El Salvador

Hola! This weekend found us in Latin America once again, this time in El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. The country tends to have a bad reputation for being a dangerous and violent place, but I don’t think we’re being Pollyannas by believing that there are good things about El Salvador, its people and culture, that don’t get as much attention.

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Egypt

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صباح الفل  Sabah il-full from Egypt! This colloquial greeting literally means “morning of jasmine” in Egyptian Arabic. With a history spanning more than twelve thousand years, Egypt is one of the oldest and most populous nations in the world. Today, evidence of its global influence is easy to find in Buffalo’s historic Forest Lawn Cemetery (above) where we discovered not only a stately sphinx but also dozens of pointed obelisks rising high into the air. Continue reading

Ecuador

Hola! This weekend found us in the Americas again, in our first “E” country, Ecuador. Even though the country is a neighbor of Peru, a country that my family has ties to, I didn’t know much about Ecuador, except that it grows a lot of bananas.

Ecuador is in the northwestern part of the South American continent, and as you may have already guessed from its name, it’s at the equator (“Ecuador” is Spanish for “equator”). And as we were finding recipes and grocery shopping, it became pretty evident that this small country (roughly the size of the state of Colorado) has more than just bananas. While not everything in the picture below was made in Ecuador or with Ecuadorian ingredients, this is just some of what we bought for our recipes this weekend.

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VámanosLet’s go!

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Dominican Republic

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Hola and feliz año nuevo from the Dominican Republic! This New Year’s weekend brought us from the tiny Commonwealth of Dominica (population 73,000) to its much larger neighbor, the Dominican Republic (population 10.4 million). The two island nations sit about a thousand kilometers apart in the Caribbean Sea. The Dominican Republic is not alone, however, as it shares the vast island of Hispaniola with the nation of Haiti. Continue reading

Dominica

If you’re like me, you probably first pronounced the name of this next country with the stress on the second syllable, like “Dominican Republic,” minus the final “n” in the first word and “Republic”. But that’s not correct. The correct pronunciation is more like the girl’s name Dominique, with an added “uh” sound at the end.

Dominica is a tiny island nation in the Caribbean, and a former French-then British colony. It isn’t related to the larger, Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. Both people from Dominica and the Dominican Republic identify as Dominicans, but again, there’s the difference in pronunciation and stress.

Compared to other islands in the Caribbean, Dominica isn’t as big a tourist destination, which probably explains why it’s not as well known. But even though Dominica may be a bit more obscure, Derek and I were determined to give this globetrot our best efforts.

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Djibouti

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Bonjour from the Horn of Africa, where a snowy Buffalo weekend brought us face to face with the music, food, and history of Djibouti.  This globetrot marked our second visit to the continent’s easternmost region after our detour to Ethiopia several years ago. A former colony of France, Djibouti is a small and predominantly Muslim country located on the shores of the Gulf of Aden. We were excited to discover not only how the country balances its African, French, and Arabic influences but also what makes it unique. Continue reading

Denmark

Hej! This weekend took us to the first of the “D” countries, Denmark, which has also become known in recent years as the happiest country in the world. Derek is one eighth Danish, through his maternal grandfather, so we already knew a little bit about Danish culture. I’ve also made a few Danish desserts in the past, including this little guy:

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Danish children celebrate their birthdays with a kagemand (“cake man”), so I had decided it would be fun to make one for Derek’s grandfather’s birthday a few years ago. I made Danish pastry dough from scratch, and a raspberry filling, and shaped the pastry into the shape of a man. Derek helped decorate the cake with some glaze, red licorice and other candies, plus a printout of the Danish flag attached to a coffee stirrer. (A more traditional kagemand might also have marzipan, either as a filling or decoration, but we had skipped it because Derek’s allergic to almonds.)

Although the cake had been a success, we decided not to make another one this weekend. Globetrotting is about learning and trying new things, and we had plenty of other Danish recipes to try. In addition, there was still a lot we didn’t know about Denmark or Danish culture. So–onward!

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Recap: The C’s

We’ve finished the C’s! Before we move on, here are some of our thoughts about this diverse group of countries:

Favorite home-cooked meal:

Jess: It was hectic to prepare five items for the same meal, but I’m pleased with how our home-cooked Cuban dinner of rice, black beans, vegan picadillo, fried plantains, and avocado salad came out—lots of flavors and textures all on the same plate.

