Travel through Moroccan food: A photo essay

Moroccan food: I could not stop thinking about it since I wrote a photo essay last week about couscous history on my Travel The Middle East blog. Those succulent tagines and fluffy Couscous Fridays when I studied abroad at Al Akhawayn University…oh how I miss thee! For this reason, we are Traveling Through Moroccan food on Cultural Tidbits Monday this week 😀

Couscous

Moroccan food, couscous

One of the many variations of Moroccan couscous: Sweet and savory! (Photo: Khonsali, Wiki)

Known as the National Dish of Morocco worldwide, couscous has even been adopted by the French as a traditional dish. Initially a Berber pasta dish made of semolina, it dates back to the 9th Century. Couscous can be smothered with a variety of toppings, sweet and savory. Combinations include sweet almonds, sugar, and cinnamon to savory lamb tagine on top. However, the most common is a savory-sweet combo, including several vegetables, raisins, tons of onions, and even legumes. Yum!

Tagine

Moroccan food, chicken tagine

Savory chicken tagine. The top covers the bottom while being cooked (Photo: Boris van Hoytema, Flickr)

Moroccans really love to mix the savory and the sweet. This is also seen on this other Moroccan food staple: Tagines. Another delicious Berber dish, they receive their name from the special clay pots they are cooked in (pictured above).

But, what is the tagine dish about? They are slow-cooked stews usually accompanied by either olives, quinces, apples, pears, apricots, raisins, prunes, dates, and/or nuts, with fresh or preserved lemons (Wikipedia). The spices used make tagines extremely aromatic. Indeed, eating a tagine is a full-sensory experience: All 5 senses are engaged!

I particularly like to eat tagine with bread instead of utensils — somehow, this makes it taste even better to me 🙂 Just so you have an idea of what this flavorful concoction is like: Spices added may be cinnamon, saffron, ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, pepper, and the spice blend ras el hanout spice blend (Wikipedia). Moreover, traditional combinations also include chicken or lamb.

Harira

Moroccan food, hearty harira

heartier-than-usual harira (Photo: George Wesley & Bonita Dannells, Flickr)

Yet another Moroccan food that I would eat almost daily. Harira is particularly popular during Ramadan in Morocco, as it is one of the first dishes eaten during iftar (“breaking of the fast”), alongside hard-boiled eggs (dipped in salt and cummin) and a plethora of sweets.

Harira is a thick tomato soup with chickpeas, lentils, herbs (celery, parsley, coriander), spices (saffron, ginger, pepper), and sometimes noodles. Typically, small pieces of chicken, lamb or beef are added to the ingredients list as well. And yes, you guessed it: It is yet another Berber dish!

Other Moroccan food favorites: Pastilla, Mechoui, and Merguez

Of course, there’s no possible way I could describe each Moroccan dish on a single post! For this reason, I decided to post a couple of photos of other Moroccan traditional dishes with a short description as caption. Bon apetit!

Moroccan food, pastilla

Pastilla, one of the most unique Moroccan dishes. It is very sweet and slightly salty, stuffed with chicken or pigeon meat, cinnamon and then typically sprinkled with white powder sugar on top (Photo: Mayu Shimizu, Flickr)

Mechoui, Moroccan food

Mechoui, Moroccan roasted lamb (Photo: freecandy13, Flickr)

Merguez, Moroccan food

Merguez, spicy Moroccan lamb sausage (Photo:Andrew Scrivani, Flickr)

Have you ever had Moroccan food? What’s your favorite dish? Why?

Christmas traditions around the world PT 2!

CLICK HERE for pt 1 of Christmas traditions around the world! learn about the FESTIVE customs and traditions of even more countries.

Christmas in Italy

Christmas traditions around the world, nativity scene

Presepe: Nativity scene in Italy (Photo: Davide Papalini)

Thought Christmas were longer only in Latin America? Think again! In Italy, Christmas officially starts on December 8th with the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception and then, families typically start to decorate their homes with lights. Gift giving, however, does not happen until January 6th or Epiphany, a tradition shared with many Latin American countries. That 12th day of Christmas is when it is believed that the Three Wise Men (aka Three Kings) visited Baby Jesus and showered him with gifts. As such, just like in Latin America, the main Christmas decoration is the Nativity scene, or as it is called in Italian: The presepe.

Christmas in Jordan

Christmas traditions around the world, beef and bulgur

Minced beef and bulgur, a traditional Christmas dish in Jordan (Photo:Wearenotmartha.com)

Christmas in Jordan is celebrated with great fervor by the Christian minority there. What surprised me the most, however, is the tradition of soaking dry fruits in rum, brandy, and cognac by women in early December! I can’t wait to go back to the Middle East an try those! 😉 Then on Christmas Eve, a cake is baked, while Christmas Day dinner consists of grilled eggplant, vine leaves in tomato sauce, stuffed turkey, and minced beef with bulgur

Christmas in Martinique

Christmas traditions around the world, shrubb

Clément Créole Shrubb, a popular one in Martinique (Photo:Scotlandstephenson.com)

Christmas in this creole tropical island is a mix of Caribbean and French flavors. Their most distinct Christmas tradition, however, is the making and drinking of shrubb, a fine liquor made of white rum, sugarcane syrup and dried peels of tangerines and oranges, which are abundant at this time of the year.

Christmas in Mexico

Christmas traditions around the world, posada

Posada procession in Oaxaca, Mexico (Photo: GoMexico.about.com)

Mexican Christmas (or “Navidades”) officially start on December 16th with a tradition called “Las Posadas,” which last all the way until Noche Buena or Christmas Eve. This tradition involves the recreation of Mary and Joseph’s hard journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, trying to find shelter to give birth. A different part of the journey is recreated every night, culminating with a party at a neighborhood. Children dress as angels, shepherds, and also as Mary and Joseph in such processions, with their parents following with lit candles.

