Pittsburgh restaurant features ‘conflict cuisine’

Most American travelers will never set foot in Iran, but at least now if they make it to Pittsburgh, they can enjoy some of the country’s delicious cuisine. It’s the idea behind a new take-out restaurant called Conflict Kitchen, a new eatery that’s attempting to feature cuisine from countries the United States is in conflict with.

Conflict Kitchen might serve food, but it’s hardly your normal carry-out joint. The project, which was started by artist Jon Rubin, will regularly shift themes to feature a different “conflict country” and promote cross-cultural understanding. The first four months are devoted to a collaboration with Pittsburgh’s Iranian community. In addition to delicious food like the Kubideh Sandwich, Conflict Kitchen also plans to host events, performances and discussion surrounding this much discussed Middle Eastern country. Though there’s been no announcement on the project’s website, chances are good that other “rogue states” like North Korea, Venezuela and Afghanistan will get similar treatment.

The Conflict Kitchen project raises an interesting question. Who are we demonizing when we disagree with a country’s politics? Is it the government of that country? Or is it also the people who live there, many of whom have nothing to do with the policies we dislike? Perhaps by traveling and through projects like Conflict Kitchen we can learn to better differentiate between the two.

Take a 1930’s tour of Havana, Cuba

It’s hard to imagine a Cuba different than the one we have now. You know, that country 90 miles from Florida that Americans can’t visit? It’s a travel embargo that’s been in place over 50 years. But back in the 1930’s, Cuba’s capital city, Havana, was poised to take its place among the Caribbean’s foremost tourist destinations.

At least that is, according to this vintage travel film, curated by an organization called the Travel Film Archive. It’s fascinating to see this bustling city as it once was, bustling with tuxedo-clad waiters, humming trolley cars and open air businesses. Give it a watch and prepare to be taken back to another era, an era when Cuba was “just another destination” competing for tourist dollars. There’s plenty more vintage tourist movies over at the Travel Film Archive YouTube channel.

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A review of Cheapflights.com’s “Travelnomics: Calling on Cuba” guide

Change is upon Cuba, and American travelers are especially eager to capitalize on the end of the travel embargo. In anticipation of the easing of travel restrictions to Cuba, Cheapflights.com recently put together “Travelnomics: Calling on Cuba,” a helpful PDF guide on traveling to Cuba. The guide provides travelers with a glimpse of life and travel in Cuba, travel accounts from writers familiar with the country, and a list of airlines that are or will fly to Cuba.

Having traveled to Cuba myself, I think this handy guide is an accurate reflection of what it’s like to travel there. It provides interested travelers with a good overview of the country’s sights, sounds, and smells, which helped remind me of what made Cuba such a unique place — lost in time and unbelievably beautiful. Keith Jenkins of Velvet Escape and Cuba travel expert Christopher Baker further describe the country’s real richness and warmth.

I did, however, find the “Cuba — Fact or Fiction” section only marginally useful for travelers, as food, accommodations, and money were not properly addressed and present significant challenges for American travelers in particular. There are two kinds of “restaurants”, “hotels”, and currencies in Cuba, and the guide doesn’t make this distinction. Travelnomics guides “are written to help the traveler find deals in a down economy and reassure travelers that travel is easy and affordable,” but traveling in Cuba is not cheap (even penny-pinching budget travelers will find themselves spending about $50 a day) and the guide does not sufficiently “break down the barriers to Cuba travel” as it states in the guide’s subheading.

Right now, not anyone can just hop on a plane to Cuba. The list of airlines flying to Cuba seems a little too anticipatory and not cautionary enough.

For a more comprehensive guide to travel to Cuba, you might want to read my “Cuba Libre: Travel observations and tips.”

Sign the petition to open travel to Cuba

Americans today have the right to travel to any country in the world except Cuba. Recently, the OpenCuba.org campaign, which gives people a way to petition U.S. leaders to end the 50-year Cuba travel ban and give all Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba, has been creating some buzz on the web because of the positive developments happening on Capitol Hill regarding lifting travel restrictions to Cuba.

159 Congressmen and 29 Senators recently sponsored the bipartisan Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which seeks to open up travel to Cuba for all U.S. citizens. The opportunity to end the 50-year ban hangs in the balance. Each of us can take part in the movement to give Americans the right to travel wherever they choose by signing the petition.
The momentum behind this issue is growing. A recent poll shows that 67% of Americans favor allowing all Americans to travel to Cuba. Cuban American groups such as the Cuban American Alliance and the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights have also endorsed the initiatives sparked by OpenCuba.org. Over 50,000 people have already visited OpenCuba.org to make their opinion heard.

To seize the moment and join the growing number of OpenCuba.org supporters in urging U.S. leaders to give all Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba, visit http://www.OpenCuba.org, and encourage others to do so as well.

Americans have long had the freedom to travel almost anywhere in the world, and should continue to exercise this freedom wherever possible. This ability to travel and the resulting exchange of ideas between people from different countries can be a powerful force for positive change.

For information on my own travels to Cuba earlier this year, check out my Cuba Libre series HERE.

Cool Lust-Collazo photo exhibition in Havana

During my time in Cuba, I grew increasingly obsessed with those colorful, old, refurbished American cars that would go galumphing down narrow urban streets. I mean, who wouldn’t? I’m not even a car lover, but these clunky vehicles give Havana its character and speaks volumes about the country’s history as well as its relationship with the United States.

As another great effort to bring awareness to the slowly opening door of travel to Cuba, the Cuban government commissioned U.S. photographer, Melani Lust, and Cuban photographer, Bryan Collazo, to create a ground-breaking joint exhibition to build bridges between the two countries. This video features Lust and Collazo’s photographs of post-embargo automobiles in Havana in January 2009, during the 50th anniversary celebration of Castro’s Revolution.

Feel free to check out my own photos of old cars in Cuba in the gallery below.


If you are in Havana, this special exhibition runs May 8-June 8 at the Deposito de Automoviles in Havana.