Midtown Global Marketplace

Alas, I have not traveled anywhere since November, and I do not have any travel plans for the foreseeable future.  This makes me restless.  I have decided I will have to focus on “travelling” in my local community; I will visit and highlight places, events, etc that have a multicultural/international theme.

Last night I visited the Midtown Global Marketplace in Minneapolis with some friends.  I love this place! It is an indoor shopping center devoted to the businesses of local merchants from around the world.  For more information, click here.

After having margaritas at a Mexican restaurant and buying spices at the Holy Land, a Middle Eastern shop, my friends and I had an amazing dinner at the Rabbit Hole, a Korean restaurant.  The last time I was at this place, I had a camel burger at a Somali restaurant.  All of this was under one roof, so we did not have to brave the arctic winds.

Did I mention that I love this place?!  Below are a few snapshots I took while walking around the marketplace. Minnesotans:  I definitely recommend checking this place out if you have not already been there.


I spent several weeks in Bethlehem, Palestine a few years ago.  I lived by myself, which meant cooking for myself. That meant I did not necessarily eat traditional Palestinian dishes.  I did learn about one popular dish, called Maklouba.  (I see it spelled differently by different people.)  Malkouba means “upside down,” and it refers to the presentation of this dish:  when the dish is ready, the cook tips the pot upside down onto the plate so that the rice is on the bottom and the meat is on the top.

In the few short weeks I was in Bethlehem, I was served maklouba on three separate occasions.  This says to me the dish is popular!  There are endless variations on the recipe, but it is always a combination of vegetables, (usually fried), rice mixed with spices, and some sort of meat (chicken, beef, lamb are popular).  Each “layer” is cooked separately.

Most of the pictures included in this gallery were taken on the day that a group of culinary students showed me how they made the dish and then served it to me.  It was dellicious!  Each time I was served it the dish was always a little bit different, but it was always tasty.

After I returned home to the U.S., I felt I needed to make maklouba myself.  One of the pictures is of me with my own homemade attempt.

I am including links to a few online recipes I found for this dish, in case you want to try it yourself.  Enjoy!



Travel Theme: Bountiful

Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack hosts a weekly travel theme.  This week’s theme is “Bountiful.”

When I think of “bountiful,” I think of my travel experiences in Arab countries.  Arabs are amazingly generous with their hospitality.  If you have the good fortune to be invited to their home, you will be overwhelmed with the bounty of the food and gracious hospitality they offer you.  (Unfortunately, I have yet to lose the weight I gained travelling in Arab countries.  Sigh.)

The pictures below come from Palestine, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait.  I hope you have the opportunity to partake of such bountiful hospitality some day!

Sorry Honey, I Ate the Kids! The Eating Disorder of the Greeks

Tantalus painting by Gioacchino Assereto (1600-1649)
Tantalus painting by Gioacchino Assereto (1600-1649)


Americans have a problem with food.  The media is awash with stories of how we eat too much fast food, junk food, processed food, sugar, salt, fat, meat, carbohydrates and on and on.  We all eat too much, except for those of us who eat too little.  We don’t eat enough home-cooked food, we don’t spend enough time eating with our families, we don’t eat food slowly enough, savoring every bite of it, and the list goes on.

I am not going to deny any of these charges.  I would just like to point out that it could be worse.  At least we don’t eat our children.

The characters in ancient Greek mythology did, or at least some of them did.  I am re-reading The Oresteia by Aeschylus, which is based on the myth of the House of Atreus.  The story is complicated, but its basic point is this:  if you serve people’s children for dinner, bad stuff is gonna happen to you and your descendants.

The mythological figure of Tantalus started the whole mess.  This guy thought he was the coolest dude on the Mediterranean because the gods sometimes invited him to dinner.  (For a 21st century American, that would probably be like being invited to dinner by the hottest Hollywood movie stars or perhaps by your favorite NFL team.)  His head started to swell (not unlike some professional athletes and movie stars) because of this swell treatment, and he developed a condition known as hubris—the overweening pride that usually goeth before a fall.

So one night a bunch of gods and goddesses came over for dinner.  He was all out of groceries, so rather than calling for take-out, he decided to chop up his own son Pelops and serve him, roasted, to his high class friends.  (Some versions of the myth say he was trying to test them to see if they were really omniscient.)

