Video: Lunch In A Village In Burkina Faso

It’s lunchtime in Taga, a village in Burkina Faso, West Africa. A guy is milking the cows and the women are working over the stove. Kids are running around making noise and getting in the way. It’s just like lunch at my house – well, not quite.

That’s what I love about this video. There are so many similarities – the laughing kids, the idle chatter, taking some time off work in the middle of the day to enjoy family – that I can almost forget the thatched huts and chickens. The greatest thing travel teaches us is how similar people are under all the superficial differences.

One of the bigger differences is the slow pace of life in this village. It’s a tranquil video too – great for inspiring relaxation on your own lunch break. For a different look at life in the same country, check out this video of driving through the capital Ouagadougou.

By the way, anyone out there know what the gray seeds are that the woman is putting in the milk?

Africa’s Tallest Statue: The Monument To The African Renaissance

Flying or driving into Dakar, the capital of Senegal, it’s impossible to miss this imposing statue.

That’s deliberate. The Monument to the African Renaissance is supposed to make a statement. At 49 meters (161 feet), it’s the tallest statue in Africa. In fact, it’s one of the tallest statues anywhere, beating the Statue of Liberty by several feet.

When it was completed in 2010, this giant statue caused a giant controversy. Feminists complained about the secondary status given to the female figure. Imams complained about her scanty clothing. Some complained about its Soviet artistic style, seemingly out of place in Africa, and the fact that it was built by a North Korean company. Lots of people, especially in the West, complained about its $27 million price tag.

Yeah, like the West never wastes money.

Sure, it’s brash, it’s bold, and it’s more than a little out of proportion, but it makes its point: Africa has a big future ahead of it. You see it in everything from Africa’s towering skyscrapers to its lively cafe culture, from its newly paved roads to its growing middle class. As a recent editorial by Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina stated, Africa isn’t like its international image, and big projects like this help the world see Africa differently.

Love it or hate it, this statue has become a major tourist site in Dakar. You can take an elevator up to the top of the guy’s head and look out over the city. People are even photographing it as they fly into town, or by flying a camera on a kite like Jeff Attaway did to take the photo below.

Hopefully the next major statement by an African government will be built by an African company.

Top photo courtesy Laurence Thielemans.

Video: Traffic In Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

I’ve always been intrigued by Burkina Faso. I know very little about this West African nation and that only increases the allure. It also helps that it has a cool name and its capital, Ouagadougou, has probably the coolest city name ever! While my travels have focused on North Africa and the Horn of Africa, I plan to explore West Africa one day and Burkina Faso is high on my list.

This video by Tony, who writes the great Africa Full Circle blog, gives a sneak peak of the street scene in Ouagadougou. He mounted a camera to his helmet and sped around town on his motorcycle, then added a chilled out soundtrack to the video. Tony says that the roads are much nicer than they used to be with many having been paved in the past year.

Tony has plenty more videos from his world travels on his many blogs. Be sure to check them out!

Top ten holiday season foods from around the world

No matter where in the world you live, whatever your ethnic or religious heritage, the holidays are inextricably linked with food. Whether there’s symbolic meaning behind these seasonal treats, or they’re everyday dishes that have become festive additions to the seasonal repertoire, they’re hard to resist.

Below, I’ve picked some of my favorites, most of which have personal meaning (although sometimes, an Israeli jelly doughnut is just a really great jelly doughnut). For the record, I’m not religious, and in fact don’t really celebrate the holidays anymore (the result of years working in the food and travel industries, and not having kids). I’m ethnically Jewish and of Russian descent, but grew up “celebrating” Christmas, which usually included a heaping plate of my grandmother’s latkes (yes, I realize that’s weird, but you haven’t met my family).

In more recent years, I’ve taken to traveling during the holidays when I can, but barring that, I love me a good dim sum feast on Christmas Day. Who says we can’t make our own traditions?

In no particular order:

1. Tamales (Mexico, parts of Central America)
Who can resist steamed bundles of sweet, earthy, corn-based dough filled with spicy, savory meat or cheese?

[Photo credit: Laurel Miller]2. Aebleskivers (Denmark)
Like dense popovers, these baked balls of dough are served with berry jam and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. The promise of these were my parent’s modus operandi for getting me and my brother to behave on our annual road trip to the Danish-theme town of Solvang, on the Central California Coast.

3. Jollof rice (West Africa)
This fragrant Kwanzaa rice dish has all kinds of irresistible, adaptable components, fried up in coconut oil. Chilies, nutmeg, cinnamon; onion, tomatoes, and other veggies; chicken and/or roasted pork or seafood. What’s not to love?