Christmas in Morocco

Jemaa el Fnaa

Jemaa el Fnaa Square. Marrakech, Morocco

As a Muslim country, Christmas is rarely celebrated in Morocco. Yet, due to the strong French/European influence in the country, along with a growing expat community, you will find Christmas lights and decorations sprinkled throughout the big cities. Days vary, however, depending on the faith and background of that minority. For instance, members of the Orthodox Christian Church celebrate Christmas on January 6th; while the Coptic and Armenian Churches celebrate the holy day on January 7th. Last, but not least, the Catholics typically attend a special evening mass on December 24th to start Christmas.

Christmas in Panama

Christmas traditions around the world, Panama

Left: A traditional pollera dress; Right: Light show during Panama City’s Christmas Boat Show (Photos: Family-christmas-traditions.com)

Christmas in Panama is quite lively and several great events are held, specially in the capital Panama City. Festivities kick off the 2nd weekend of December with a big Christmas Parade. Gorgeous floats pass by and women dress in very bright, traditional dresses called polleras. Also, at night, an amazing boat parade showcase a light show that is truly spectacular!

Christmas in Puerto Rico

It is tough to decide what’s your favorite tradition of a Puerto Rican Christmas. Is it the fact that they begin on Thanksgiving Day in November and don’t end until the end of January? Is it the party after party throughout the whole season and how virtually everyone decorates their homes with hundreds of lights? Or is it the food and plena music?

Coming from the Island of Enchantment, I can tell you that the most unique and fun Christmas tradition in Puerto Rico is the parrandas! In essence, they are drunken Christmas carols! Learn more about Puerto Rican parrandas here.

Christmas in Spain

Christmas traditions around the world, Pavo trufado

Pavo trufado: A traditional Christmas dish in Spain (Photo: Cocina.org)

Naturally, Christmas traditions in Spain are very similar to those in Latn America. Thus, I have decided to switch it up a bit on this entry and leave ya with a recipe of a traditional Christmas dish in Spain: Pavo Trufado de Navidad (Christmas Turkey with Truffles)!

1 turkey of 4 kg.
œ kg. minced lean pork
1 kg. minced veal
Salt and ground black pepper
1 glass of brandy
1 large glass of dry oloroso sherry
3 tins (of 90g) truffles (mushrooms)
150 g “jamon serrano”
200 g belly of pork in rashers
6 eggs [click here for the rest!]

Christmas in Switzerland

Christmas traditions around the world, Swiss ringli

Ringli: Typical Christmas treat in Switzerland

A special Swiss Christmas tradition is to await the arrival of Christkindli: A white angel wearing a crown full of jewels, which holds a face veil over its face. This angel is the one that brings the presents. These, by the way, come in a basket, which is carried by Christkindli‘s child helpers. Also, another Swiss Christmas tradition is  to eat ringli (homemade doughnuts) with hot chocolate.

Christmas in St Thomas (US Virgin Islands)

Christmas traditions around the world, St Thomas sweet bread

Photo recipe: VirginIslandsThisWeek.com (click to enlarge)

One event to look forward to when spending Christmas in St. Thomas is the Challenge of the Carols outdoor concert. It is infamously glorious! While at it, grab some Johnny cakes (traditional holiday sweet bread). Click on the image above for a traditional recipe to bake at home!

Christmas in Vatican City

Christmas traditions around the world, Vatican

Vatican Christmas Tree (Photo: Sunshine city, Flikr)

Naturally, the Pope delivers his traditional Christmas speech and directs mass to thousands of fervent believers. This service, called “midnight papal mass,” actually begins at 10 PM on Christmas Eve in St. Peter’s Basilica. The papal speech, however, is delivered around noon on Christmas Day.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions around the world? Why?

Christmas traditions around the world + photos!

In the Western & Christian worlds, we celebrate Christmas this weekend. In celebration, I decided to compile some unique Christmas traditions around the world! Since our globe has more than 200 countries, the list below includes only the ones I have personally visited and/or lived in. This way, we keep the number close to 30 😉 Hope you enjoy it!

Aruba

Christmas traditions around the world, ajaca

Ajaca: Traditional food eaten during Christmas in Aruba, it is made of plantains and stuffed with pork, chicken or beef (Photo:Mourinhospenis.tumblr.com)

In this beautiful Caribbean island, it is commonplace for families to go to church together on Christmas Eve. Then, families gather again for Christmas dinner the next day and sing Aruban songs as they eat ajaca (also eaten in Puerto Rico, but known as “pastel”), salted ham and salmon.

Austria

Christmas traditions around the world, Austria markets

Christmas market in Vienna, Austria (Photo: Manfred Werner)

While Christmas markets are very popular in several cities across Europe, they are particularly important in Austria. The most popular in this quaint country are found in Vienna (in front of the City Hall), Innsbruck (in square by the Golden Roof), and Salzburg (by Residenzplatz/the big Cathedral).

Barbados

Christmas traditions around the world, Barbados

Christmas Pantomime by St Winifred School, Barbados (Photo:Bajanchristmas.wordpress.com)

In the Barbados, a curious tradition is that children put on a pantomime show (instead of a traditional Christmas play) for school. This is also common Christmas tradition in Jamaica.

Curacao

Christmas traditions around the world, Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa Claus) and his helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). Photo: Looi at nl.wikipedia

In the Dutch Caribbean (including the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao) they celebrate what it’s called Saint Nicholas Day. What’s really special in this region, however, is Sinterklaas: The Dutch Santa Claus! He makes an appearance on December 5th and gives out the gifts then! Oh, it is also feast day 😉

Dominican Republic

Christmas traditions around the world, Three Kings

"Los Tres Reyes Magos," meaning "The Three Magic Kings" (Photo: Studioporto.com)

While many Latin American countries celebrate both December 25th (Santa Claus/Christmas) and January 6th (Three Kings Day), only the latter is celebrated in Dominican Republic. There might be some exceptions to the rule, such as wealthy families exchanging gifts on both days. This, however, is rare. What, then, happens on January 6th? Children leave grass for the “camels” of the Three Kings to eat under their beds (not tree!) and then see their gifts there the next morning.

