In the Kitchen with Chateau Saigon’s Phuong Nguyen

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Phuong Nguyen, manager and chef for Chateau Saigon Vietnamese restaurant in Atlanta, to learn about his food and culture. Phuong’s friendliness and sincerity was evident from the beginning of our conversation, and I was fortunate to learn firsthand about the food, sights, and culture in Vietnam. Phuong also opened up to share his favorite memories of Vietnam, his thoughts on coming to America, and the story of how he came to Chateau Saigon.

Here is what we discusses:

Q: What are your favorite memories of Vietnam?

A: My favorite memories are from when I visited the North of Vietnam with my friends. We would spend time relaxing and hiking in the mountains. I’m from the south, and there are a lot of differences between the north and south. The north has more nature, mountains. The rice fields are different in the north and the south because of the geography. In the south, rice fields are planted on the mountains, which is interesting to see in contrast to the flat fields in the south. The food is also different, like pho – it’s sweeter in the south.

Q: What Vietnamese dish do you like best?

A: Pho (a Vietnamese soup dish made with noodles, herbs, and meats). I could eat pho every day and not get tired of it.

pho_chinQ: What is your favorite place in Vietnam?

A: My favorite place is in the mountains, in DaLat city. DaLat is about an 8 hour bus ride from Saigon because of the geography in the mountains. It’s very different from Saigon; there are three main differences. First, there are no traffic lights in all of DaLat. Second, there are no rickshaws, which are everywhere in Saigon. It would be impossible to use rickshaws in DaLat because of the mountains, so people use motorcycles to get around. Lastly, there is no air conditioning in DaLat. The weather is much cooler there than it is in Saigon, and there is no need for it. When I go to DaLat, I spend time riding bikes around the big lake, relaxing, and going on tours of the palaces. There are three palaces in DaLat that used to belong to the French. There are also two villas, and people now believe the villas are haunted.

dalat_viewQ: How did you come to work at Chateau Saigon?

A: I was able to make a connection to the restaurant through my aunt. She was the one who sponsored me to come to America, and she actually sponsored my whole family. The process for me to get here took a long time – 12 years. It began when I was still young; my parents did not say anything about moving to America until it actually happened. I wasn’t sure I wanted to come at first. My sister and I had a shop in Vietnam, and even though we probably would not have made as much money there as we would here, we would have made a pretty good living.

There was also the issue of needing to learn English. In Vietnam, I studied for four and a half years to get my degree in civil engineering, and I am taking English classes now for a program at Kennesaw State University. My whole family, my parents and sister, are now here in America, except my wife. I knew my wife from school and had been dating her for years when I moved to the United States, and we got married during my last trip to Vietnam. Now we’re working on the process for her to come to America.

Q: What is your favorite part about working at Chateau Saigon?

A: I really like being able to talk with other people. It gives me a chance to practice my English, and I enjoy meeting people.

Q: What are some things about Vietnam that most people probably don’t know?

A: Vietnam has a lot of great street food. People use motorcycles for their main transportation there, and they can stop and get something to eat from a street vendor when they get hungry. Street food includes meatballs and fresh fruit, and some places serve rice, eggs, and noodles. The food in Vietnam is also fresher than it is here in the United States, especially seafood. In Vietnam, some restaurants have tanks where they raise fish or octopus to cook. Another thing is that we actually have pizza in Vietnam. The sauce used on the pizza is sriracha. You can get pizza with octopus or calamari as toppings. Vietnam loves seafood and spices.

top-10-Street-FoodTaste Chef Phuong Nguyen’s authentic recipes at Go Eat Give Destination Vietnam on June 23rd, 2015 7pm at Chateau Saigon restaurant. Tickets at www.destinationvietnam.eventbrite.com

~ By Sarah Margaret, a student at Emory University pursuing a major in History with a concentration in Law, Economy, and Human Rights. Margaret loves to travel, and she is currently learning Italian to prepare for studying abroad in Florence in the fall. Her hobbies include hiking, photography, and learning to cook.

Havana Biennial represents a changing Cuba

The air buzzed with excitement outside the Factoría Habana in Havana Vieja. Cubans and people from around the world, gathered outside the gallery, eagerly awaiting the opening. Right away, art aficionados dressed in trendy outfits, streamed into the building. Within minutes, the entire gallery was full of people looking at art, chatting with friends, taking pictures, and listening to the woman DJ spin music.

I couldn’t believe I was at a cool gorgeous art gallery, full of cool, gorgeous people right in the center of Havana. Everywhere I looked, I saw young fashionistas admiring the art from hanging iPads to a giant sign made with plastic rulers.

