Dinner with a Passport

I had the opportunity to attend the two-year anniversary of Dinner with a Passport this weekend. Dinner with a Passport is a foodie group started by Sonia Catalina Viteria, who is originally from Ecuador but now lives in Atlanta. Sonia had friends from all over the world who loved to cook and eat, so she started coordinating a once a month event doing just that. About ten people meet at someone’s home and a different country is picked each month. The hostess prepares dishes from participating countries while the rest of the members help cook and bring drinks.

After two years, the group has 194 members, so this particular event enjoyed the diversity accumulated over time. Every person was asked to bring a dish or drink from their representative country. The result was an international buffet that matched no other! There were original, home-cooked dishes from Greece, Poland, Russia, Peru, India, Ecuador, USA, Mexico, Italy, Japan, Spain and many more!

Scroll through the pictures and see if you can identify some of these dishes…

[oqeygallery id=9]

Neighborhood fundraiser for Japan

The connection between people knows no geographic or cultural boundaries. An Indian couple, Durrain and Navaz Porbandarwala organized a fundraiser for victims of the Japan earthquake, in their neighborhood in Kennesaw, Georgia. Durrain, who is a cooking instructor, prepared a scrumptious dinner with the help of her neighbors. They put out flyers, invited friends and held the event at their subdivision Clubhouse on a Saturday evening.  

50 people attended and over $800 was raised. All proceeds will go to American Red Cross towards Japan relief fund.

It is impressive to see how people come together for a greater cause. It’s a small drop in the bucket but we all have to do our part in order to make an impact in this world. Imagine if each neighborhood around the world was to organize a similar dinner fundraiser, how much aid we would generate for the unfortunate Tsunami victims. Even if you are unable to make a financial contribution, do take out a few minutes to send your prayers and loving thoughts to these families.

[oqeygallery id=2]

Bollywood in Persia

I celebrated a dear friend’s birthday this past weekend at a Persian restaurant called Fanoos located in Sandy Springs, a suburb of Atlanta. I have been to this place a few times before and over time, have come to know its owner Jalal.

Jalal moved from Northern Iran to the US over 30 years ago. He took over Persian Tea House couple of years ago. He renamed the place, added a bar but kept the menu and started offering a scrumptious lunch buffet. The restaurant is a typical family arrangement with an open hall and a water fountain in the centre. There are several booths with Persian carpets and cushions, where large families of 10-15 people can sit comfortably on the floor. In the corner, there is a glass booth with a tandoor (round clay oven) where the chef makes fresh bread as soon as you order.

Our group of friends started with a round of pomegranate martinis to celebrate the occasion. These were very different than what I have had at other bars before. Instead of the typical sweetness in the cocktail, there was a spicy flavor (from anise or cinnamon) but it was delicious and smooth!

Baskets of fresh bread was served with a small plate of starters (feta cheese, mint leaves, walnuts olives) even before we had our menus. We ordered some appetizers to share – Must O’ Kheiar, Must O’ Mousir,  Salad Shirazi, Dolmeh, Kashke Bademjon, Hummus, and Must O’ Kheia. If you have tried Lebanese or Turkish food before, some of these may sounds familiar.

For main course, I usually stick to one of their Polo’s, as that’s something I can’t find elsewhere. The Shirin Polo (sweet rice mixed with barberries, orange peels, sliced almonds, and pistachios) is my favorite. I ask them to pair it with Salmon, which is always grilled to perfection. When I am not in mood for sweet, I order the Zereshik  Polo (Rice mixed with barberry and saffron). My friends who ordered the lamb kebabs seemed to have loved it as well.

After dinner, we helped ourselves to the dance floor. Usually, there are belly dancers after 8pm on weekend. But since we were there on a Sunday, we asked Jalal to play some Bollywood music for us. Even the non-Indian patrons joined in for some Bhangra moves.




An Introduction to Moroccan Cuisine

Moroccan cuisine is unlike other Arab, African or Mediterranean foods that you may be familiar with. Although it has influences from other regions around it, Moroccan gastronomy offers an interesting offering of meats, vegetables and spices. Characteristic flavorings include preserved lemons, unrefined olive juices and dried fruits. Spices such as saffron, turmeric, cumin and paprika as well as herbs like parsley, cilantro and mint are heavily used.

A typical Moroccan meal starts with a variety of hot and cold salads. Some of these are relatively easy to prepare, such as boiled beets or carrots seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Moroccan salad is a mixture of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. Zaalouk is a mixture of crushed eggplant and tomatoes mixed with garlic and spices, served cold. Harira is Morocco’s famous lentil and tomato soup, which is also used to break the fast at Ramadan. Khobz, traditional Moroccan bread is served at all meals. You would see everyone from street peddlers to small stores selling it.