Egypt

Christmas traditions around the world, fattah

Egyptian fattah (Photo: Mylifeinapyramid.com)

Christmas in EGYPT? That’s right! While more than 90% of the population in Egypt are Muslims, there is still a Christian minority, called the Coptic Church. Also, as an Orthodox Church, so they actually celebrate Christmas on January 7th, a day after Three Kings Day in Latin America (Epiphany). Then, on Christmas Eve, everyone goes to church midnight service wearing a brand-new outfit, then goes home afterward to eat delicious fata (pictured above).

England

Christmas traditions around the world, Boxing Day

Keswick Boxing Day Hunt, Market Square, Cumbria, Lakes District, England in 1962 (Photo: Phillip Capper, Wiki)

Some peculiar Christmas traditions in England are the Queen of England’s speech (radio and televised) on Christmas Day and the celebration of Boxing Day on Dec. 26th, which nowadays involves giving small amounts of money as gifts to those who have helped you throughout the year (i.e. the mailman, the newspaper boy, etc.). When it comes to food, Christmas lunch includes a chestnut-stuffed turkey, Yorkshire pudding and roast beef or roast goose.

Germany

Christmas traditions around the world, suckling pig

Suckling pig: Traditional German dish eaten on “Dickbauch” feast day (Photo:Whydyoueatthat.wordpress.com)

As in several European countries, the day that German kids actually receive gifts is December 7th. Thus, on the night of December 6th, children place a boot or shoe by the fireplace (similar to the mistletoe tradition!) and wait for St. Nicholas to fill it with gifts! Another funny fact? Christmas Eve is called “Dickbauch” (which means “fat stomach”) and if you do not eat well on that day, you will be haunted by DEMONS! Say wha!? Interesting Christmas superstition indeed!

Iceland

Christmas traditions around the world, Yule Lads

Two of the Yule Lads on a billboard in Iceland (Photo:WikiCommons)

Icelandic Christmas is great, as it lasts 26 days and brings about 13 different “Santa Clauses” (also called “Yule Lads”) and they start bringing gifts 13 days before December 25th! The story behind them is that their parents are mean mother GrĂœla (who takes away the naughty kids in town!) and father LeppalĂșĂ°i, who is not that bad. Their children then are the infamous Yuletid, and each day of the Icelandic Christmas a different one comes to town, either bringing gifts or a prank, or both! 😉 on December 12th, children place a shoe by the window and expect one of the many “Santa Clauses” to leave gifts – but if you have been naughty, you get a potato instead! The major gift exchange and Christmas celebration, however, happens on Christmas Eve, when many Icelanders also go to midnight mass.

Israel & Palestine

While Jews celebrate Chanukkah around the same time, a minority of Christian Arabs do celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, on December 25th. Celebrations are particularly evident in Bethlehem and the Church of Nativity, where it is believed to be the location of the manger where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago. See the video above to get a taste of Christmas in the West Bank/Palestine!

For part 2, and many more traditions from other countries, CLICK HERE!!

What are your favorite Christmas traditions around the world? Why?

Travel Bucket List of the Week: Holidays RTW!

To learn more about #TravelBL Wednesdays, click here

Happy #TravelBL Wednesday peeps! The items on this week’s travel bucket list are related to Christmas and the holidays. So grab a pen and keep expanding that travel bucket list of yours!

travel bucket list, Loi Krathong festival

Loi Krathong festival, Thailand (Photo: Robert Pollai)

Holiday travel bucket list item #1: Loi Krathong festival, Thailand/Laos/Burma

I had no idea of this Thai festival’s existence until I heard it was on one of my fellow tweeps’ travel bucket list yesterday at the #TravelBL chat. Happening on the full-moon night of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar (usually sometime in November), krathong rafts are released into the water as a way of “paying respects” to the spirits of this element. Fireworks and a huge party are typical of this celebration as well. Who wouldn’t want to go?!

travel bucket list, Vienna Christmas market

Christkindlmarkt in Vienna, Austria (Photo: Manfred Werner)

Holiday travel bucket list item #2: The European Christmas markets

I have heard so many things about the wonderful, magical Christmas markets in several cities across Europe. However, the one that has mostly resonated around me has been the one in Vienna! Although also Luxembourg…and Prague…but they are all close by so I’ll probably cross them all off my holiday travel bucket list at once! 😉

travel bucket list, Australia Day

Australia Day fireworks in Perth (Photo: Nachoman-au, Wikipedia)

Holiday travel bucket list item #3: Australia Day, AUS

We all know that Aussies really know how to party. Then, imagine how it would be to celebrate the first settlement in Port Jackson (nowadays, part of Sydney) with them?! A whole different story! I plan Australia Day celebrations to be top-ranked among the best parties ever experienced once I finally crossed this one off my travel bucket list. When will this happen? I was planning for 2012 or 2013, but it seems that Egypt & the Middle East are calling my name strongly once more. But behold my fellow Aussies, I shall join you soon enough!

Holiday travel bucket list item #4: Christmas in Bethlehem

Some call it West Bank; others Palestine. Tensions keep rising. Regardless of your political views, a vigil on Christmas Eve & Christmas Day celebrations in Bethlehem will definitely take your breath away. The aura and air simply smell differently; the surroundings charged with spiritual energy. I was really close to crossing this item off my travel bucket list 3 years ago, but I ended up spending Christmas in Puerto Rico instead. I, however, plan on joining the solemn vigil & celebration at the place most believe Jesus Christ was born in the future. Can’t wait for that day 🙂

Holiday travel bucket list item #5: The Chinese Lantern Festival

I have always been infatuated with this Chinese type of lanterns–they are romantic and add spice to any room’s decorations. Now, put thousands together and let them fly up into the sky, all during a traditional festival that has been celebrated for more than 2000 years — now that’s just something else! Oh btw, it is to scare the ghosts away, too 😀 it happens on the 15th lunar day of 7th lunar month, which will fall on February for the next 3 years. I wanna go in 2014, just because it falls on St Valentine’s Day — how romantic would that be?!