Derek: One of the biggest culinary surprises for me was the soft and buttery mardouf flatbread from the Comoros islands. My attempts at baking with yeast don’t often end well, but this was a hit!

Favorite restaurant meal:

Jess: Sitting at the chef’s bar at Comedor during our Chilean weekend was definitely a highlight. And while the food was much simpler when we breakfasted at La Abundancia for our Colombian globetrot, the experience felt more immersive than our usual meals out, since most people were talking in Spanish around us.

Derek: I, too, share fond memories of the two restaurants that Jess has highlighted above. Another meal that I won’t soon forget was our Sunday morning visit to the Restaurante Cesaria in Dorchester, where we stumbled into another immersive experience as we joined the local Cabo Verdean community for brunch. Between the authentic cuisine and the friendly atmosphere, it wasn’t hard to figure out why this restaurant was so popular!

Most memorable “live” experience:

Jess: I liked that for both Colombia and Cambodia, we were able to visit communities of people who emigrated from those countries: East Boston for Colombian-American businesses, and Lowell for Cambodian-American establishments. (And yes, we did visit Boston’s Chinatown when we globetrotted to China, but that experience wasn’t so novel for me, partly because I was working near that neighborhood at the time.)

Derek: Our day trip to Cambodia Town in Lowell turned out to be a globetrotting goldmine. With one of the largest Cambodian-American populations in the United States, the neighborhood offered everthing from restaurants and markets to Buddhist temples and roadside shrines. With elements of traditional architecture and Cambodian signage at every turn, it was sometimes hard to believe that we had traveled only an hour from Boston.

Film I’d recommend:

Jess: Our Croatian film, Night Boats, was charming and funny, yet also quite sad.

Derek: I enjoyed the quiet cinematography and powerful storytelling of Daratt, one of two feature films that we watched during our weekend globetrot to Chad.

An activity I wish we had been able to find/try:

Jess: There’s a Czech restaurant in Niagara Falls, Canada, which isn’t that far from Buffalo, called Red Chateau. But we haven’t quite figured out the logistics of traveling to Niagara Falls yet (we don’t have a car). It seems like we should do more on a trip to Niagara Falls than go eat at a restaurant, but we weren’t sure if that excursion would leave us enough time to do other Czech-related things, like making our own Czech-style food, or learning about the country. And does going across the border into Canada still really count as globetrotting from home?

Derek: Our long weekend in China was certainly one of the most extensive globetrots that we have undertaken, partly because the country is so large but also because there were so many opportunities to experience Chinese food and culture available in Boston. Although we spent time exploring Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China, I do wish that we had found more time to explore some of the country’s western regions. So while we did watch a documentary about the recent history of Tibet, we didn’t visit any of Boston’s several Tibetan restaurants.

Most challenging country:

Jess: My two—the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Maybe covering both countries in the same weekend didn’t help us learn what distinguishes the two from each other beyond different governments, but I’m not sure devoting separate weekends to each country would have helped much either.

Derek: Our recent globetrot to Croatia turned out to be a pleasant adventure, but it was also the first country that we had attempted to explore from Buffalo instead of from Boston. As we began to research our new city, we had lots of questions: Could we find an authentic Croatian restaurant, and could we get there with public transportation? Would we be able to purchase as many special ingredients as in Boston?

The good news is that Buffalo—which has a long history of opening its doors to refugee populations from around the world—has turned out to be a wonderful city for globetrotting. See you in Denmark!

Czechia

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Our next destination was the central European nation of Czechia, better known to Americans as the Czech Republic. Czechia was part of Czechoslovakia for most of the twentieth century, until it separated from neighboring Slovakia in 1993. Continue reading

Cyprus

Ya sou! Merhaba!  This weekend we globetrotted to Cyprus, an island nation in the eastern Mediterranean. Over the centuries, Cyprus has been a part of many empires, including the Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman and British Empires. The two major ethnic groups in modern-day, independent Cyprus are the Greek Cypriots, who make up about three-quarters of the country’s population, and the Turkish Cypriots, who are about 18 percent of the population.

Since Derek and I like both Greek and Turkish cuisine, we knew we were in for a treat with Cyprus. But, of course, we were wanted to know more about Cypriot culture than just the food. We vaguely knew that the country was divided, with northern Cyprus being predominantly Turkish, and southern Cyprus predominantly Greek, but didn’t know the backstory.

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