Change is happening in Cuba. During the 12th Havana Biennial this year art galleries and museums displayed never-before seen work. One of the most interesting scenes was along the Malecón, a popular sea-facing stretch of road where people gather to enjoy the view. For the biennial it became a massive outdoor art gallery featuring everything from an ice skating rink to a fountain with barbed wire.

In Havana, art was on display everywhere from a dilapidated bicycle factory to fancy art galleries! In the words of an organizer on the festival’s website, “It won’t be a Biennial for collectors or gallerists, but rather to make a connection with the city. There will be no official opening or specific venues; art will spill out of the galleries, bursting into the streets which will be bubbling with ideas.”

A former bicycle factory turned into an art gallery during the 12th Havana Biennial.
A former bicycle factory turned into an art gallery during the 12th Havana Biennial.

On my last night in Havana, I met Cuban artist, Rachel Valdés Camejo. She’s the artist behind the magnificent “Blue Cube,” a giant plastic blue box on the Malecón. Upon entering the blue cube, I could see the dark blue ocean and the clouds in the sky above. Rachel explained the inspiration for her cube, along with another installation she has on display at the 18th-century fortress, La Cabaña. She excitedly talked about how this type of art can impact all Cubans. Even though Rachel studied and lived in Spain and the United States, she wants to be a part of the Cuban art scene. She said the Malecón was the perfect venue for people of all backgrounds to view and interact with the art.

Rachel Valdés Camejo's incredible sound, mirror, and light installation on display at the 18th-century fortress, La Cabaña.
Rachel Valdés Camejo’s incredible sound, mirror, and light installation on display at the 18th-century fortress, La Cabaña.

During the biennial, the entire city of Havana became a living art museum. I noticed hidden gems such as a wall full of tiny sketches in an abandoned building. In a former bicycle factory, I saw pieces of silver embedded in the wall. I was impressed that many of the artists stood next to their pieces and eagerly interacted with the audience.

During the 12th Havana Biennial, the entire city of Havana became a living art museum. I noticed hidden gems such as a wall full of tiny sketches in an abandoned building.
During the 12th Havana Biennial, the entire city of Havana became a living art museum. I noticed hidden gems such as a wall full of tiny sketches in an abandoned building.

Along the Malecón, Moroccan artist Safaa Erruas displayed a Moorish shaped fountain with hundreds of white barbed wire poles emerging from the center. When people looked down into the fountain, they could see a reflection of themselves. She told me that her piece represented borders and “at first, you don’t see the borders, since nothing appears at first as what’s reality.” Her piece emphasized how politics often creates boundaries. Another Moroccan artist, Mounir Fatmi’s installation of poles painted with American flags represented the U.S.-Cuba relationship. I met a curator who told me that many of these art pieces were created before the U.S. and Cuba formally engaged in dialog in December 2014.

Moroccan artist Safaa Erruas displayed a Moorish shaped fountain with hundreds of white barbed wire poles emerging from the center titled, "Fuente de Espinas," or Fountain of Thorns," in English.
Moroccan artist Safaa Erruas displayed a Moorish shaped fountain with hundreds of white barbed wire poles emerging from the center titled, “Fuente de Espinas,” or Fountain of Thorns,” in English.

Many Cuban artists raved about the New York exhibition, “Wild Noise,” which debuted at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes). In this exhibition, The Bronx Museum gathered more than 80 pieces from American artists. It was an amazing experience to see this collection from New York debut in Cuba for the first time in fifty years!

The Havana Biennial represents a Cuba that is quickly changing. This year, over 200 artists from 44 countries across Latin American, Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States presented their art pieces in Havana to the world. Cuba is such a fascinating country and I hope to visit again for future art and culture celebrations.

Art piece displaying U.S. and Cuba flags at the Zona Franca exhibition, held inside the 18th-century fortress, La Cabaña during the 12th Havana Biennial.
Art piece displaying U.S. and Cuba flags at the Zona Franca exhibition, held inside the 18th-century fortress, La Cabaña during the 12th Havana Biennial.

The Havana Biennial runs until June 22.

Saris and Samosas: Indian Culture in Atlanta

Last Thursday, May 28, 2015, Go Eat Give brought Atlanta a taste of Northern India, and it was delicious. Over fifty members and guests from the area joined us at Indian restaurant Bhojanic Buckhead location for Destination India dinner. There was excitement in the air as the evening began and attendees mingled over mango martinis and Kingfisher beer, taking the opportunity to purchase exclusive Go Eat Give India t-shirts and raffle tickets before settling down in their seats.