Want your travel bucket list items featured next week? It is simple: Post your travel bucket list items on your blog, post the blog post link in a comment below, tweet that post with the #TravelBL tag and then cc @latinAbroad (moi!) on it. Y listo! I’ll RT and feature the post on next week’s Travel Bucket List Wednesday. What if you guys take a vacay and I don’t have any new blog posts and lists to feature? I simply go around the Internet browsing and reposting the best of the best for our travel bucket list. Moreover, don’t forget to join us on Twitter #TravelBL chat every Wednesday at 12 & 6:15 pm (EST)! 😀

What’s on your holiday travel bucket list?

Kenyan superstitions – The World’s Superstitions Series pt 9

After a three-month hiatus, I’ve decided to bring back The World’s Superstitions series! They were (and still are!) quite popular posts and I think we can learn much about different cultures by bringing them back to latinAbroad 😀 So! Today we travel to Africa, pass by the Masai Mara & get a list of Kenyan superstitions!

Kenyan superstitions series - Kenyan flag

Photo: Kevin Walsh, WikiCommons

Kenyan superstitions are generally known to be myths created in order to protect families from disease and bad behaviors. But, as with superstitions in much of the world, others simply reflect many cultural values and beliefs (good or bad). I have added additional explanations and notes respectively.

* Ladies, watch your hubbies drinking closely at night! Because if he drinks out of a bottle or “vessel” at the wee hours and then forgets to cover it, his soul will dive into it!

* Want countless of blessings? Then never sweep at night! According to Kenyan superstitions, sweeping under the moonlight will chase blessings away. An underlying truth about this superstitions (or so Kenyans say) is that it make sense because by sweeping, you may throw away something of value that was dropped unwillingly. Makes sense…but in my case, I actually find things when I sweep! Oh well…I agree to disagree 😉

* Another man behavior to watch: Don’t let him go to bed with dirty feet. Or else? The devil will come at night and lick his tootsies (ewww…)

* Speaking of man behavior, if you wish to know if your man is lying (about anything), just watch where he drinks his water from. Is it the bathroom faucet? Uh-oh! (Note: In reality, this superstition was invented in order to keep people from drinking contaminated water)

* Mwenye kula miguu ya kuku atakuwa daima katika mwendo tu – “He who eats a fowl’s legs will become a wanderer” (awesome, now I know what to give the man I wish to marry! (*evil grin* bahaha…)

* Mothers, don’t ever leave your babies unattended! According to Kenyan superstitions, if a baby is left alone inside a room, the devil will possess him/her. Another interesting cultural fact is that many Kenyans believe Albinos are “victims” of this type of “neglect” and are now “changelings”

Kenyan superstitions, children

Photo: Angela Sevin, WikiCommons

* Another tip to mothers: Overly affectionate with your bundle of joy? Make sure you don’t kiss him/her as he/she sleeps. Why? Kenyans believe it will make the baby grow conceited!

* Kupiga uluzi ni kuita shetani – “To whistle is to call the devil” (YIKES! Many of my friends are so so screwed here…)

* And let’s see if you recognize this one: Seeing a black cat at night means bad omen. Oh! We’ve heard that one before… 😉

* Careful when handing scissors to a Kenyan – simply don’t do it directly. Huh? Put them on the table instead for your Kenyan friend to pick them up. Why, you may ask? According to Kenyan superstitions, if scissors are handed directly to someone, it means a sign of hatred toward that person!

* Want to get married later in life? Then follow one of the door Kenyan superstitions: Make it a habit to sit on the doorstep! Kenyans actually wanted to discourage any waiting by the door so telling this to kids would prevent them from doing so. In my case though? The total opposite! (I’m so doing this now..)

* Another door-related superstition: “He who eats while standing on the door-step
will be knocked down by a devil” (another superstition invented to discourage the bad habit of hanging by the doors)

* Kuzaliwa na vidole sita ni mabruki – “To be born with six fingers Is to have good fortune”

Kenyan superstitions, six fingers

Photo: SvonHalenbach, WikiCommons

And that shall be all for Kenyan superstitions (source: mwambao.com)! Next Monday I’ll post a brand new list of superstitions from a [surprise] country. Interested on knowing more about a particular place? Suggestions for future posts are more than welcome! 😉 Just contact me or tweet me. Until then, Tutaonana!

Previously featured countries:
Puerto Rico
India
France
Australia
Palestine
Mexico
Egypt
Iceland

Got more Kenyan superstitions? Share them in a comment below!

Traveling through Egyptian food: Photo essay

Ahlan wa sahlan! It is Cultural Tidbits Monday and today we Travel through Egyptian food! As you already know, on this mini series, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite ethnic foods and restaurants through educational (and quite yummy) photo essays. Let’s get started! As I lived in the Arab world for almost 16 months, I will admit that the Egyptian food selections of today’s photo essay are pretty biased (read: My favorite dishes). However, that does not make each dish any less of an Egyptian food right? That being said, I did my best to pick some of the most distinctive dishes among my favorites. Enjoy!