Let’s just say the party didn’t go all that well.  When the gods found out that their meal wasn’t made of tofu, they were horrified.  They brought Pelops back to life and sent their pal Tantalus to Hades.  His punishment was to be eternally thirsty and hungry.  The gods surrounded him with luscious food and drink, but whenever he tried to reach for food and drink, it blew away, out of his grasp.  Thus, he remains tortured eternally by thirst and hunger and is the source of our word tantalizing.

You’d think Tantalus’s descendants would learn from the errors of their ancestor, but apparently they weren’t that bright.  A whole heap of bad stuff happened to Tantalus’s descendants after the ill-fated dinner party.  We will fast forward, though, to the rivalry between Thyestes and Atreus, the grandsons of Tantalus.  They both wanted to be king, so they were always fighting.  First, Thyestes seduced Atreus’s wife.  Then, to get revenge, Atreus followed in his grandpa’s footsteps.  Rather than cooking his own children for dinner, though, he cooked Thyestes’s children and served them to Thyestes, who unknowingly ate his own children for dinner.

So if you are beating yourself up over your latest trip to McDonald’s or the Dairy Queen, give yourself a break.  You could do a lot worse.

Just saying.

The Dangerous Middle East

[This entry was originally posted at the end of my 2010 Fulbright-Hayes trip to UAE-Qatar-Kuwait]

Tonight, dear readers, marks the end of my travels. (My flight leaves in a few hours.) Since this is the end of my journey, and since everybody knows how dangerous the Middle East is, I feel obligated to comment on all the dangers I have endured while on my trip. They have been many and painful, but I will highlight only a few.

Danger #1: Being stuffed to death. The Arabs are a hospitable people, and one way of showing hospitality is to gorge one’s guests with food. If it’s not feeding time, no matter. Then you simply stuff your guests with sweets or small sandwich thingys. Are we being fattened up for the slaughter?

The students who cooked us the light lunch below.
The students who cooked us the light lunch below.
a light lunch
a light lunch
a little snack to tide us over
a little snack to tide us over
something light for dessert
something light for dessert

Danger #2: Multiculturalism run amok. The Middle-East is a complex mix of cultures; some people from different cultures intermarry, others simply work for one another. This is all well and good—in moderation. Sometimes, however, the multiculturalism gets out of hand, and then There is Pain. An example that comes to mind is the time I was forced by Our Leader to spend time at the Villagio Mall in Doha, Qatar. In this Arab city, this mall (an American invention) was designed to imitate an Italian city—Venice, to be specific—complete with fake gondolas on fake canals. If that weren’t bad enough, loud, harsh, technofunky something music (must I blame America again?) blasted out of the Virgin store while I stood ordering food from the Mongolian grill. A severe headache ensued. In Mongolia-land, whenever a meal was ready, the Indian employees banged on a gong with all their might. BOINGGGGGGGG!!!! went the reverberations in my poor aching skull. This brand of multiculturalism is enough to send me to the desert to commune silently with the camels.

Qatar or Venice? I'll never tell.
Qatar or Venice? I’ll never tell.

Danger #3: Spending “fun time” on a dhow. Somebody has decided that a good way to keep tourists occupied is to stick them on a dhow (a traditional boat) and let them drift for a few hours. Our Leaders decided this would be good for us TWICE. The first time was a dinner cruise at night in Dubai. Although Dubai is, of course, part of an Arab country, the operators and all of the tourists except us on this dinner cruise were Indian. This would not be a problem except that they decided the best way to entertain us would be to blast out loud Indian music so that we could get massive headaches and not be able to talk to each other. There was an Indian buffet, but were kept from the food well past our feeding time (I was SO hungry on this trip, which explains my crankiness to a great extent) by being forced to watch a “magician.” I put quotes around “magician,” because this Indian man who was dressed like a pimp (a pink hat????), apparently knew no magic. He kept pouring water from one container into another and then looking at us like he had just performed magic. We were very confused. We were hungry and in pain. At one point he started a napkin on fire and seemed to expect applause for this magic. We were even hungrier and becoming surly. After what seemed like hours of this torture, the Magician Pimp finally gave up and we were allowed to eat. This soothed me a little bit, but we still remained trapped with the pounding Indian music for what seemed like hours on this stuffy boat. Since it was dark, we couldn’t see anything outside, but I suppose it was lovely.

This is a dhow.
This is a dhow.