There was much buzz about the raffle, and for good reason: first prize winners received a free plane ticket to India, generously donated by our sponsor Air India. The restaurant gave off an exotic yet inviting feel, warmly lit with hanging Indian lamps and decorated with brightly hued pillows of all colors. Near the end of the long, family-style table arrangement, large carts with intricate designs were loaded with enticing food, adding to the sense that I had been transported to India.

Destination India at Bhojanic

The meal began with a variety of samosas served as appetizers. Some of these tasty Indian pastries were filled with spinach and spices, while others were filled with a combination of spiced potatoes and peas. Guests also enjoyed turkey kebabs with mint chutney. Small cups of mango lassi, a popular yogurt-based drink, served well to offer guests a break from the heat. I particularly enjoyed the unexpectedly delicious combination of spicy and sweet.

Dinner continued with biryani, a savory Indian dish consisting of rice and a combination of vegetables or meats with spices. Traditional Indian street-style chips, known as chaat, were topped with mint and tamarind sauces and made to order from a street food cart.

Linda Harris at Destination India

As guests finished their main courses, Dr. Jagdish Sheth, an esteemed Professor of Marketing at Emory University, treated everyone with his engaging speech. Dr. Sheth was born in Burma to a Jain family and emigrated to India as a refugee in 1941. In his speech, he offered insight to the world’s vast variety of culture, fascinating guests with observations on how geography affects the cuisine, clothing, and habits of many different countries. Dr. Sheth kept guests laughing throughout his riveting speech, and his sense of humor and amiable personality showed through as he regaled us with a story about his children fulfilling his dream of driving a Jaguar with “Jag’s Jag” on the license plate for his sixtieth birthday – with a rental car!

Dr Jagdish Sheth at Go Eat Give

After the speech, guests were treated to delicious desserts. These included rasmalai, made of sweetened milk and cheese flavored with cardamom – Dr. Sheth’s personal favorite. Another treat was gulab jamun, which is essentially a ball of fried dough similar to a donut ball in sweet syrup. It’s safe to say these were a huge hit, as they were gone within fifteen minutes of their first appearance.

The excitement continued as the time for the raffle arrived. The second prize winner received two tickets to the Rahat Fateh Ali Khan concert at the Fox Theatre donated by Café Bombay, and first prize winners of course each took home a free plane ticket to India!

As the evening wound down, guests had the chance to learn more about the culture of Northern India with a video, which detailed the experience of those who travelled with Go Eat Give on the last trip to India. Speeches were given by some of the trip’s attendees as they detailed their favorite memories and experiences. Many guests mentioned how much they valued the opportunity to stay in the homes of Go Eat Give Founder Sucheta Rawal’s family and friends in Chandigarh, an experience that allowed them to see India in a way not possible for the majority of tourists. Guests also enjoyed a musical performance by NINAAD, whose song and instrumentals channeled a fusion of tradition and Bollywood style.

Overall, the evening was a delightful success! You can see more about the event by watching Go Eat Give on WSB-TV Channel 2 Atlanta on Saturday, June 6th at 5:30 a.m. and Sunday, June 7th at 12:30 p.m. on the People 2 People Show.

~ By Sarah Margaret, a student at Emory University pursuing a major in History with a concentration in Law, Economy, and Human Rights. Sarah is an event planning and marketing intern for Go Eat Give. She loves to travel, and she is currently learning Italian to prepare for studying abroad in Florence in the fall. Her other hobbies include hiking, photography, and learning to cook.

Door County, WI: 5 Ways to Have A Cherry Good Time

With summer right around the corner, have you decided where you will go? If you are looking to beat the heat in a spot with plenty of outdoor activities, you should check out the under the radar spot, Door County, WI. Many in the surrounding areas refer to Door County as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. Known for their cherry production, they seem to find their way into many a dish. Here are five spots to get in on all the cherry action in Door County.

1. Renard’s Cheese Shop

What’s a visit to Wisconsin without some cheese, right? Renard’s is a third-generation family cheese shop. Led by Chris Renard, he is one of 60 master cheesemakers in the United States. Their signature cheese, a white cheddar cherry is a unique and delightful flavor. Did I mention cheese curds are highly addictive and abundant at almost every meal you’ll have in Door County?

Cheese Samples at Renards Cheese in Door County
Cheese Samples at Renard’s Cheese Shop

2. Cherry French Toast at The White Gull Inn

Ever heard of a little show called Good Morning America? They voted The Cherry French Toast at the Old Gulf Inn the best breakfast in America. Having tried it myself, their Cherry French Toast doesn’t disappoint. Made with fresh, Wisconsin cream cheese, you’ll want to have some bacon or sausage to balance out the sweetness. The beautiful space is also a real Inn, so you can stay here on your trip to Door County as well!