Mezzes

Egyptian food, taameya

Egyptian food: Taameya inside a pita (Photo: Politicalmonkey2010.wordpress.com)

Taameya / falafel

Had to start with the taameya: The Egyptian falafel. Mashed beans made into balls, then deep fried. Middle Eastern goodness that most of us have tried at least once. The Egyptian taameya, however, is a different kind and has a quite distinctive flavor and deep pistachio-green color: Different from any other falafel I had tried elsewhere. They use different kinds of beans in different Arab countries, thus the different falafel varieties. Certainly, one could travel all over the Middle East simply trying to find the perfect ball of falafel. A mission I might attempt to accomplish soon…

Baba ghanoush

Egyptian food, baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush: Pita dip made of mashed eggplant mixed with spices, typically bathed in olive oil and garlic

I will never forget the baba ghanoush I had on a daily basis in Cairo, particularly the one at my favorite restaurant in Dokki, called Taza. Walking distance from my house, it was part of my evening walk back from Arabic classes at AUC. Its garlicky, even smoky kind of flavor is what made Taza’s baba ghanoush the best in town. I tried many others and none can compare, so make sure you head to 146 al Tahrir Street if you go through Cairo, Egypt and sample this Arab delicacy. What is interesting is that this great review comes from a person who usually hateseggplants. So if you are like me, please don’t give your back to this dish: It is a must-try!

Fuul

Egyptian food, fuul

Egyptian fuul (mashed fava beans, simmered for over 8 hrs) with crazy toppings. Photo: Politicalmonkey2010.wordpress.com

Ahh, fuul. This Egyptian food is so dynamic (is that the right adj? lol) that I would sometimes eat it 5 times a day without even thinking about it. I would had it with falafel and eggs in my morning pita pocket; for lunch with a couple of kofta pieces; a pita pocket filled with just fuul as a snack – the possibilities are endless. Basically, fuul is to Egyptian food what rice and beans are to Latin cuisine (now we’re talking, I know). My favorite concoction must be fuul alaskandereya(literally meaning “Alexandria fuul,” from the Egyptian city on the Mediterranean): Fuul spiced up with hot peppers . They were basically the Robin to my Batman when I lived in Egypt.

Kibbeh

Egyptian food kibbeh

Egyptian food: Kibbeh

Egyptian food open kibbeh

Egyptian food: Opened kibbeh (Photo: Cassaendra, Sittoo’s, Parma, OH

Another mouth-watering Egyptian food, kibbeh rounds up my Top 3 mezzes list. What I find the most curious about this dish is that it looks and tastes so similar to a Puerto Rican fast food, called the alcapurria. While the Boricua appetizer is made of either cassava or plantains, the shell of the kibbeh is made of cracked wheat. Also, the ground beef that fills them is spiced differently. However, when it comes to looks, the Puerto Rican alcapurria seems like an elongated kibbeh. Wow, this is truly torture…I want some now!

Main courses

Egyptian food: Fiteer

Egyptian fiteer (Photo:Twincitieseats.blogspot.com)

Fiteer

Doubling as appetizer/desert for a table or a meal for one, fiteer is another Egyptian food I often have dreams of at night. A hybrid between a crepe and a pizza pie, fiteer is made of several light, buttery sheets put together and then stuffed with all kinds of ingredients: From veggies to lamb, to cheese and chicken, even Nutella (chocolate spread) and nuts! It is absolutely delicious, could either be your app or desert, and you could eat it every day for a month and not get tired of it: Too many varieties to choose from!. Be careful when eating it hot from local restaurants and stands though: The nastiest case of Pharaoh tummy, aka food poisoning, while I lived in the Middle East was caused by some old cheese stuffed in my fiteer from well-known Egyptian rest. chain GAD. So smell your food and make sure the cheese looks melty and “right” prior to consumption!

Kushari

Egyptian food, kushari extra onions

My favorite kushari: Extra fried onions, please!

Egyptian food kushari

Mix well — and never judge a book by its cover!

Oh my kushari. The quintessential Egyptian food, you can’t say you’ve been to Egypt if you haven’t eaten this dish. At first sight, it looks like a bunch of leftovers of macaroni, rice, lentils, fried onions and salsa dumped together. However, if you can get past the looks, your taste buds are in for a real treat. I love to add some extra garlic sauce and double the fried onions topping, in addition to a hint of the super-spicy Egyptian pepper sauce provided. Your kushari stand attendant always remembers how you like it if you are a regular like me, which is a plus (because, naturally, i would then get 3 times the fried onion topping. Aiiiiwa!). Best in town is debatable: Current competition is between Koshary Abou Tarek (16 Maarouf St., Champollion, Cairo) and Koshary El Tahrir (12, Youssef El Gendy St. ,Off of Bab El Louk St.). Naturally, reviews are quite mixed. I went to both and can’t pick a favorite, so I recommend you pay a visit to both restaurants and decide which is the best Cairene kushariyourself!

Shish tawook

Egyptian food, shish tawook

Shish tawook: The Egyptian chicken kebab (Photo: Basel15, Wiki Commons)

Typically known as simply “the grill,” my favorite plate of animal goodness includes some shish tawook/shish kebab and lamb kofta. I would typically buy this dish at least once a week at Taza rest., ask for a tower of pita and simply roll the bread around the meat, then dip it all in the big plastic container of baba ghanoushI would always get on the side. Egyptian food heaven: I dare you to try that.

Kofta

Egyptian food, kofta

Egyptian kofta: Lamb meat wrapped around a thick skewer, grilled, then skewer is taken out prior to serving (Photo: Food Stories, Flickr)

That shall be it for part five of the mini series, Traveling through food! Hope I piqued your interest (and appetite) for Egyptian food further and you venture out to try something new.

Egyptian food, sweet fiteer

Sweet fiteer, topped with honey and cheese, for dessert: Anyone? (Photo: Bootsintheoven.com)

Have you ever had Egyptian food? What’s your favorite dish?

