Saturday, June 30, 2018


So, the World Cup is upon us once again. Besides always rooting for Japan and Brazil no matter what, I always root for the smaller countries and countries I’d like to visit. I was actually rooting for Serbia and caught a little of one of their games when I was at work. To be honest, I don’t quite understand all the rules of soccer yet. I tried to look at the standings and just threw my hands up at all the abbreviations. Stop making things complicated. 

Essentially, Serbia refers to the Serbs or Sorbs, but where they got their name is pretty much unknown. There are a handful of theories, many are stemmed from words of Indic, Greek and/or other Slavic origins, all with an array of possible meanings. (Who ARE these people anyway?) It’s also changed names several times, from People’s Republic of Serbia to Socialist Republic of Serbia, and now it’s just Republic of Serbia.

Serbia is located on Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, surrounded by Hungary to the north; Romania and Bulgaria to the east; Macedonia and Kosovo to the south; and Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia to the west. The northern part of the country has some plains, but the central and southern parts are quite mountainous as the Dinaric Alps, the Carpathian Mountains, and the Balkan Mountains rise up throughout these areas. The northern areas and high-elevation areas can have a pretty temperate climate, but the southern areas are a little more Mediterranean. There are several rivers that flow through the country, but the Danube remains the most important one. They’re also at risk for quite a bit of severe weather (woo-hoo! I love storms, just as long as it’s not super bad on the damages).

Slobodan Milosevic

The earliest known evidence of human settlement dates back nearly a half-million years ago. Serbia has a history that is rife with other people controlling its lands. The Greeks, Celtic tribes, the Romans, Byzantines, and Bulgarians were among those who ventured into this area and claimed at least part of the land for themselves. Christianity was introduced during the Middle Ages. During the 16th century, Serbia fell under Hapsburg and Ottoman rule who fought for nearly a century before the Hapsburgs eventually took over. However, the south remained under Ottoman control, and being a largely Islamic group, hated on the Christians. Christian Serbs were considered inferior, and many started moving north into more Christian-friendly lands. It took over a decade of fighting against the Ottomans to gain their independence, but they finally did that in 1815. Although there were some uprisings, the Serbians did finally kick feudalism to the curb. Even though they declared their independence in 1815, the last of the Turkish/Ottoman soldiers finally left in 1867 (talk about unwanted guests–apparently Serbia was the first Airbnb complaint). However, a few years later, in true adolescent fashion, they announced their unity with Bosnia and warred against the Ottomans.  In 1912, the Balkan League kicked the Ottoman’s butt, eventually allowing for Serbia to expand its territory by 80% while doubling its population. Serbia was a major player in the Balkans during WWI. During WWII, Serbia became part of Yugoslavia. The Axis Powers invaded the area, and an estimated nearly 16,000 Serbian Jews were killed during the occupation. In 1989, Slobodan Milosevic took the top job in Serbia, causing a lot of problems in Serbia (like refusing to accept he lost elections, among other things). In 1992, the country of Yugoslavia changed its name to become Serbia and Montenegro, which disbanded in 2006 when Montenegro decided they’ve had enough and wanted to be single. In 1998, Kosovo decided they also wanted to go out on their own, and after fighting a conflict over it, decided they were done with Serbia. However, not everyone is on board with this decision (basically Serbia). [But for the sake of this blog, I’m including Kosovo and the other two non-UN member states at the end].

With a little over a million people located at where the Danube and Sava Rivers meet, Belgrade is Serbia’s capital. And it’s one of Europe’s oldest capitals, first conquered by the Celts in 279 BC. Generally located in the north-central part of the country, it’s been leveled and rebuilt 44 times and has seen battle another 115 times. I’d say that makes it a pretty resilient city. It also served as the Yugoslavian capital. Today, it serves as the Serbia’s center for commerce, finance, government, culture, media, transportation, and more. There are several universities and colleges located in the metro area, and the city is also known for its architecture.

Serbia’s upper-middle income is the result of an emerging economy. Many large international corporations including Coco-Cola, Carlsburg, and Siemens have invested their money and resources in Serbia. They have a prominent agricultural sector, making them a leading producer of frozen fruit in Europe, especially in raspberries. They also have a significant wine industry as well. While Serbia may not be a huge tourist destination, it’s certainly more popular as a domestic and regional tourism spot.

Although Serbia is a secular state, Orthodox Christians make up nearly 85% of the population. Other Christian denominations include Roman Catholic, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. There are some Muslims, a few Jews, and a handful of atheists/agnostics.

