Georgia

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გამარჯობა! Gamarjoba! Greetings from the country of Georgia. Nestled in the Caucasus Mountains in the traditional border zone between Europe and Asia, this small republic sits at a crossroads between some of the world’s oldest civilizations. With that in mind, we knew that this weekend was going to be a real treat! Continue reading

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Recap: The D’s, E’s, F’s and Two Detours (Greece and Germany)

Now that we’ve finished the D’s, the E’s and the F’s, plus two detours to “G” countries, here are some highlights from the fifteen countries that we visited:

Favorite home-cooked meal:

Jess: This is a tough one. I really liked the socca, the chickpea flour pancakes we ate during our French weekend. Plus, they were very easy to make, and didn’t require any modification to make them vegetarian-friendly. They’re also vegan and gluten-free, so they could accommodate a number of special diets. The Far Breton dessert was also delicious, though not as healthy and accommodating of special diets. I also enjoyed the koshary we made during our Egyptian globetrot a lot. Several of the dishes we made from the Latin American and Nordic countries were also quite good, but if I have to pick just one country and meal, I’ll go with France and socca.

Derek: One of the most enjoyable meals for me was the breakfast of topoi that Jess cooked for Fiji. The chewy balls were very fun to eat!

Favorite restaurant meal:

Jess: We didn’t get to go to very many restaurants during this particular round of countries. Technically, we didn’t go to a restaurant for Greece, but I’d pick it as my favorite meal out. It wasn’t the best Greek food I’ve ever had, but the atmosphere really couldn’t be beat.

Derek: Eating a delicious meal at the House of Hummus and then peering next door to discover that the adjacent Jerusalem Hallal Market sells not only groceries but a colorful array of carpets, clothing, brassware, and other imported essentials as well.

Most memorable “live” experience:

Jess: Again, I’m going to have to go with Greece. Not only did the Greek Fest have a lot of food, but they also had many cultural displays and presentations (which Derek took more advantage of than I did).

Derek: I was very fortunate to be able to stay a bit longer than Jess at the Greek Fest (who was busy cooking a Greek dinner). After hearing a talk on the music of the Greek Orthodox Church, I attended a second lecture on how to cook trahana which ended with an impromptu discussion of where one can harvest wild greens in the area.

Film I’d recommend:

Jess: My favorite film from this batch is Good Bye, Lenin! from our German globetrot. I think it gave us a good sense of a certain historical time period in German history (the reunification of East and West Germany), with some humor.

Derek: the French film Entre les murs, known in English as The Class, was interesting for me because it offered a (fictionalized) glimpse into the pedagogy of an inner-city school. I am always looking for ways to make my own classroom more engaging!

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

Jess: A lot of our dishes during our Fijian globetrot reflected Indo-Fijian culture. It would have been great if we could have also done more with indigenous Fijian cuisine. But, I did enjoy cooking with cassava for the first time–the pre-grated frozen cassava in our local grocery store was a wonderful find!

Derek: We missed a couple of stereotypical Finnish activities, namely sitting in a hot sauna and eating black licorice.

Most challenging country:

Jess: I was really intrigued by Equatorial Guinea because it bears the distinction of being the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa, but it was difficult to find information about it. I was also hoping we’d have lots of Spanish-African fusion recipes to follow, but didn’t turn up any in our search.

Derek: With a population of only 72 thousand people, Dominica was already going to be a challenge. But then we realized that a web search for “Dominican” anything was likely to turn up results for the Dominican Republic instead!

France

We didn’t forget about our final “F” country! We’re back to alphabetical order again with France.

I think most Americans can identify something French in origin. Whether it’s crepes, Monet, a specific film, a wine, a cheese, an expression that’s been adopted into English vocabulary like “a la mode“–France has long been a cultural trendsetter.

This Parisian structure is one of the most photographed landmarks in the world. (This particular photograph is one of Derek’s, from a trip he took in 2008). You know what it is even though I haven’t called it by its name, and of course, you already know that it’s French.

Rather than just resting on what we already know about France and French culture, we wanted this weekend to be about learning new things and acquiring a deeper understanding of things we may only have known on a superficial level. So, let’s get started. Bonjour!

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Detour: Germany

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Guten Tag! Another June weekend brings another globetrotting detour to a country whose name begins with a G—in this case, Germany. And once again, we were making the detour because of a local festival: not Greek Fest but Wurstfest. I had the pleasure of touring Bavaria (the country’s largest state) in 2008 with the Brandeis University Chorus, where we visited the famous Neuschwanstein Castle that I photographed above.

Our adventures began on Friday night, when we took Jess’s brother to The Black Sheep, a restaurant on Buffalo’s West Side that features modern European cuisine. Among other things, we enjoyed a selection of fresh breads and international cheeses that we could imagine being served in a traditional German household. A couple of us also ordered dishes that featured pork, which we would learn is something of a German specialty. Continue reading

Detour: Greece

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Yassas!  This weekend found us globetrotting to Greece. We haven’t forgotten about France, or the five other “G” countries that alphabetically come before Greece. We’re taking our first detour ever since we moved to Buffalo (and first detour since November 2015), because the Greek Orthodox church in our neighborhood, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, was hosting their annual Greek Fest this weekend.

I don’t think the expression “It’s all Greek to me” is very accurate for when people don’t understand something at all, because ancient Greek culture has had a lasting impact on Western cultures. Many people have had exposure to foods of Greek origin, like gyro and spanakopita (the spinach and cheese phyllo pie). We often see elements of ancient Greek architecture around us, like these Ionic columns (meant to evoke ruins) that are Derek’s favorite lunch-eating spot on his university campus. We use letters of the Greek alphabet in math, science, and for the names of fraternities and sororities–not to mention that there are words in the English language that have Greek origin.

I may be biased because I took two years of ancient Greek in high school–while I don’t remember that much of the language, what’s stayed with me is that you can still see many traces of ancient Greek culture today.

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Finland

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Hyvää huomenta! Good morning from Finland! Finland is one of the Nordic countries—together with Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland—but is not a part of the region known as Scandinavia. That distinction belongs to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark alone. While Swedish is also an official language of Finland, the Finnish language itself shares more in common with Estonian, the language of Finland’s neighbor to the south (Estonia). As you can see from the hyperlinks above, we had already visited several nearby countries, but this weekend we naturally hoped to discover what makes Finland unique. Continue reading

Fiji

Bula! We’ve now reached Fiji, the first of the “F” countries (of which there are only three). Fiji’s islands are known for their beaches and year-round warm weather, and are a popular tourist destination. Even if you haven’t visited Fiji, you’ve most likely seen Fiji Water in your local stores, which actually is from Fiji.

Derek and I normally drink tap water, but when globetrotting to Fiji… buy Fiji Water?

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Estonia

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Tere! Our second globetrot of the spring took us to Estonia, one of the least-populated countries in the European Union and the northernmost of the three Baltic states, which also include Latvia and Lithuania. Today known for its booming tech industry (home to companies such as Skype) Estonia has had a long and delicious history at the cultural crossroads of the Baltics, Scandinavia, and beyond. Continue reading