Solo travel (photo essay of my epic adventures)

Today FriFotos celebrates ONE year – Happy Anniversary Mr Epstein! =) Great concept, I follow it religiously since I discovered it. And so, fitting it is this weeks theme: ONE. It could mean a variety of things, depends on one’s POV, which is why I love it today – such a variety of photos I’ve seen on Twitter! Woman solo travel it is, then 😀

As for me, this FriFotos theme was a perfect “excuse” to make a photo compilation of some of the journeys I’ve embarked on solo – my many experiences as a solo woman traveler. Please note, this is only meant to be a “teaser” or photo summary – full stories of each journey will follow soon! Conversely, if I have already written about a particular topic, click on the in-text link to read the respective post. Hope you enjoy and have a wonderful weekend! =)

Cancun & Chichen ItzĂĄ, Mexico – March 2008

I tried to get a group of 16 of my college friends together to head out to Cancun for my last spring break before studying abroad. Didn’t work out, so I said screw this, I’m going solo! And this is what they missed *evil grin*

woman solo travel Cancun

View from my hotel room. 'Cause I'm a baller

I, however, always make friends rather quickly…

woman solo travel Cancun kayak

aaand hijacked a kayak

Aaand wore a *cough* thong *cough*

woman solo travel Cancun beach

"Paparazzi: No photos, please!"

Plus spotted some bad-ass Mayan architecture at Chichen ItzĂĄ during a day trip that week

woman solo travel Chichen Itza

What a pyramid!

Washington, DC – June 2008

Shortly after my Spring Break stint, I headed to Washington DC for the Scholarship Convocation of that sweet deal I earned thanks to months of essay-writing and years of good grades . You know, that $20,000 study abroad scholarship to study Arabic in Egypt for a year? Yeah, that one =D Of course, I had to head out to DC solo, got a sweeeet room all for myself right by the Capitol at The Liaison Hotel, and met some wonderful brains in the process. With them I walked around the Mall & marveled at the sights for the first time in my life. Fun times!

woman solo travel Capitol Hill, Washington DC

Me @ Capitol Hill!

woman solo travel Library Of Congress, Washington DC

Library of Congress - with all those amazing books & architecture, truly HEAVEN ON EARTH!

Egypt, Israel, Jordan – August 2008 to July 2009

Just two months after DC, I departed for my greatest solo adventure to this day: Egypt and the Middle East! For a full grand year, I got to enjoy the most stigmatized (imo) region in the world. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that what the Western media says about the fascinating Arab world is quite skewed. Sure, there are problems (aren’t they everywhere tho!?), but I honestly felt more secure walking through the streets of Cairo at 4 AM or the streets of Jordan at 11 PM by myself than doing so in Puerto Rico or Tampa at any time of the day! If you have been avoiding this region because of what the news say, let me give you a news flash myself: JUST TAKE THE PLUNGE ALREADY! It is FASCINATING!

woman solo travel Great Pyramids

me @ the Great Pyramid, Giza, Egypt

I rode camels – several times over

woman solo travel Great Pyramids camel ride

umm yes, that's me

woman solo travel Ras Abu Gallum

Me (left) on a camel safari to Ras Abu Gallum reserve. About 1.5 hours EACH way from-to Dahab on a camel...hurts...but the views + snorkeling at the reserve were STUNNING

woman solo travel Ras Abu Gallum camel safari

I'm prepping on the left (pink tank top, WHITE camel!)

Wandered through historical, ancient cities & sites

woman solo travel Medinat Habu

Medinat Habu temple, Upper Egypt. Def. my favorite - SO colorful!

woman solo travel Islamic Cairo

me wandering the streets of Islamic Cairo

FriFotos Mohamed Ali Mosque

Mohamed Ali Mosque from Al Azhar park, Cairo (Photo: My friend Marta Carelli)

FriFotos Petra

The Treasury, Petra, Jordan

FriFotos Jerusalem

me in Jerusalem - golden Dome of the Rock and Wailing Wall in the background

Climbed many historical sites, all while mingling with locals (and other world adventurers)

FriFotos Petra Monastery

ME on top of the Petra Monastery - a BEDOUIN made me climb! =D

FriFotos Jordan

Bedouin girl fixing my headscarf. She led the trek that day, amazing!

Witnessed history buried underwater…

FriFotos Wreck diving

Travel bucket list item: Shipwreck diving - CHECK! (Thistlegorm)

even floated on historical waters…

FriFotos Dead Sea

me (far left) and other travelers floating on the Dead Sea (one kind man took photo for me)

…and, as a dramatic farewell, embarked on an epic 5-week solo Middle Eastern road trip, which took me to dozens of cities, spanning 3 countries, hitchhiking and Couchsurfing all the way. AH-MA-ZING!

FriFotos Abu Simbel

Ramses II, your ego is truly heavy (me at Abu Simbel Temple)

FriFotos Aswan

me drifting down the Nile on a felucca - look at those Nubian eyes!

FriFotos Egypt Israel border

by the Egyptian-Israeli border - AMAZING!

“The Transatlantic Tour” NYC, London, Spain – August 2009

The Middle East wasn’t enough to satisfy my wanderlust, oh no – I had to study abroad again in Africa, this time a little west, in Morocco. En-route, I went on what I called “The Transatlantic Tour,” with stops in NYC, London, Spain & 2 cities in Morocco before arriving to Ifrane.

FriFotos NYC

Statue of Liberty, NYC

FriFotos London

Big Ben & me - London

FriFotos Madrid

Me (right, skirt) with some travelers I met up with in Madrid

Morocco – August to December 2009

I briefly visited Casablanca and Fez, but that first day in Moroccan lands was so erratic, I couldn’t really take many pictures (click here to know why).

And so! High in the Atlas mountains, I studied Arabic language, Islamic history and World Religions at Al Akhawayn University for 4 months.

FriFotos Ifrance, Morocco

Library (left) and part of the mosque (right) at AUI. Photo by fellow student Jonathan Jacobs

It wasn’t all books, though – I befriended a great entourage from West Point (yeah, that bad-ass school) and together we took road trips around Morocco and have quite a couple of stories to remember! (to read more, click here)

FriFotos Morocco

secret beaches...

Essaouira, Morocco

...ancient doorways and kids...

Moroccan road trip

...dangerous roads...

Marrakech, Morocco

...and interesting characters! (umm, the COBRA is real, by the way...)

During my Moroccan stint, I even got to go to Europe for a 3rd & 4th time!!