4. Latkes (Eastern Europe)
One of the most classic foods of Hanukkah, these lacy potato pancakes are fried in oil and served with applesauce or sour cream. Addictive.

5. Roasted chestnuts (parts of Europe and Asia)
One of life’s greatest pleasures is strolling the streets of an unfamiliar city, plucking steaming chestnuts from a newspaper cone.

6. Sufganiyot (Israel)
Fried doughnuts stuffed with jelly or preserves, and dusted with powdered sugar. Clearly I have a weakness for dough with jam.

7. Asado/parilla (Argentina)
Meat. Lots of it, grilled or roasted.

8. Stollen (Germany)
Yeasted, spiced bread with candied fruits and nuts, icing, and a marzipan filling. A good stollen will make up for the emotional scars caused by fruitcake, something I discovered while working at a bakery in Oakland’s quirky-cool Rockridge neighborhood.

9. Cotechino de lenticche (Italy)
A humble New Year’s dish of pork sausage with lentils traditionally eaten just after midnight. Legumes are associated with money throughout much of the world (for their resemblance to coins when cooked), and pork is also symbolic of good fortune, progress, or prosperity.

10. Pavlova (New Zealand/Australia)
Although Kiwis and Aussies are still fighting over who invented this confectionery dessert of meringue, whipped cream and fresh fruit, who cares?

Tell us about your favorite holiday foods, and what part of the world they come from!

[Photo credits: aebleskivers, Flickr user Johann C. Rocholl; chestnut vendor, Flickr user Todd Mecklem; pavlova, Flickr user Sandy Austin]

Marseille’s Noailles quarter: a taste of Africa, in Provence

The Provencal port city of Marseille has historically been associated with bouillabaisse, and, to a lesser extent, whores, thieves, and the usual debauchery that goes with being a sea port. Things started to turn around about a decade ago, and today it’s a safe, vibrant, thoroughly charming city whose cuisine and culture reflect its past as a colonial trading port with North Africa.

When France acquired Algeria in 1830, Marseille, the second largest port in Europe, saw a major influx of immigrants from North and West Africa that continues to this day. You can even take a ferry to Tunisia, 550 nautical miles away.

I was in Marseille researching a bouillabaisse story when I serendipitously discovered the Noailles, the city’s Arab quarter. It’s located a short walk from the Vieux Port, Marseille’s bustling, bar-and-restaurant-lined waterfront, off of the main artery of La Canebiere. It was like stumbling upon a Moroccan souk: narrow, cobbled streets lead away from a central square that is home to a daily outdoor produce market. Small, dark, cluttered shops sell tea sets and spices; markets carry everything from meat and seafood to Middle Eastern pastries, dates, pistachios, glass-like, crystallized whole fruits, and tubs of olives and harissa, a fiery red North African chile paste. It’s the ideal place to pick up edible souvenirs or picnic fixings.

Men in djellabahs sit at outdoor cafes, talking loudly over bracingly strong demitasse’s of coffee, while women draped in sifsaris paw through bins of vegetables. The quarter is a kaleidoscopic mélange of colors, sounds, and smells: rotting produce, incense, sizzling kebabs of chicken and lamb, and the comforting aroma of baking flatbreads and sugary almond cookies. My favorite part of this untouristed neighorhood, however, are the tiny Egyptian, Tunisian, and Algerian food stalls and bake shops that specialize in mahjouba–giant, rectangular-folded crepes filled with sautéed tomato, red pepper, onion, and harissa.

The takeaway shop Le Soleil d’Egypte makes a particularly delicious version, as well as selling a variety of North African flatbreads that are baked fresh throughout the morning. Mahjouba are a satisfying, inexpensive (under two dollars) snack–I was so besotted, I even took a couple on the train to Cassis with me. But they’re also special in that they’re a nod to the Marseillaise love of street foods.

All over the city, particularly near the port, street food vendors sell everything from croque monsieur and pissaladiere, to panisses–delicate, fried chickpea flour cakes. I love them all, yet visiting the Noailles for mahjouba is my pick. They’re a quintessential–if little known–Marseillaise treat: a melding of sunny Mediterranean vegetables, classic French cuisine, and North African culture.

For a harissa recipe, click here.

[Photo credits: man shopping, Flickr user Trilli Bagus; buildings, Flickr user Marind is waiting for les tambours de la pluie; rooftops, Flickr user cercamon]