White Gull Inn French toast
A French Toast Breakfast at White Gull Inn

3. Orchard County Winery

Orchard County Winery uses 3.5 million cherries annually. Who knew cherries could produce such fantastic wines? There is a current trend of rosé. If you like rosé wine, the wines produced at Orchard County Winery are a delicious alternative, as it isn’t as sweet as you might expect.

Trivia: They had German POWs work here when Orchard County was just farmland.

4. Seaquist Orchards

Suppliers of cherries to all the surrounding businesses, Seaquist Orchards are available to tour as well. How do they pluck all those cherries? Instead of handpicking, they use a machine that shakes the cherries off the trees using an upside-down umbrella-like feature.

Wait, there’s more. Seaquist Orchards has a bakery on-site too. Besides dips, spreads, jams, and jellies (there are plenty of samples everywhere), the cherry pies are something to behold. They produce 1200 pies per week with 3 lbs of cherries in each pie!

Unpicked cherries at Seaquist Orchard, Door County
Unpicked cherries at Seaquist Orchard

5. Island Orchard Ciders

Island Orchard Ciders, relatively new in comparison to the other restaurants and wineries in the area of Door County, opened in 2011. The Cider is made from both apples and cherries. Cider is much more than a weak alternative to beer. It pairs well with seafood, pork and spicy Asian foods. The founders also recommend it for brunch. Hops used in the ciders are grown locally.

Tip: The proper way to drink cider is from a ceramic container.

Island Orchard Ciders from Door County
Island Orchard Ciders

Besides the abundance of lovely cherries, there’s more to Door County, WI that makes it a super summer getaway. There are many unspoiled vistas in Door County. If you are looking to beat the summer heat, Door County is a good choice as it is relatively cool in the summer and there are plenty of outdoor activities perfect for families or individuals.

Looking for more Cherry Inspired Drinks? Try this recipe for Cherry Bomb Cocktails!

Supporting Local in Door County

Do you love to support local businesses? When is the last time you went anywhere in the US without seeing a chain store, restaurant, or hotel? In Door County, you won’t find a single chain at all. Hotels and restaurants are independently owned by families that live in the local area.

Get ready to loosen your belt as you imbibe and indulge in all the cherry fun in Door County, Wisconsin!

~ Malika Bowling is the author of  Food Lovers’ Guide to Atlanta, Food Blogging 101, and founder of Atlanta Restaurant Blog. She has been a contributing writer to USA Today and Urbanspoon. Malika holds the title of President of the Association of Food Bloggers. Follow her on twitter @ATLEatsNTweets and on Instagram @malika_bowling.

10 Reasons to Visit Nebraska: The New Midwest

When it comes to culture, fine dining and an overall vibrant city for a short getaway, there are certain perennial favorites. With these behemoth cities come high price tags for fun and recreation, not including parking and transportation whilst visiting. But there are several up and coming cities not yet on the radar of many. Two such cities can be found in cattle country, aka Nebraska.

Here are 10 Reasons to Visit Nebraska…

1. Omaha Zoo

Imagine being able to feel like you are in the midst of a South American Rain Forest or in the desert of Africa without ever leaving the United States. Now you can experience this year round at the Omaha Zoo. What they’ve done is quite genius. They’ve re-created these ecosystems on acres of the zoo. The Omaha Zoo is home to North America’s largest indoor rainforest. You get to experience the rainforest at bird level. Walk amongst the birds as they soar through the air. The zoo also has the largest indoor desert. They replicate soil structure and plants in these regions. The Nebraskan zoo features the Namib Desert of Africa, Red Center of Australia and Sonoran desert of the US.

2. Grane

Yes, we’ve all heard of the wine and beer dispensers at bars. These machines allow enthusiasts to take special small “tastes” so you can sample a variety. But what about spirits? Well if you love Whiskey, then a visit to Grane is in order. Pours are available in .5, 1 and 1.5 ounce sizes. They run the gamut with price points from as low as $7 for a half-ounce pour to $50 for a rare varietal.

Grane Bar, nebraska
The Grane bar has every drink you could order

3. Dundee Dell

This dive bar is harboring a secret: it is home to the largest single malt scotch collection in the US, about 700. They do a scotch tasting once a month, which is a great way to learn about scotch in an unpretentious atmosphere. They also have about 200 beers and 150 bourbons. You’d be missing out if you don’t have the Fish n’ Chips. Their secret recipe had us lusting for more. And we’re not alone. They cook about 2 million pieces of fish annually.