As if that weren’t enough torture, we were given another dhow tour in a different country. This time it was during the day. It was maybe 115 degrees. While we were moving (the first half hour or so), it was sort of fun. But then they anchored off shore and just let us sit in the sun and heat for almost three hours. There was no air conditioning and the gentle rocking made me quite sea sick. I lay in the blinding heat, listening to the buzzing sound of the jet skis and the misognynist rap music and wondered how I would survive the dangerous Middle East

Fat Rascals in York (England)

“The history of York is the history of England.” –King George VI.

Historians have long told us that we need to understand the past in order to understand the present and predict the future. I found this to be true on my trip to York, England in late May of 2009.

York was first settled by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago (AD 71). York still retains more intact walls than any other city in England, and some sections of the wall date back to Roman times. The area was originally occupied by a Celtic tribe called the Brigantes. The city was successively conquered and occupied by the Romans, the Saxons, the Vikings, the Normans, the Christians, the Protestants, the Parliamentarians, the aristocracy, the lunatics, the debtors, and eventually the capitalists.

On the beautiful spring day in 2009 that I visited York, the city was overrun not by Roman or Viking conquerors, but by English tourists swarming the many high toned shops, looking for designer clothing, antiques, fine china, or fat rascals. The term “fat rascals” refers not to us American tourists, but to a huge, decadent scone made of lard, margarine, sugar, flour, and currants. This rascal can only be found at Betty’s Tearoom, legendary in York for its 1920s elegant ambiance, its freshly made food, its high prices, and its long lines.

Below is a picture of a family of Fat Rascals captured in their native habitat.

Fat Rascals
Fat Rascals

After sipping our tea and gobbling down our Fat Rascals at Betty’s, my companions and I walked over to a street called the Shambles. One of the main attractions of York, the Shambles is one of Europe’s best preserved medieval streets. More generally, the Shambles refers to the area of narrow twisting lanes surrounding this street. We know that the Shambles dates back at least to 1086 because it was mentioned in The Domesday Book. “Domesday” (a.k.a. Doomsday) means “a day of reckoning,” “the last judgment,” “a day of doom.” This name makes sense, given that the purpose of the Domesday book was for King William I to figure out how much money his subjects had so that he could sock them with taxes on it. The name also makes sense, because after spending a few days in York, tourists must face their day of reckoning when they step on the scales and open their credit card statements.



Back in the medieval period, the Shambles was dominated by butchers plying their trade. In fact, the name of the street comes from Saxon “Fleshammels”, which means “the street of the butchers.” The butchers displayed their raw meat on the wide window sills, while the blood dripped into the street. This blood mingled with the garbage and “domestic waste” that housewives dumped out of their second floor windows. Cats, dogs, and pigs roamed the streets freely, adding their own drippings to this colorful scene of medieval commerce at its most productive. Below you can see a reproduction of a medieval painting depicting a typical Shambles scene:

I am a Medieval Painting
I am a Medieval Painting

Visitors to Medieval York were so impressed by the vibrant, productive, aromatic mix of blood, commerce, shrill screams, and excrement—human and otherwise–that they were inspired to invent a new concept—an innovation which is now called “Parliament.”

What many people do not know is that the term “Parliament” stems from the French root “parler,” which means “to talk” and the Latin root “excrement” which means “Waste matter expelled from the body.” Taken together, these roots form the word “Parliament,” which means “a bunch of politicians talking B.S.”

And indeed, in late May of 2009 Parliament was in a shambles, a bloody mess. At this time, the housing expense scandal was in full swing. Members of Parliament are legally allowed to write off the expenses involved in maintaining a second home in London. However, as the press revealed, the MPs were writing off expenses for expensive renovations, chandeliers, pornography, moat upkeep on country estates and endless other “necessities.” The British public was not amused, particularly since the scandal erupted during a period of severe economic hardship for many people.

As one esteemed journalist described the affair, “It was a shitstorm”. Numerous MPs either resigned, were suspended or announced they would not seek re-election.

Visiting York helped me to understand the present political Domesday for these political fat rascals. Just as, for example, livestock in medieval York streets were slaughtered on site, so too were present-day MPs being slaughtered by the media. Compare, for example, the medieval rendition of the pig shown above with a portrait of a contemporary English MP. You’ll see the similarities are uncanny.

British MP
British MP
I am a Medieval Painting
I am a Medieval Painting

They say that travel expands our understanding of the world. My companions and I felt our political consciousness enlightened by the Shambles the Brits have made of the world, so enlightened that we were tempted to pig out on a second serving of fat rascals.


