Nigeria Has a Lot More to Offer Than What the Media Tells Us

Last Thursday, I received another lesson in my cultural education, courtesy of Go Eat Give at its August Destination Dinner. The country of focus was Nigeria, a populous African nation that has been plagued by a lot of social issues recently, resulting in an image that isn’t very flattering or inviting. Leading up to this event, I did a lot of research and learned that Nigeria has a lot to boast about.  To find out more, check out my first blog post here. Although the atmosphere of this event was more serious than the previously held Destination Dinners, I think it was one of the most informative and culturally educational one I experienced.

The event started with mingling among the 40 or so guests. Guests had the chance to try a few different kinds of African juices, and samplings from an independent wine company called Spodee. The wine was more of a cocktail mix as it was made with moonshine and served on ice, but was still very enjoyable. Waiters walked around serving a traditional Nigerian appetizer, chicken gizzards. I’m not going to lie, while I am normally open to trying new things, there was no way I was going to try chicken gizzards. However, I have been told by the brave souls who did try the unfamiliar snack that it was actually pretty good. Even though some people didn’t try the dish, it still serves as a great example of the cultural education that took place that evening.

Nigeria chicken gizzardOnce we took our seats, a variety of dishes were served both family and buffet style. Some of these included Nigerian meat pies, Kpof Kpof (African style donuts), Moin Moin (bean cakes), Dodo (fried plantains), Edikang Ikong (vegetable type soup), fried fish, oven baked chicken, beef and goat stew, Jollof rice, rice and peas, and a few more. For dessert, Nations Café served a variety of dry tea cakes, all of which looked delicious. I didn’t get the chance to try much of the food, but my favorite by far was the Kpof Kpof and the Jollof rice. Although the food was presented differently than what one would normally see in America, it wasn’t that unfamiliar to me. This definitely shattered some of the pre-conceived notions I had about Nigerian culture, and was a lesson in my cultural education for the evening. Nigeria, although seems so completely foreign, and in many ways it is, it wasn’t nearly as un-relatable as I thought it might be.

Nigerian food platter

In addition to copious amounts of good food, there was plenty of entertainment.  The keynote speaker was Nigerian Ambassador Geoffrey I. Teneilabe. He spoke primarily about the economy of Nigeria and emphasized how important education is to Nigerians. According to the ambassador, there are Nigerians in almost every sector of the professional world, and Nigerians are the eighth-most educated minority group in the United States. He also encouraged the audience to visit Nigeria and to bring business to the country, as it is trying to open up its global economy.

 Nigerian Ambassador in Atlanta

After his speech, guests were surprised by a performance of an authentic Nigerian music and dance called Ekpe, which Nigerians actually consider a masquerade.  According to Nigerian folklore, Ekpe is a mysterious spirit who lives in the jungle and presides at various cultural ceremonies. I don’t think any description I could give of this performance would do it justice, so make sure to check out the video below and see it for yourself. It was, by far, one of the most interesting parts of the evening.

For me, the most prominent takeaway from the evening wasn’t necessarily what I learned, but the pride that was evident in its people despite the bad reputation Nigeria has gotten in the news recently. Many native Nigerians attended the event, and they all had something to say about how amazing their country is. It was very interesting to hear what someone who actually knows the country and culture has to say, and enlightened me in a lot of surprising ways. In my opinion, Destination Nigeria gets a ten on the cultural education scale.

~ By Allie Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. Allie explores her passion for food, travel, and learning about different cultures though her internship with Go Eat Give.

Nigeria’s place on the world scene: Interesting facts about the “Giant of Africa”

Nigeria, also referred to as the “Giant of Africa,” is located in West Africa between the Republics of Benin, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. With over 174 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, and the seventh most populous in the world. It is made up of over 300 ethnic groups speaking more than 521 languages, the fourth largest grouping of languages in the world, yet it is only about twice the size of California. Nigeria gets its name from the Niger river that flows through its landscape, and is home to one of the oldest known locations of human existence. Thanks to its size and abundance of natural resources, Nigeria is the most important player in Africa and one of the biggest in the world scene, and is slated to become even bigger in the next half a century.

As of 2014, Nigeria’s economy is the largest in Africa, worth more than $500 billion, and is the 32nd largest economy in the world. It is expected to become one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2050. Much of this economic power is due to its crude oil production industry. Nigeria is the 12th largest producer of petroleum and the 8th largest exporter, brining in billions of dollars annually. This level of wealth is evident in many aspects of its culture. Nigeria is home to 5 of the 10 wealthiest pastors in the world according to Forbes, worth between $10 and $150 million. It is also home to the world’s third largest film industry, Nollywood.