Dundee Grill nebraska
Crispy Fish n’ Chips at Dundee Dell with over 200 beers to choose from

4. Dante Ristorante Pizzeria

This unassuming restaurant has all the indications of your run of the mill brick oven pizzeria. Yet it is hiding so much talent and good food, you would be shocked. First off, you’ll want to visit for dinner when you can indulge in a bottle of wine or at least several glasses. They specialize in offbeat wines. But menu items like the Duck pate served on duck fat fried bread or the Rabbit Roulade are clear winners. Of course, pizzas are nothing to discount either with a lemon, cherry pepper and fried chicken liver pizza as well as the Armore di Carne with sopressata, sausage and mortadella.

Dantes-chef-with-award-winning-pizza nebraska
The brick oven adds complexity to a classic dish

5. Le Boullion

Chef Kulik gives his interpretation of French comfort food at Le Bouillon in the Old Market in Omaha. Located in a converted fruit and vegetable warehouse, Le Bouillon is an open, yet seemingly intimate restaurant. Kulik sourcing from local producers in Nebraska marries sensible yet fancy French foods. Standouts are the mussels braised in cider and foie gras butter as well as the toasts topped with items like Duck Confit and Pork Rillettes. Small plates like the Steak Tartare with cured egg yolk and parsley cream are to be savored.

6. Grey Plume

An eight-course tasting menu left us ready to slip into a delightful gastronomic coma. A Spaghetti Squash Galette with pastrami, leeks, kale and pomegranate, was an unexpected, yet winning dish. An infusion of fruit in this and many of the dishes was surprising and pleasurable like the persimmon with the scallops. Although the wine list is something to behold – don’t miss out on craft cocktails like the Les Paul, with scallion vodka and celery sour.

7. The Joslyn Museum of Art

Located in Nebraska, the Joslyn Museum of Art is one of the top art museums in the country, particularly for American paintings and sculptures. The museum’s original 1931 building itself is a magnificent example of Art Deco architecture. The museum also features a 1,000–seat concert hall, fountain court, education technology gallery, and much more. Joslyn’s Sculpture and Discovery Garden opened in 2009.

Joslyn Museum

8. Cornhusker Hotel

A stay in Nebraska is not complete without sleeping at the Cornhusker Hotel. Although purchased by Marriott, it still retains its charm and unique style. The soaring lobby was home to a beautifully decorated Christmas tree during our holiday visit. And just adjacent was a mini-library where you could get lost in a book while sipping on your favorite cup of tea. Rooms were large with comfortable beds. Start your day off with a hearty breakfast including the house special Nebraska omelet.

9. Licorice International

No matter what side of the fence you are on for Licorice (love it or hate it) you should browse the offerings at Licorice International in Nebraska. While, understandably most of the candies have a licorice spin, they have unique varieties including gluten free and sugar free items as well. Employees love to talk shop, which invariably leads to free samples. Want to reorder? No problem, Licorice International ships about 10,000 orders per year.

10. The Normandy

Who would have thought that you’d find the haute cuisine in the Midwest? The Normandy, a quaint restaurant in Lincoln, is owned by a couple: one a native Nebraskan (Renee), and the second a Frenchman (Lawrence) who fell in love with the Nebraskan. In fact, Lawrence even jokes that only love could keep a Frenchman in Nebraska. This spot is the epitome of a hidden gem. Some of the best mussels we’ve had were here swimming in a creamy saffron sauce. Don’t miss out on Gougère (cheese in puff pastry) or the lamb chops.

~ Malika Bowling is the author of  Food Lovers’ Guide to Atlanta, Food Blogging 101 and founder of Atlanta Restaurant Blog. She has been a contributing writer to USA Today and Urbanspoon. Malika holds the title of President of the Association of Food Bloggers. Follow her on twitter @ATLEatsNTweets and on Instagram @malika_bowling.