For your own Fat Rascal, check out Betty’s:   http://www.bettys.co.uk/bettys_york.aspx

Where is the Lean Cuisine? (West Bank)

Part I of Debra’s Excellent Adventures in Palestinian Cooking

Spice shop in UAE
Spice shop in UAE


While in Bethlehem, I am living in a fully furnished apartment by myself. This is a good situation, except at feeding times. There is no room service to bring me over-priced spaghetti, and no hotel restaurant for my immediate caloric gratification. It seems that I have to do something I’ve only read about in foreign novels: cook for myself. Of course, I shouldn’t exaggerate. I do cook for myself at home. But for me, “cooking for myself” equals “putting frozen food-like product in microwave and pushing button.”

Alas, my kitchen here does not have a microwave. I do not know if this is because it is a mere rental, or if this shocking lack of a basic human necessity is shared by all members of the Palestinian community. In any case, I quickly realized I needed to find another source of cooking heat, unless I wanted to eat raw stray cats for dinner. My landlord pointed out a large white object on top of which were four dark circles covered by dark iron lines in the shape of a star. The side of the object could be opened, and items could be placed inside of it. I thought at first this was some sort of exotic religious contraption used for sacrifices and perhaps the burning of frankincense and myrrh. However, my landlord explained to me that this is called an OVEN and a STOVE. It looks something like this:

Natives use this for cooking
Natives use this for cooking


He explained that when used properly, the OVEN and STOVE can be an invaluable tool for heating up food. Hmmm. Interesting. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.

The next step was to find some food to insert into this contraption. My landlord told me that there is a supermarket only a block away, so finding food would not be a problem. I walked to the market, expecting an equivalent of Kowalksi’s or the Target grocery section, except perhaps with more hummus. However, Supermarket Khleif (pronounced like you are trying to rid your throat of a foreign object) was not exactly the same as the grocery stores at home. First of all, it was much smaller—maybe five aisles instead of 35. I could forgive the size, but I was shocked to learn that everything was in Arabic rather than in English. What are these people thinking?
Well, I figured I would just go to the produce section and grab some stuff from the salad bar. I don’t need language skills for that. Hmmmmm….where is the salad bar? Ummmm, where is the produce? I circled the store several times looking for fresh fruits and vegetables and couldn’t find any. Do they not eat produce in Bethlehem? Is there some religious prohibition against salad? I was perplexed and starting to panic. Well, I would get some protein instead. Where was the dead animal section? I couldn’t see any boneless, skinless, free-range, antibiotic-free chicken breasts anywhere. What exactly do people eat here?
The aisles were full of stuff in packages, but I didn’t know what most of it was, or what to do with it if I did know. It seemed that there was one full aisle of crackers, cookies, candies and other fun stuff. I backed away slowly to avoid temptation. Other aisles contained pure mystery and I started to have dark fantasies about needing to walk the streets of Bethlehem at night, armed with a steak knife, looking for prey to kill simply in order to survive. I would be arrested for terrorism when really I just wanted a nice big salad with chicken breast meat and perhaps some Balsamic Vinaigrette. Then I had the bright idea of frozen food. Frozen dinners are a universal, right? I’d just get a few Lean Cuisines and insert them into the thing called OVEN.
Or not. I could not find any frozen dinners either. In what state of barbarianism do these people live? By this time, I was in a state of pure panic, bordering on tears. Fortunately, I found the refrigerated section and I recognized a few things. That stuff looked like hummus; I grabbed it. That white stuff looked familiar. Could it be yogurt? Good. And look! They had Laughing Cow cheese wedges—truly a universal product. I started to breathe easier. If I could just find some bread, I would have dinner tonight.
Where was the freaking bread? They had to have bread! I decided to ask for help. I went up to the man behind the counter and wished him peace, if God were willing to grant it. He wished the same for me. I searched frantically in my brain’s weak Arabic files for how to say “bread.” My most recent Arabic lessons came to mind instead: Waladee Ta’mal fil umammil motaheeda and Rooseea Balad KaBeer Jiddan.I decided, however, that “My father works at the United Nations” and “Russia is a very big country” would not be helpful at this juncture.
Finally, I remembered the Arabic word for “bread” and I expelled the sound “chubz???” The clerks said, “Na’am” and pointed behind me to a stack of pita bread. I thanked him, bought the bread, hummus and cheese, and made a hasty retreat. Dinner was ready