But with the good also comes the bad. Due to its economic wealth and various military dictatorships that have ruled the country since its independence in 1960, Nigeria is arguably one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Its legislators are among the highest paid worldwide, while its people are among the poorest, with more than 100 million Nigerians living in destitution and for less than one dollar a day. In 2013 Nigeria was rated the worst country in the world to be born in based on welfare and prosperity projection. Based on an income of $81 billion per year and the amount of that squandered annually, Nigeria has been deemed the most corrupt nation in the world, due to its government’s tendency of stealing hundreds of billions of dollars from the public.

So how is this contradiction possible, and what is there to do about it? To learn this and more about the “Giant of Africa,” come to our next event Destination Nigeria on August 14, and hear Nigerian Ambassador Geoffrey I. Teneilabe and Dr. Omoh T. Ojior of the Onima Institute, speak about current issues plaguing Nigeria, its economy and its people.

Destination Nigeria flyer

~ By Allie Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. Allie explores her passion for food, travel, and learning about different cultures though her internship with Go Eat Give.

Celebrating the good things in life at Destination Trinidad and Tobago

On Saturday July 19, Go Eat Give hosted its monthly Destination Dinner at Tassa Roti in Alpharetta, showcasing the culture and cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago. This event is a part of Go Eat Give’s monthly programming that aims to promote cross cultural understanding between different communities in the Atlanta area.

The menu for the evening consisted of 18 authentic Trinidadian dishes prepared by Caribbean restaurant Tassa. Trinidad native Radhika (Ria) Edoo, a fourth generation restauranteur Tassa opened the first location in 2006. For appetizers, we tried traditional jerk chicken wings, pholourie (fried batter) served with mango chutney, and doubles (a sandwich made of two pieces of flat bread and stuffed with chick peas) with tamarind sauce.

trinidad doubles

Fourteen dishes were laid out buffet style for main course, allowing those in attendance to eat to their heart’s content. These included coconut fish, spicy coconut jerk pasta, a brown stew made with boneless pork, jerk chicken, Bodi (a bean favored in Trinidad), jerk chicken (Trinidad style, not Jamaican), fried plantains, lentils, Chow Mein, oil down ( a stew made from breadfruit, salted meat, coconut milk, and spices), and Roti (shredded flatbread). In addition, two curry dishes were served – curry potatoes and chickpeas as well as boneless chicken curry, showcasing the large Indian influence found in Trinidad culture. The country’s most popular dish, callaloo (creamed spinach) was also served, as well as, rice and peas to go with the many stew and curry dishes. For dessert, we enjoyed a moist pineapple cake, paired with complimentary Champagne.

goeatgive destination Trinidad

As party goers arrived at the event, they were greeted by the sounds of steel pan player Sheldon Webster. The steel pan is a drum made out of 50 gallon oil drums that is popular throughout the Caribbean, although nowhere more so than in its native country of Trinidad.

trinidad steel drums

The music of Trinidad was further showcased by DJ Mackie, who took attendees on a journey through the history of Trinidadian music. Some of the Trinidadian music played consisted of traditional calypso and soca music, both of which are native to Trinidad. Once they were finished eating, event attendees danced to the lively music, creating an atmosphere of festivity that is typical of life in Trinidad.

Guests enjoyed the comedic commentary of Nigel Fabien, a stand up comedian who performs here in Atlanta, as well as in his native Trinidad. Fabien entertained the guests with a series of jokes, showcasing the lively humor of Trinidad’s people.

Nigel Fabien

Keynote speaker and former president of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Georgia, Allan Notingham gave an informative speech on the history of Trinidadian cuisine. He spoke of the many cultural influences that make up Trinidadian cuisine, such as Indian, Asian, and African, and asserted that Trinidad culture is proof that different races can come together in peace. He also emphasized the importance of Roti, which is cooked on an iron flat plate, and doubles, which he called the fast food of Trinidad. According to Notingham, these are the two most important dishes in Trinidadian cuisine.