The official language is Serbian, and it’s the only European language to have two alphabets: Cyrillic and Latin. The Serbian Cyrillic script was listed as the official script in their constitution in 1814, but today slightly more people prefer the Latin alphabet instead. I know, I do: my Cyrillic reading ability sucks. 

Hahaha, ok. Just kidding.
So, most people associate vampires with Dracula as being “the first” one. But there was one before the Romanian story: it was Petar Blagojevic (not to be confused with the former governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich, who is also of Serbian descent). In fact, even the word vampire has its origins in the Serbo-Croatian word vampir. Who knows, maybe Rod is related to this vampire guy? I wondered why all of his press conferences were held at night, and once I swear I saw him turn into a bat just to avoid traffic on the Dan Ryan.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, June 24, 2018


Well, the heat of summer is upon us, and Independence Day is coming up. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more fireworks in the neighborhood. In years past, we’ve had a few neighbors who always start in on the fireworks several weeks in advance. But it’s been fairly calm so far, more or less (knock on wood). Like most Midwestern cities, we have a weird mix of urban country dwellers, people who live in the city but still act like they live in the country. Like modern-day Beverly Hillbillies.

If you're looking for something not super sweet and like spice cake, this turned out well. These would make nice muffins

On a different note, I’m cooking from Senegal today. And to be honest, it seemed like an amazing meal from the beginning, and I’ve been good and hungry for days. They are known for a bread similar to a baguette called tapalapa, which is actually kind of ubiquitous throughout West Africa. I made a version of it already, so I was looking for something different and landed on Sweet Potato Mango Spice Cake. In my small bowl, I mixed together 2 ¾ c of flour, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp of salt. Then in a larger bowl, I beat 1 c of oil and 2 c of sugar before adding in 1 c of mashed sweet potatoes (you’ll have to cook these and mash them beforehand) and 1 c of diced mangoes and beat them well with an electric mixer so that everything is smooth. Then I added in 4 eggs and 1 tsp of vanilla and mix it again. At this point, I slowly added in the flour mixture into the liquid mix and stirred. Once the batter was done, I poured it into a greased cake pan (I used a rectangle one instead of a round one) and baked it for about 60 minutes in a 325ºF oven. I let it cool in the pan for a while before I dusted it with powdered sugar. This was surprisingly good. It didn’t really taste like sweet potatoes or mangoes. I did forget to put in the grated ginger, but I think the recipe forgot to mention it, too. But it was pretty good.

Interesting, to say the least. I lament that I burnt the onions.
The main dish today is Poulet Yassa. In a large bowl, I mixed together the chicken pieces (I used thighs), sliced onions, vegetable oil, some diced peppers (I used jalapeños), lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and a little salt & pepper and let it sit in the refrigerator for several hours. When it was time to cook, I took the chicken out and pan fried them until they were browned on the outsides. Removing the chicken to a plate, I sautéed the onions from the marinade. When the onions just started to brown, I added in the rest of the marinade and the chicken pieces and let it cook down for about 15-20 minutes. I served this with some couscous. My onions and sauce got a little burnt, and I added some green onions to the mix too. But otherwise, I think it was pretty good.

These were amazing, but I ate too many, and now my stomach hurts.
To go with this, I made Akkra. This tasty treat is often served as street food across Africa, the Caribbean, and Brazil and comes with a number of varieties. I soaked some black-eyed peas for a while and drained them. Then I took my beans, chopped onion, and some water and blended it until it became a paste, seasoning it with hot sauce, salt, and pepper. I don’t have a food processor, so I was using my blender as an alternative. However, the blender burned up as I was doing this. So, needless to say, it wasn’t quite as blended as I was hoping it would be. However, I heated some oil in a skillet and dropped in spoonfuls of this bean mix and fried it like a fritter. They were pretty good, but I think this recipe was missing a couple of steps. One, it basically said to soak the beans then grind them. Next time, I’m cooking my bean first, or using canned beans. I think it would make it a lot easier. But regardless, these are really good. I probably ate too many of them. And they’re even better with hot sauce on them. I could even see these used as a veggie burger of sorts.

I was worried about the mango, but it blended quite well. And I'm amazed I actually found ripe mangoes in the store.
Finally to cool off the heat, I made Mango Fonio Salad. I started out with mixing the liquids first in a small bowl: lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Instead of using fonio, I used the easier-to-find quinoa and just made it according to the box. I put the quinoa in a bowl along with some parsley, mint, diced mango, grape tomatoes, diced cucumber, and onion. I poured the lemon juice/oil mixture into the salad, stirring everything so that it was mixed well. The recipe calls to top with spiced cashews, but I couldn’t find any (and if I had, it was probably expensive). I was going to top it with some other nuts, but realized the kids were too big. (Just kidding.)