Colosseum, Rome

Party I attended by the Colosseum, org by Couchsurfer I stayed with!

Blue Lagoon

me at Blue Lagoon, Iceland (OK this is cheating, I did have a travel buddy this time, who took the pic)

Panama – March 2010

Ater heading back to the US of A in January 2010,  I realized my last college Spring Break would be 2 months later, and so I planned my next journey: PANAMA! I traveled solo, met some great travelers from all over the world at Aqua lounge Hostel in Bocas del Toro and then heard some interesting stories from US diplomats on a chartered, 8-people, 4-day sailboat trip through the San Blas Islands by the Caribbean coasts of Panama. Yes, epic should be my middle name -I know (because clearly, modesty isn’t. LOL!). For a full trip report of this journey, click here!

View of Aqua Lounge Hostel's "pool" from my bed, I mean HAMMOCK ;)

FriFotos Aqua Lounge Hostel

Aqua Lounge Hostel

From left: American, Puerto Rican (me!), Australian, American, Israeli @ our Panamanian over-water hostel

Panama sailing

The sailboat - Andiamo!

San Blas Islands sailing

view of Kuna Yala from my sailboat cabin (San Blas islands)

And then…I stay put for a while. I haven’t embarked on any crazy solo journey ever since, except for the occasional weekend Couchsurfing in Orlando, FL for some concerts and Miami, FL for Latin spice and extra fun in the sun. Oh, WAIT! There’s ONE MORE!!!

Times Square NYE

Me celebrating New Year's Eve in Times Square, from VIP lane!!! (after midnight, ppl could cross, thats why you see many ppl in the photo)

Ummm, yes, as the photo caption suggests, somehow I flirted my way to the VIP lane and could get first-row-seats (I mean, standing spot) with even a private bathroom at the Ball Drop in Times Square for New Year’s 2011. Probably not too legal, thus the covered NYPD Officer’s face so the poor kind man doesn’t get in trouble! (to read more about this epic Times Square NYE, click here)

And behold, my loyal followers – the next epic adventure is set and the wanderlust shall continue!

SE Asia & Oceania map

Next?

*happy sigh of relief*

What was your definition of ONE for this week’s FriFotos? Share in a comment below!

How to poop in the Middle East and Africa: Travel tips

Hey guys! Learning how to POOP!? Oh, that’s right! It’s Cultural Tidbits Monday and today we are taking a little break from the “Traveling Through Food” series so I can show you a funny, albeit quite useful, post I published a bit ago on my Travel The Middle East website. Indeed, learning how to poop while traveling the Middle East or Africa (or any other third world country or place with squatters, really) is a skill that must be mastered and be on your high-priority list along with packing and other RTW-soon prep. And so, with no more preambles…

There is no more valuable lesson when traveling the Middle East or Africa than…knowing how to poop. That’s right folks: Pooping is indeed an art, one which must be mastered if you plan to travel throughout the Arab world and any other developing countries for that matter. So today I show you what I learned from living and traveling the Middle East for 16 months.

How to poop - Squatter

How to poop method squatter (Photo: Mintguy, Wiki Commons)

1. Practice squatting

While practicing may seem stupid to you, knowing how to squat is not enough in order to be able to actually know how to poop properly. Ask me, when I had to squat for long periods of time in the scorching Egyptian sun by a hole with only wooden walls, a door, and no roof. I would just squat there until actually, well, going, about 30 mins later (I wish not to remember sometimes). Thus I learned: You should practice how to poop while squatting at home, prior your trip. This way, if your “endurance” is not too good at first, at least you can “drop” safely on top of your toilet seat until, eventually, your body gets used to it. And trust me, it will learn how to poop right away once you squat with your pants down. It is basically muscle memory (really).

2. Spot your target and plan your strategy

Yes, you need strategy when it comes to knowing how to poop here. Start looking at some pictures of squatters (like the one above) and imagine placing yourself on it in a way that you are comfortable and able to poop properly inside the hole. If not, just practice on an actual squatter once at your destination–but when you don’t have to go. Not planning ahead will mean walking out with a prize of your, ermm, effort. This happened to me several times during desert trips until I finally learned to plan ahead and practice my strategy when I didn’t have to go so I could be ready for when I had to.

3. Be prepared

Always carry plenty of tissues and hand sanitizer with you. Why both? The tissue will be good for wiping, while the sanitizer will be the true cleaner. For instance, what if you make a mistake while squatting? I’m sure you’ll want to sanitize the victimized area afterward. Never underestimate squatting accidents–they can be pretty ugly. Once I lost my balance…and yes, I fell on it. All of it. Not only did I not have enough tissue to clean up, but I didn’t have any sanitizer whatsoever. Nonetheless, lesson learned (and the dirty way)

4. Always carry a bag

While some of your waste will decompose, your tissue probably won’t. We don’t want to pollute the environment–always carry a bag you can tie to put dirty, non-biological items in. How to Poop Etiquette 101, okay?

5. Practice digging

Sometimes, you find yourself in a situation where no squatter is nearby and you really need to go. We want to be as considerate as we can be, so knowing how to poop properly includes Etiquette 102: Practice digging a little hole in record time on your backyard. Recommended depth is 6-8 inches or 15-20 cm by the way. The more you practice at home, the faster you’ll be able to dig a hole once abroad and the least likely that you’ll poop yourself in the process. Some of you might think “well, I’ll just poop on the surface!” Really, really? Not nice…

Got more tips on how to poop abroad? Share on a comment below!

My 2011-2012 BHAGs: Curacao, Bonaire, NOLA, Egypt, Cambodia, AUS!?