To further showcase Trinidad culture, costume designer Charles Baker displayed his designs used for the Carnival celebration. Carnival is a street festival that takes place every year immediately before Lent, and typically consists of a parade, elaborate costumes, and lots of music. Baker’s designs were grand, covered with glitter and feathers in all different colors. He stated that these costumes are an art form, a way for the person wearing them to express themselves and free their spirit, an assessment that I agree with when looking at the elaborate, multicolored designs.

trinidad carnival costumes

Destination Trinidad was by far the liveliest and most fun Go Eat Give event that I have ever attended. There was dancing, comedy, and amazing food. The native Trinidadians at the event were all humorous, upbeat, and good-natured. All of this combined to create an impression of a culture, that to me seems focused on celebrating the good things in life. That is definitely a country I would love to visit, and I imagine everyone at the event left feeling the same.

~ By Allie Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. Allie explores her passion for food, travel, and learning about different cultures though her internship with Go Eat Give.

La Tagliatella Provides an Italian Option for Vegetarians

I recently attended a blogger dinner hosted by the Association of Food Bloggers in Druid Hills, GA. La Tagliatella is an Italian chain restaurant based out of Europe with locations in many different parts of the world, including Spain, France, Germany, China, and the United States. The Emory Point location has been around for couple of years, and features a nice outdoor area that provides a great atmosphere for cool summer evenings. The restaurant boasts that it’s food is an authentic representation of Italian cuisine, although I’m not sure if I agree with that assessment.

First, the restaurant served its version of a Caprese salad as a Buffalo, Mozzarella and Tomato Carpaccio, which consisted of grated fresh tomatoes dressed with black olive pate, and topped with buffalo mozzarella and anchovies. The main difference between a traditional Caprese salad and this dish is that the tomatoes were served grated instead of sliced, to the point that it was almost like eating fresh salsa. It sounds weird, but I actually loved it. I don’t normally enjoy eating tomatoes, but the way they combined with the buffalo mozzarella, made this a delightfully fresh dish, perfect for summertime.

caprese salad

Next was Tagliatella pizza, which consisted of tomato sauce, mozzarella, and fried eggplant slices, drizzled with honey and balsamic glaze, and topped with freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The crust was rolled out very thin, into an almost cracker-like consistency, which I’ve been told is typical of authentic Napolitano pizza. This was by far one of the most unique pizzas I’ve ever had, mostly due to the honey, which added a sweet component to an otherwise savory dish. While it wasn’t necessarily a bad combination, it wasn’t something I would normally expect on a pizza. Overall I enjoyed this particular dish, but I don’t think it’s something I would order, unless my sweet tooth was having a serious craving.

tagliatella pizza

The main course consisted of three different pasta dishes. The Cuore Pasta in Pesto Rosso Panna, was stuffed with butternut squash, served in a light cream sauce with Sole di Puglia tomatoes, pine nuts, and Grana Padano cheese. The light cream sauce combined well with the butternut squash, was light and flavorful, and didn’t leave me feeling like I needed to run 10 miles after eating it. This was my favorite dish of the night by far.

Cuore Pasta in Pesto Rosso Panna

The second pasta dish, Tortellone pasta in Quattro Formaggi, consisted of round, green pasta stuffed with mozzarella, tomato, and basil, served in a cream sauce of Grana Padano, gorgonzola, gruyere, and emmental cheeses. The amount of cheeses in this alone was more than enough to get me excited. However, I found that the combination wasn’t as stellar as I had hoped. Triangle di gorgonzola pasta in pesto was the downer of the night. This pasta was triangle shaped, stuffed with gorgonzola cheese and pear, and served in an olive oil based sauce made of basil, pine nuts, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Maybe it was the pesto paired with the gorgonzola, or the fact that the pasta was undercooked, that left a bad taste in my mouth. Whatever it was, it definitely didn’t work and I would suggest skipping this dish.

pesto gorgonzola

A Bocconcino custard and cheesecake drizzled with salted caramel, with a wafer on the side was served for dessert. A shot of Limoncello di Capri paired well as an after dinner drink. This dessert proved to be the perfect ending to a refreshing meal. The bulk of the dish consisted of a light and airy lemon-flavored custard, with a slight cheesecake consistency. I couldn’t stop eating it. Normally after any sort of Italian meal, I’m so stuffed that the prospect of eating anything else is unappealing, but this dessert was light enough that I had no problems eating more than my fair share.

Bocconcino

About halfway through the evening, someone commented that the meal seemed to be heading down a strictly vegetarian route. To be honest, I hadn’t realized that all of our courses were vegetarian until someone mentioned it, which surprised me considering how much I love meat. I typically run from the word “vegetarian,” due to the picture of a vegetable garden, and the meals I used to make for my late rabbit, Snowball. However, I’m glad this meal turned out to be vegetarian, as it gave me a different view on what a vegetarian meal constitutes. For vegetarians, I think this restaurant offers some great options that would also please meat lovers like me.