Scenes from the Women’s Shelter in Chandigarh

Chandigarh remains a vivid memory of mine especially our visit to a women’s shelter.  A few pictures cannot adequately describe the emotional reaction to seeing and hearing of the plight of these women (plus two little girls living there with their mother). To give you a sense, I chose these four pictures and will tell you a little about each one. savera women's shelter in chandigarhThe women introduced themselves to us (as we did to them). The lady in blue and pick appeared to be very shy and quiet, perhaps even in shock, and yet she did make it through the introduction.
go eat give india
 The two little girls were doing what children do all over the world — vying for a turn at an object.  Imagine what a novelty the camera was to them.  Compare it to the very young photographers we see every day in the United States, who completely take the camera/cell phones for granted. The teenager in the picture with the little girls had yet another sad story.  She is 16 years old and has neither a mother nor a father. In other words, she is on her own in life. How wonderful that she is in the safe arms of the shelter.
savera chandigarh
In the lower left picture, look more closely at the little girl’s right hand.  How has that hand become so distorted and lost its pigmentation?  I’ll let you think about that.
elizebeth volunteering at savers india
The last lady, pictured with me, was longing for human contact and warmth.  She put her arms around several of us and just held on – not saying a word – looking up at us with those soulful eyes.
These images and narrative provide a good sampling of our Go Eat Give visit to the women’s shelter in Chandigarh in November 2014.
Although the shelter’s matron (she called herself the “warden”) referred to the women at the shelter as “inmates,” I came away from our visit feeling cheered that this small group of women and children have found a refuge and safe harbor where they live in modest, close quarters, receive assistance in resolving their (mostly) domestic situations, and show a fortitude beyond my ability to comprehend.
Click here to make a donation for Savera women’s shelter in India.
~ By guest blogger, Elizabeth Etoll, a retired IBM executive who lives in Atlanta, GA. She visited Cuba and India with Go Eat Give in 2014. 

Sati – An Ancient Hindu Practice

Sati, meaning “good wife” in Sanskrit, refers to a very interesting and ancient Hindu mourning ritual, which generates quite a bit of attention due to its historically radical means of an end. Sati is a ceremony that was practiced after the death of a woman’s husband, during which the mourning woman was required to be burned alive in order to show mourning and devotion to their lost spouse. It began around the 10th century B.C. The ceremony was first practiced by the wives of kings, until it gained popularity in the Hindu religion and was practiced by other regional groups.

It use to be part of the Hindu religion that if a married woman’s husband was to fall ill and die or perish in battle, the spouse was expected to immolate; or end her life as an offering, to the spirit of her deceased husband. When this act was being carried out, the woman would also have to do so on top of the husband’s funeral pyre. If a woman refused this act, she was typically sought after, and more or less forcibly convinced to agree to its completion. After a woman went through this ritual, she was then revered and idolized by her community as a holy woman, as well as an object of worship.

source: Wiki Commons
source: Wiki Commons

A Greek geographer by the name of Strabo who traveled to India with Alexander the Great noted that the majority of these women were in fact, happy to burn in sacrifice of their husbands. The few who did not see this act as honorable and refused to die, were shunned and seen as outcasts of their community. According to historical data, the practice of sati came about because marriages were typically formed by love (as oppose to arranger marriage) in ancient India. When these marriages would take a turn for the worst, the woman would often poison the man and continue on to find a new lover. To put an end to the murders and to protect the women’s virtues, a law was enacted that stated that a woman who was left without a husband was required to burn alive in order to join him, or to be cast out of the community and live out the rest of her days as a widow.

"Sri Rani Sati," an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960's
“Sri Rani Sati,” an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960’s

While this bit of ancient history seemed desolate and painful, it was done out of respect for the sacred bond of marriage and love. In the Hindu religion, marriage is a sacred bond that binds two souls together for more than one lifetime. Even the Hindu gods and goddesses lead married lives and respect the duties and bonds that come with the Hindu concept of love and marriage. Although this ritual seems violent in our Western culture, it originated out of love, respect, and dedication between spouses.

The act of sati was banned in 1829 in India, and as late as 1920 in Nepal. This practice was also not necessarily limited to India, but was seen widespread throughout Asia, and remote, bordering parts of Europe.

The Culture of Chai in India

While a lot of you out there are frequent chai tea drinkers, I’ll bet you didn’t know that chai originated in India. In fact, India consumes more tea than any nation in the world! Historically, ancient Indians used teas as medicinal herbal remedies to cure a variety of ailments.

Some of the Masala Chai mixes, or Kahra, were taken from ancient Ayurvedic medical writings. Although chai (translates to tea in Hindi) is not as frequently used for herbal remedies today, some chai makers prefer to add certain herbs or spices that have been scientifically proven to improve certain aspects of one’s health, such as turmeric or cumin, which is said to aid the sickly with rising fevers.

Workers taking a break for tea
Workers taking a break for tea

Typically chai tea consists of a boiled mixture of black tea leaves, milk, sugar, cardamom, peppercorn, cinnamon, cloves and various spices native to India. One of the most popular chais in India is Masala chai, the term ‘Masala’ simply meaning ‘mixture of spices.’ Chai, typically Masala chai, is so popular that is offered as a complimentary beverage to welcome guests, at meetings, shops, home visits, dinners and for breaks throughout the day.

Go Eat Give group that went to northern India got to experience this firsthand upon entering almost every business and home.