The main entrée is almost always cooked and served in a Tagine, a dome shaped heavy clay dish that is sometimes painted or glazed for decoration. The Tagine has a flat circular base in which you cook the food and a large cone shaper cover that retains the moisture while cooking. Tagine of meat (beef, lamb), chicken and vegetables is most common.  There is also an array of vegetables prepared in Moroccan cuisine. Roasted whole artichokes with peas, diced pumpkin with cinnamon, quince and green beans are a few staples. Although Morocco has a large coastline, seafood is only found in upscale restaurants.

Couscous is one of the most popular entrées found here and is said to be of Berber origin. Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa from west of the Nile Valley. Couscous is made of semolina and wheat flour by rolling it into fine granules. The end result is of almost powdery consistency which is steamed and served at room temperature with vegetables or meat stew, and sometimes seasoned with saffron to add color.

Pastilla is an elaborate preparation of layers of phyllo, eggs, almond paste and ground cooked chicken or mixed seafood. It is then topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar and can be served as an appetizer or entrée.

Desserts traditionally consist of fresh fruits. There are a number of bakeries and patisseries in Morocco but most of these sweets are eaten with tea between meals. Puff pastry, honey, nuts, dried fruits and powdered sugar are common ingredients used to make the traditional desserts which may remind you of baklava but are far more diverse in flavors. Green tea soaked in fresh mint leaves and Copyright Go Eat Givelots of sugar is indispensable throughout the day. The Moroccan tea culture involves pouring tea from a beautiful silver kettle into small glasses and is enjoyed leisurely with friends and family.

For breakfast or snack, a popular item found everywhere is the Msemmen, a crepe made of whole wheat flour with layering of butter and oil. It can be eaten with jam or honey. Pain cake and doughnuts are also served at tea time as snacks. Walking in the Medina’s, you would find vendors selling boiled chickpeas in paper cones, steamed snails by the bowls, caked and dried fruits. Juice stands sell freshly squeezed orange, tangerine and grapefruit juices that cost under $1 per glass. Although alcohol is not permitted in the Muslim religion, a lot of Moroccans drink in the restraints and bars. While liquor stores may not be so common, beer and wine is available at supermarkets.

As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in January 2011.

Morocco vs. India

 My friends travelling with me must be tired of listening to me say “This reminds me of India” dozens of times since we came here. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between India and Morocco, to say the least. Here are a few worth pointing out…

Over crowdedness: When I was walking around in Casablanca, it was a similar experience as being in New Delhi i.e. utter chaos everywhere. Traffic pouring from all directions, hundreds of cars and bikes, none following road rules, yet finding their way through the mess without any incidents. My American friends felt very scared of riding in the petit taxis holding on to their seatbealt-less seats in run down cars fearing a collision at every turn.

Pollution: Again, the car exhaust fumes, dust, dirt, garbage-quite like any big city in India! It’s hard to breathe and throat hurts sometimes.

Bollywood: I heard  the song dil to pagal hai playing in a taxi where the guy insisted it was Arabic music! Another stalker in Rabat who pronounced me “Princess of Morocco” sang me some Hindi film songs. Many street vendors sell Bollywood DVDs. Shah Rukh Khan is supposedly very popular here as a few people mentioned him to me randomly. Posters of Aishwarya Rai are found on billboards and stores.

Shopping: I was so surprised when I walked into a convenience store the other day to buy some water and found many of the products that I grew up with in India. Lux and Pears soap, Fair and Lovely creams, etc. were cosmetics I have not seen in the west at all! Also, the street vendors, road side book stores, knock off designer bags, etc. eminds me so much of Connaught Place in New Delhi. Even the shops inside the Medinas make me feel like I am walking in a Redi (sort of flea) market. How much you pay for an item depends on how well you can haggle. No tension there-I am an experienced bargainer!

Culture: Apparently, the tradition of arranged marriages and joint families is common here as well. The people are very friendly and always willing to help. I have been warned of men verbally harrasing women by whistling, commenting, etc. but am quite used to it having lived in India for so long. They also like to talk to foreigners, perphaps to entertain us in exchange of cash.


Architecture: The area of Rabat where our volunteer house is takes my memories back to my hometown of Chandigarh in northern India. Here, there are two story bungalows with gardens, surrounded by a high wall and gated entrance. The roads are clean and there is a lot of greenry. The styles of the homes is also very much like what you would find in stand alone houses in India.

Me: I constantly hear from locals “You look like a Moroccan” and am actually getting preferantial treatment (such as not being ripped off and being allowed to take pictures, etc.) so I decided to become one! Now when they ask me if I am Moroccan, I say “I am half Moroccan and half Indian.” Funny thing is other volunteers at the home base actually belived this too! I am sticking to my story for now.