~ By Allie Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. Allie explores her passion for food, travel, and learning about different cultures though her internship with Go Eat Give.

60s Iconic Revolving Atlanta Bar ReOpens June 10

Having opened in 1967, this high-perched, rotating Polaris restaurant has been an Atlanta landmark for more than four decades. Sitting above the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the dome- shaped establishment completes one full rotation every 45 minutes, providing its visitors with a beautiful 360-degree view of Atlanta while they eat. Although the restaurant draws upon its origins with a 1960s style decor, it has successfully rebranded itself as a modern and chic destination for dining in Atlanta.

polaris atlanta

The second I walked through the door of the 29th floor, I was handed the signature cocktail of Polaris, a peach daiquiri. Being from Georgia, I love all things peach flavored, and this cocktail was no exception. With my daiquiri in hand, I then went on a full circle tour of the restaurant. It is set up like a home, with four different sections or “rooms.” There is the living room, the dining room, the library, and my personal favorite, the kitchen. The idea is unique, and the rooms serve to create a welcoming, homey atmosphere. The kitchen is open to make you feel like you are at a dinner party in someone’s home rather than at a fancy restaurant in downtown Atlanta. The downside to this, however, is that there isn’t much space for big groups. There are only a few tables spread out around the restaurant where one can have a sit-down meal. Although not the best set-up if you want to have a nice dinner with a large group of friends, it can be the perfect destination for an intimate romantic evening with a view.

Allie Williams

A variety of appetizer and entree dishes was served as a preview of the restaurant menu, which changes every fortnight. On my first go-round, I grabbed a dish that consisted of Good Lady Sandy Creek goat cheese, tasso ham, micro radishes, and fresh plums. I also tried the spotted trotter duck pate with red wine braised shallots and a basil crisp cup, as well as a rabbit crepinette with wild leeks and morel risotto. Of these three, my favorite was definitely the goat cheese plate. The combination of the cheese, ham, and plums was very refreshing and perfect for a warm, summer day. I was not as much of a fan of the other two dishes. To be fair, it was my first time trying either duck pate or rabbit, so perhaps a more experienced foodie.

Good Lady Sandy Creek goat cheese, tasso ham, micro radishes, and fresh plums.

Another dish that I was able to try for the first time was gazpacho. And unlike the rabbit and duck dishes, I was much luckier this time around. Three different kinds were served; a strawberry, a cucumber, and a more traditional yellow tomato variety. Each one tasted like a cold, flavored soup with a slight spicy kick. Although my favorite was the strawberry, due to its sweetness, I thoroughly enjoyed all three. Any one of them would make a great summer appetizer.

gazpacho

The two entree dishes consisted of steak oscar with crab, asparagus, hollondaise, and tarragon, and a red porgy with pickled vegetables and finger lime caviar. Despite it being possibly the least exotic meal on the menu, the steak oscar was mouth-watering and the components came together perfectly to create a succulent dish. The red porgy dish was just as enjoyable. The fish was paired with black rice that had a sweet taste, and drizzled with the citrus caviar of finger lime, enhancing the flavors as well as visual appeal of the dish.

red rice & porgy

What intrigued me most about the restaurant was its dedication to using locally grown ingredients. As the executive chef Martin Pfefferkorn explained, the restaurant uses as many ingredients from Georgia and the surrounding states that it can. He even started his own vegetable garden on the roof of the hotel. Every dish incorporates at least one ingredient from this roof garden, which can be seen from the Polaris. All of the fish served is line-caught, minimizing  environmental impact. Because of this dedication to what is fresh and local ingredients, the chef has to reinvent the menu every two weeks. While this may excite some people, it could be disappointing for others who find a dish that they love. Personally, I think that the freshness of the ingredients and the support the restaurant gives to local farmers is worth having to search for something new to eat every time.

rooftop garden in downtown Atlanta

Overall, I had a great experience trying out the newly redone Polaris. The food was great, the view was gorgeous, and I loved the chic style with a little bit of throwback mixed in. With its updated menu, fresh ingredients, and home-style atmosphere, I think the new Polaris could become just as much of as an icon as the old ones.

polaris candy

~ By Allie Williams, marketing and communications intern at Go Eat Give. Allie was invited to preview the new Polaris for lunch earlier this week.