BHAG = Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Thanks for the inspiration, BootsnAll! You have just made me realize what’s my real last name 😉

Alo! I’m super excited to share some great news on this lovely Travel Tuesday night with ya! 😀 As you already know, I’ll be visiting Curacao for the first time in November. However, what you didn’t know yet is that I’ve added Bonaire to the mix! After speaking to other travel bloggers that have been to the ABC’s (Aruba/Bonaire/Curacao), I was told that it is wise if I were to spend 2-3 days on each instead of the whole time in just one of them. And since I’m trying to visit all countries in the world…this would be a perfect opportunity to cross off two at once 😀 after some debate, I decided to stay longer in Bonaire (3 days), as I wanted to visit the least crowded island with the most unspoiled nature for better diving/snorkeling. Then, I will fly back to Curacao and stay for 2 days to soak in the night life and possibly cycle around instead of renting a car *fingers crossed* I’m excited to have a taste of the Dutch Caribbean! Oh and in case you were wondering why I have left Aruba out? I already visited back in 2002 😉

Aruba Natural Bridge

Aruba's Natural Bridge, which collapsed in 2005 - I went there just 3 yrs earlier!

Now, how the HECK were NOLA, Egypt, Cambodia, Thailand, and even AUSTRALIA thrown to the mix!? Let me begin by saying that they are not all on a one-way RTW ticket (although that would have been pretty epic)…

French Quarter, New Orleans

French Quarter, New Orleans at night (Photo: Falkue at de.wikipedia)

NOLA, aka New Orleans, aka the “Big Easy” was an impulse buy from yours truly during a ridiculously-beautiful AA sale – snatched a RT ticket, direct flights, TPA-NOLA for just US$160 including taxes (I know, I’m a baller). I’m excited because the first and only time I’ve been to NOLA was to volunteer and help victims affected by Hurricane Katrina. Meaning? That time I got to be a part of something big for people, now this time I will be part of celebrating their recovery, BIG, with them! 😉 shall be a blast! This is happening on a long weekend in December, by the way.

And now, I shall describe the biggest event of this post. Band, drum roll please! *drum roll*

Hint: Plans A & C

Hint: This shall involve Plans A & C

Hint: Plan B

Hint: This shall be Plan B

My Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) for 2012 is to work, live, travel throughout the Middle East again or hit SE Asia for the first time in my life!

*rings cowbell loudly* YES!!!!!!!!!!!

Omg, you have no idea how excited I am, my fingertips just keep doing a happy dance across the keyboard every time I type about that! Soooo! What’s the plan you must be wondering!? Since I basically have it all planned out from Plan A to C to D, I’ll tell you all about it on a tentative timeline I’ve outlined below!

 Nov – Dec 2011 * Curacao & Bonaire (Dutch Caribbean); Miami & Tampa FL (USA)

Dec 2011 * New Orleans, NOLA, the Big Easy

New Year’s 2012 * long weekend where? Hmm…Tampa? Canada? Miami? Times Square/NYC again?

Jan – April 2012…

Plan A: Apply for jobs at US Embassies around the world, preferably in the Middle East, most preferably in Egypt. I want to improve my Arabic, get ready for a Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Arabic, Track II at U of Maryland (close to DC!), studying abroad in Egypt again for the 2nd year of my degree (!!!)

Plan B? If by Feb-March I got no promising job offers on my table, start looking for jobs in Australia as well! I got a contact (if you wish to be named, you’re welcome to move forward mister!) that will help me find a job in the tourism industry there. Tour guide? Interpreter? Both? We shall see! 😀

Plan C: Really I got one? Indeed 😀 apply to become a flight attendant for a Middle Eastern airline, preferably Emirates or Qatar Airways. Travel the world while having a base in the Middle East and improve my Arabic in the process? Why not!?

Plan D (aka worst case scenario): Stay in Tampa FL a bit longer, until any plan from above happens. because you know, Maria Alexandra makes things happen!

La Isla del Encanto, Puerto Rico

A beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico

April – Aug 2012 * If either plan A, B or C from above happens, I’ll move back to La Isla Del Encanto, Puerto Rico (HOME!) and live with my family for a few months. It’ll be wonderful, because my first nephew is coming to this world in Feb 2012, so he will get some serious fun time with Titi Maria before she jets off to live in another remote country! (I wish he was old enough to teach him how to Skype already…)

Worst case scenario: Still in Tampa FL, job searching (aka still working on Plans A, B & C from above)

Aug 2012

Plan A: Living (and working) in Egypt again!

Plan B: Last week of Aug, head to Southeast Asia, travel through Thailand (for the first time!) for a couple of days, then head to Cambodia to volunteer on a house build through Habitat for Humanity. Afterward, tubing (and much else) in Laos. And “finally”? Travel job in eastern coast of AUSTRALIA!

Plan C: Become a reincarnated PanAm dream (umm, flight attendant) for Emirates or Qatar Airways, living in the Persian Gulf, but FLYING often around the world!

Sept 2012 * living and traveling either throughout the Middle East, Asia and/or the South Pacific!

And…what if all of the above fails due to some major mystery of the universe? Well, I’ll just stay right here, in Tampa FL, working as a translator and social media manager, still searching and waiting until a promising opportunity crosses my path. I know God has a plan for me, and while I do possess the gift of free will, He also helps me by guiding me in the path that best suits my abilities and all the love and talents I have to give and share with others. I’m such a people person, got so much love and great plans to share and spread around the world, I know what will make me wake up ecstatic every morning will show up eventually 🙂

Until then? I got my timeline to work on! And…

My pool in Tampa, FL
…a great view + pool at my apartment complex to enjoy in Tampa Bay, FL

This post may have been a little tedious for some of you to read, but I am the kind of person that needs to write (errm, type) plans out in order to focus, tackle, and WIN. I’m absent, scattered minded, so time lines like this one have previously helped me achieve some of my biggest life goals. And so this shall be my proclamation, my inspiration–the sticky note I will read every day until my wildest dreams come true!

MOREOVER, I am challenging YOU right now to proclaim your own. Write down your dreams, travel plans, BIG GOALS for the next year already! Come join me, let’s take this journey together!

In response to 30 Days of Indie Travel, Prompt # 1:
What travel goals do you hope to accomplish this year?