asked my son Craig to buy me a fresh squeezed juice three times within the space of 30 minutes. I bled fresh pomegranate, ginger, mango & carrot. I was officially in love with Israel’s juices. The best dining experience was at Shila, the restaurant where Craig works. The raw bar presented dishes out of this world and I regret not going back there to spend a night sitting at this bar, eating seafood that tasted like it came fresh out of the ocean minutes ago.

During our trip to the old city of Jerusalem, we ate Shakshuka for lunch at a little cafe within the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. What I loved most about the dish was the fact that they served it in the pan it was prepared in. This gave it an authentic rusticity and somewhat of a charming messiness. The cafe was in a square with cobblestone floors and small rickety tables and chairs that added to the charm. While eating, all kinds of celebration marches with music came by us. People here love to dance and they do so without inhibitions. This was especially noticeable at Melanie’s wedding. I loved that. Music and dancing would break out spontaneously all over the beachfront as soon as the sun starts to go down, most of the music played by live musicians.

We didn’t eat much dessert, because we found an incredible ice cream shop on a street corner that sells the best ice cream in the world. Needless to say, we ate a lot of ice cream. I tried a more traditional rice pudding made with cardamom, pistachios and rose water. Normally I wouldn’t really enjoy a rice pudding, but cardamom is my favorite spice and the rose water adds tremendous interest to this dish.

Every morning we sat on our balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. It was our first time in the Middle East. It struck me that we sat in a war torn country, overlooking a beautiful Mediterranean, drinking some of the best coffee in the world in the Middle East. What an amazing contrast of flavors & scenes. I was just sad that I picked up a stomach virus halfway through the trip and couldn’t live it up as much as I would’ve liked to. We may have to go back to try again.

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