DSC_0489
Our Go Eat Give group having chai and cakes for Amanda’s birthday with one of our host families in India.

While in India, Go Eat Give visitors had the pleasant opportunity to learn more about the process of how chai is created. This process begins with harvesting tea leaves, typically grown in higher plateaus of north India, southern slopes of the Himalayas, and Nilgiri hills in the south. Like wine, the flavor, strength, and acidity levels of the tea leaves depends on when they are harvested. Following the plucking of the tea leaves, the chlorophyll begins to break down, releasing tannins. This oxidization causes the tea to darken. This darkening is then stopped at desired stages that will determine certain qualities by heating the leaves.

With black tea, which is the tea used for chai, the leaves are heated as well as dried at the same time in order to lock in flavor. The caffeine in black tea is about one-third that of coffee, making it less acidic and easy to digest.

Shopping for teas at the spice market in New Delhi
Shopping for teas at the spice market in New Delhi

Once the leaves are dried, they are either bagged or sold to tea stores as loose-leaf tea. Most of the time, authentic Indian chai is prepared by using a decoction, or loose-leaf tea. The recipe is as follows – bring 1 cup water to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of tea leaves for every cup prepared. Add 1/2 cup whole milk (skim and 2% are newer options now found in India), as well as a combination of spices or tea masala. Let it come to another boil, then turn off heat. Use a strainer to pour the liquid into a cup. Add sugar as needed.

This generally takes more time than the quick tea bags that are mass-produced in most other places of the world. However, it does add a homemade touch to the preparation of this drink. However, for a short cut way to enjoy Indian chai, get the Tetley Masala Chai tea bags found at most specialty grocery stores around the world. (Go to smile.amazon.com and a portion of your purchases will be donated to Go Eat Give)

An American Perspective of Visiting Cuba

Cuba is an opportunity to relive life as we enjoyed it in the 1950s. Being in that warm and friendly country is experiencing an environment held motionless in time for more than 50 years.

That does not mean that the country is not progressing, only that it had its more noticeable growth period in the years before 1959. The 2.1 million people who live in the capital city of La Habana, the official name of we call Havana, see infrastructure improvements constantly. The problem is that the improvements are constantly slow! To the 11 million residents of Cuba this is not an inconvenience, it is simply the way things are.

A recent Go Eat Give cultural mission to Havana, Cuba, provided an opportunity to meet and work with Cubans who were doing a variety of things to make their small island an appealing place to live.

We worked with farm workers, healthcare professionals and artists.

We found they were completely welcoming to Americans. Together we picked beans, worked on a public art mosaic wall drawn for us by an internationally-known artist, Jose Rodriguez Fuster, whose works have been exhibited in Cuba, England and France, and spent time serving an afternoon snack in a home for the elderly.

Participants of Go Eat Give tours engage with local artists as the group did in Havana.
Participants of Go Eat Give tours engage with local artists as the group did in Havana.

It was a revelation to learn that in Cuba, which mostly remains a mystery to our country, the literacy rate is 99.8 percent.

Even though our languages were different, we mostly could communicate with a few words and often our own brand of sign language that might result in hearty laughter. As we crossed the city many times, it was evident that this was very much a city of younger people with a median age of 39 years for men and 40 years for women with about 50 percent of the population being between 25 and 54 years of age.

Beyond the numbers, there is a youthful aura that permeates the Cuban culture. Live music everywhere. People walking briskly pursuing their everyday schedules. Wide smiles greeted us wherever we went. In some restaurants the musicians would choose one of our group and begin dancing among the tables. We soon felt more like one of the family than outsiders visiting a place that has been forbidden to us for decades.

Using the word ‘decades’ reminds me of the spectacular collection of American cars from the 1950s and older that truly adorn the streets. Chevrolets, Cadillacs, Plymouths and old Ford Fairlanes. They are all there looking bright and beautiful. Cheery Yellow, Soft Lavender, Fire Engine Red, Bright Blue, Kelly Green, Deep Purple. Shiny and in pristine condition. Many cars still running because the owners have found ingenious ways to replace parts or create parts to repair the automobiles of which they are so proud. Just being on the streets of Havana is like going to an antique car show!

We were told that crime is low in this quiet but busy country. They attribute much of that to the fact that the Mafia was banned from Cuba along with their gambling and casinos that flourished before the 1950s. Drug use is not prevalent and the HIV health problem affects only .1 percent of the population.

Architecture throughout the capital city is reminiscent of historic Europe. Lovely, gracious facades with graceful arches and molded friezes. The Cuban capitol looks like our capitol in Washington. Sculptures and historic statues are situated from large airy squares to small tree-lined parks. Some statues have traditions such as if you touch the man’s bronze beard and hold his bronze hand, your wish will come true. A few modern, less interesting buildings are found tucked in among all the antique structures. Their presence provides an attractive contrast.