Overall, it was a very good meal, even with a burned up blender and a moment of gluttony.
So, I’m now down another appliance. I didn’t use that blender often, but man, now that I don’t have it, I’ll come across a 2.6 million recipes that require a blender. I guess that’s how things go. Maybe I can actually find a decently priced food processor. I could definitely use one (or so it seems). So, let’s have a moment of silence for all the appliances that have died by not using them as directed and showed us the white smoke of defeat.

Up next: Serbia


Senegal is a multi-ethnic country, and its music reflects that. During the time of French control, some Senegalese even thought of themselves as French rather than African.  However, after the Négritude movement took hold during the 1930s, many of the people began to promote their own African identity and Afrocentric culture. 

The instruments heard in Senegalese music are similar to instruments used in the cultures of West Africa. And like much of Africa, drumming plays an important role in their music. More specifically, they’re known for a type of drum called the sabar. The sabar drum is brought to us from the Serer people. Originally, it was used as a means of communication and could be heard from nearly 15 km (9.3 mi) away! And I thought marching bands were loud. Sheesh. Other drums include the nder and the tama drums. Of course singing has long been a prominent part of African music and grew out of the griot traditions.

One of the most notable features of Senegalese music and dance traditions is a type of dance known as the mbalax. Meaning “rhythm” in Wolof, this dance was developed during the 1970s in Senegal and the Gambia. Part of it is based on traditional Serer religious music, and part of it is based on rhythms and styles of the African diaspora: jazz, blues, rock, R&B, hip-hop, soul from the US; varieté from France; Congolese rumba and zouk from Africa; several Latin styles from the Caribbean and US. And since they wanted this to be their own urban dance, they chose to sing in Wolof instead of French. The musicians not only use traditional drums but electric instruments as well.

As far as current (more or less) musicians out there now, I came across a few. Probably most notably, rapper Akon is known on an international level. Although he was born in the US (in St Louis, MO), he spent several years of his childhood in Senegal. I bought his album Konvicted back when it first came out in 2006. I think he tends to mix hip-hop and a little bit of R&B along with some Afro-reggae styles as well.

I also found an excellent collaboration between an English blues musician Ramon Goose and a Senegalese griot named Diabel Cissokho. Together, they created Mansana Blues, an album that merges African blues with more Senegalese and West African rhythms and musical traditions. There were times when I heard some of the musical influences from northern Africa, with more Arabian flavors mixed in. It’s an excellent album.

And then I found a rapper who goes by the name MC Solaar. He’s got more of the same dramatic orchestral sound that I love. He reminds me of the French-Congolese rapper Youssoupha, whose mother is actually Senegalese (and I have two of his albums). I really like his stuff. I might get some later on.

I also listened to the band Positive Black Soul. They are more of an Afro-reggae group, but with definite West African rhythms. However, there are also tracks that have more of a dance feel. Daara J is another musician whose music generally almost falls into the same category, but they utilize more hip-hop and Latin styles into their music (they sometimes remind me of the Cuban group Orishas).

Wagëblë is another rap group I sampled. Although the lyrics sound harder (even though I don’t know exactly what they’re talking about), the music behind it tends to use a lot of piano and strings – I really like what I listened to.

Talking about Senegalese music would be remiss if I didn’t mention Youssou N’Dour. Not only is he an accomplished musician, he also served as the Minister of Tourism for Senegal as well as working with many organizations promoting human rights and other social issues. His music draws on many of the rhythms and sounds of Senegal, using traditional instruments along with modern ones. And he borrows many of the Latin styles, soul, jazz, and hip-hop in his music. Baaba Maal is another famous musician, known for his ability to play guitar, percussion, and singing. He mainly sings in Pulaar.

Up next: the food

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


Senegal certainly has its fair share of handicraft art: jewelry, fantastic locally dyed cloth to create a variety of textiles, and basket weaving. They also make musical instruments and utensils and other items out of wood and materials that are readily available. Women also style their hair in a number of ways, that frankly, is an artform.

Painting has also been an art people have enjoyed for a long time. A type of painting called “underglass painting” is quite popular among Senegalese artists. Pictures of daily life are painted directly on the underside of glass in reverse (I imagin) and then framed. 