Contrast between old and new architecture in Cuba.
Contrast between old and new architecture in Cuba.

The most outstanding modern building is the art museum that is exciting both inside and outside. It is a huge complex of several buildings that has an extensive collection of traditional, modern and art deco exhibits. The areas are open, well-lighted and broad enough to make the presentations professional and captivating.

The capital in Havana, "Just like Washington's!"
The capital in Havana, “Just like Washington’s!”

As you exit the museum, directly across the street is the Museum of the Revolution that was originally the Presidential Palace. Behind it is a glass-enclosed building that displays Fidel’s yacht, Granma. This structure is surrounded by a park featuring military icons: tank, airplane, missile, truck, guns. It is a must to visit both. Not only for the information but for the contrast of two Cuban histories.

Which brings us to the Fidel Castro history. It was amazing to us that there is next to no symbols of their leader of more than half a century. I saw only one picture and one wall-size silhouette of him. His image does not appear in the hundreds of kiosks in the public craft market nor on colorful postcards. Quite the opposite of the handsome Che Guevara. His picture or likeness is everywhere from postcards to small prints to the entire wall of one of the larger mid-rise buildings next to Fidel’s image. The Cubans we met, with whom we had long conversations in English, said that they do not know where Fidel is and that he is rarely seen. He is simply part of their history.

Cuba, the mystery country, located so close to our Florida Keys, remains shadowed in our own United States embargo, but Cuba is there nonetheless. Their culture touches ours in many ways going back centuries. Our own vibrant Cuban neighborhoods have brought wonderful traditions, energies, music and food to our country. Our shared family values and hardworking populations are reflections of the other. We came away feeling enriched and content with our Cuban cultural mission experience.

Havana's answer to McDonald's, great local eating establishments.
Havana’s answer to McDonald’s, great local eating establishments.

~ By Barbara Rose, president of the consulting firm for non-profits, New Generation Partnerships Inc.. Ms Rose visited Cuba with Go Eat Give in November 2014. Her article also appeared in Global Atlanta

The Story Behind the Sikh Turban Wrap

When most people think of India, they think of temples, spices, and a land rich in color and religion. One of the five main religions in India is Sikhism. Sikhism developed in the fifteenth century and is native to the Punjab region of northern India. The term ‘Sikh’ itself originated from Sanskrit words meaning disciple, student, and instruction; which are some of each members most prided devotions. The main beliefs of this religion are depicted by the following the ‘Five K’s’ which consists of ‘Kesh’ (unkempt long hair), ‘Kangha’ (a small wooden comb), Kara (a steel or iron bracelet), ‘Kacherra’ (undergarment), and a ‘Kirpan’ (short dagger). For the followers of the Sikh religion, all of the aforementioned things must be kept on or close to the person at all times.

I learned about one of the five K’s, the turban, from a local host while on our tour of northern India with Go Eat Give. The size of the turban, which can be seen in all different colors and fashions, is directly related to the age of its wearer. For example, if an elderly man is wearing a turban, it will be quite large. A Sikh man adds another yard of fabric to his turban for every year of his age. This is why when you see a small boy who follows this religion, his turban may look more like a hair wrap with a small knot on the top. The reason the turban is worn is to contain their hair, which is never cut.       Khalsa sikh

The Sikh person who was our host in Chandigarh explained that to twist the long pieces of fabric into a perfectly created turban, the hair is braided from the neck up above the head, and then carefully tucked under a separate hair net, which goes under the turban. This hair net ensures that the hair will not slip out of place while also adding sturdiness to the headpiece. After this, the long pieces of fabric are carefully wrapped around the head in a layered, circular fashion to ensure support and neatness. This is done every day in the morning at least, sometimes multiple times a day. The process takes on average about forty minutes each time.

sikh kids at khalsa orphanage in Amritsar

As for the meaning behind the colors of the turban, most people choose a designated color to match their clothing or to fit the current fashion. However, there is a special meaning behind the bright orange head wraps that seem to be most popular. Orange color is representative of the spice saffron, which is one of the country’s most common spices and has a long connection in the past to the Sikh religion and its following. It is also the official Sikh color to represent wisdom and clarity of the mind.

Taking into consideration how much time Sikh followers spend each day maintaining and wrapping their turbans and head wraps, it is very clear that they are a very devoted and dedicated people that pride themselves on daily commitment and hard work in order to demonstrate their faithfulness and love of their religious beliefs.

Sikh students