Sand painting is common in the rural areas. There are different kinds of sand painting throughout the world, but in Senegal, they typically use a kind of adhesive on a board and lay the sand down on it. Using different colors and grades of sand, artists can create different effects. These paintings tend to portray African scenery and ways of life or simply ethnic designs. I really want to try my hand at this. (But let’s add glitter to the sand!)

Today, art is very much a part of Senegal’s culture. One of the biggest celebrations of African art is the Dakar Biennal, otherwise known locally as Dak’Art. While it went through some program changes since its inception in 1989, it has more or less become a showcase and promotion of the best of contemporary African art.  

I came across the works of a photographer named Omar Victor Diop. His photographs are stunning, and I’ve noticed he likes to capture an asynchrony of time and space as well as using a sharp contrast of colors and texture from what’s expected. 

Before the French arrived and took over, much of the literature in Senegal was mainly relegated to poetry and stories that was passed down orally from one generation to another. During the 19th century, there really wasn’t that much written at all by Senegalese authors. However, authors didn’t really start producing novels and short stories until the early 20th century.  

Today Senegalese literature certainly has carved its place in African literature and French-language literature. Although many authors from Senegal write in French, there are also many who publish works written in Wolof, Pulaar, and Arabic.
Leopold Sedar Senghor

One of the most well-known Senegalese authors is Léopold Sédar Senghor. Most notably, he served as President of Senegal for its first 20 years. However, he was also a poet known for his defense of the French language and one of the founders of the Négritude movement of the 1930s. It basically pushed for a more Afrocentric identity in the African diaspora around the world.
Mariama Ba
Other prominent Senegalese authors include Mariama Bâ (known for her descriptions of polygamous society), Cheikh Hamidou Kane (known for his novel L’Aventure ambiguë), Fatou Diome (known for her novel Le Ventre de l’Atlantique), Cheikh Anta Diop (essayist), Aminata Sow Fall (known for her novel La Grève des Bàttu), Boubacar Boris Diop (novelist, screenwriter, journalist; known for his novel Murambi, le livre des ossements), Tidiane N’Diaye (anthropologist), Ousmane Sembène (writer and film director), and Birago Diop (poet, storyteller, mostly in folktales, active in Négritude).

Up next: music and dance

Saturday, June 16, 2018


The sands of Senegal. For millions of Africans across centuries, the Senegalese coastline is where they took their last footsteps on the African continent as they were stolen from their ancestral lands and transported across the ocean in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Although records were purposely not well kept as to their origins, it’s estimated that nearly half of the Africans who were taken came from the Senegambia region (Senegal and Gambia along with parts of Mali and Guinea-Bissau) and west-central Africa. Can you imagine what this country (and the entire continent for that matter) would look like if colonialism didn’t happen?  

The country is named after the Senegal River, which serves as part of its northern border. Its origin is often attributed to a phrase in the Wolof language, sunu gaal, which means “our canoe,” and has even been used as a modern phrase of solidarity. It’s also thought that it was spawned out of a misunderstanding between Wolof fisherman and Portuguese sailors who had landed there in the 15th century. There are some other theories out there, but none with quite the colloquial charm as this one, though.

Senegal is located in western Africa along the Atlantic coast. It completely surrounds The Gambia (which also shares a coastline with the Atlantic) and shares a border with Mauritania to the north, Mali to the east, and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south. Cape Verde (oh, sorry: Cabo Verde) lies off the coast about 350 miles. The country mainly consists of the sandy plains of the Sahel and low foothills. Senegal’s capital city, Dakar, lies on the Cap-Vert peninsula, which is the westernmost point in mainland Africa. It has a tropical climate, characterized by a hot, dry season that sees plenty of harmattan winds (December-April) contrasted with a rainier season typically between June-October.
African Renaissance Monument in Dakar
The area encompassing present-day Senegal has been home to many ethnic groups since pre-historic times. It was part of several kingdoms and empires throughout the centuries including the Takrur Kingdom, the Jolof Empire, and the Ghana Empire. Islam spread through the area as they came into contact with people from Islam-influenced northern African states. By the mid-15th century, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive, quickly followed by the French, the British, and the Dutch. They were just itching to get in on that human trafficking that was all the rage. (15th century kids know what I’m talking about.) By the mid-17th century, France became a dominant player in the slave trade and set up a base point at Dakar. During the 1850s, Christianity was introduced. As slavery was also abolished around this time, France began to move farther inland to take over many of the regions. Of course, the Senegalese were basically like, “Oh, hell no,” and fought to the teeth over it. French Sudan (which later became Mali) and Senegal formed the short-lived Mali Federation, only to break up a few months later (followed by ice cream, crying, and crossing him out of photos); Senegal became its own independent country in 1960. In 1982, Senegal and Gambia joined together to form Senegambia, but that broke apart seven years later. The Casamance region (the part of Senegal that is south of Gambia) has had several clashes between the government and separatist groups.

Because the capital city of Dakar is located on the Cap-Vert Peninsula, it makes it not only the westernmost city in Africa, but in the Old World (Europe, Africa, Asia). Although it was once used as a base for the slave trade, it is now home to many multinational companies, financial institutions, as well as the end point for the sort-of-defunct Dakar Rally (a long off-road challenge from Paris to Dakar; it ended in 2007 due to security reasons in Mauritania and later moved to South America). Today, there are several colleges and universities, libraries, museums, sports stadiums, and theatres around the city.  

Some of Senegal’s main industries include chemicals, artificial fertilizer, cement, food processing, mining, and refining petroleum.  Tourism has become a driving economic factor, even though there are certain areas that are not recommended to travel (Casamance, for instance – if you haven’t visited, it’s a really good resource for global travel advisories). Because they’re on the ocean, they also depend on fishing (and stopping other countries from illegally overfishing their waters). They also farm for cotton and groundnuts. Senegal is one of the countries that the US Peace Corp sends volunteers to. I seriously thought about the Peace Corp after I graduated college. I kind of wish I had.   

On the books, Senegal is a secular state. However, roughly 92-94% of the people follow some form of Islam (mostly Sunni and Sufi). A smaller number of Christians (mostly Roman Catholic with a few Protestant churches here and there) are also represented. The Serer religion and other African belief systems are still a part of their society, many times in tandem with other religions. Other religions include Baha’i, Judaism and Buddhism.

French remains Senegal’s official language, but there’s been a sort of cultural backlash again using it. Wolof is gaining preference as a lingua franca since most people speak their own ethnic language. There are a number of languages that do hold a national legal status, though: Balanta-Ganja, Wolof, Hassaniya Arabic, Soninke, Jola-Fonyi, Serer, Mandinka, Pulaar, Mandjak, Noon, and Mankanya. Although Arabic is used in Islamic schools, it’s not really spoken outside of that environment. There’s also apparently a Portuguese Creole that is spoken in areas close to Guinea-Bissau and elsewhere.

So, apparently a few years ago hippos in the Senegal River mauled several fishermen who were fishing in the river. Quite a few people have died over the past decade from this. So much so, that it’s impacted the local’s fishing ability. One guy stated that he’s cheated death-by-hippo a couple of times. That would probably make me think twice about fishing as a career choice. But I guess you gotta do what you can to get work. Hippos are very aggressive, killing machines. In fact, it reminds me of one of John Oliver’s recent segments on guardianship (you can watch the entire thing, but the part that mentions hippos starts around 13:32. Oh, and I hope you don’t get offended at the F bomb. It’s such a versatile word. As I tell my kids, listen past it). 

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, June 10, 2018


The kids are finally out of school. My daughter graduated from elementary school and will be a 7th grader in middle school in about a month and a half, and my son will be a 4th grader and gets to move to the upper class hallway. And oddly enough, both of my kids are bummed out that they’re not in school anymore. They’ve been out for one day, and they’re counting the days. I guess that’s a good thing, so I should probably find some local touristy things to do this summer. Along with the library’s summer reading program and some e-learning. 

Nothing to see here. Just a bread pile. I'll handle this.

And of course, today I’m cooking food from Saudi Arabia. To start off with, I made Tamis Bread. I proofed my yeast in some warm water for about 10 minutes. While I was doing that, I mixed together 5 c of flour, ½ c sugar, 2 Tbsp oil, a little salt and the yeast mix into a bowl. Then I slowly poured in 2 c of water, stirring until it forms a soft ball of dough. Once I got it to the right consistency (using a little more flour because it was just too wet and sticky), I covered it and left it to rest for an hour. After it took a nap, I divided it into 8 balls; they should be about the size of a fist. Then I left it to rest for another half hour. I flattened each ball into a disk until it was round but not too thin. The recipe suggested to bake each disk in a round baking dish, but that might take a long time, since I only had one. So, I oiled a couple baking sheets and placed them on there. Setting my oven to 425ºF, I baked them for about 20-22 minutes until they were a golden color. This bread was amazing. They were browned with a nice crust on the bottom, but the top and inside were so soft. This bread is often eaten with a type of spiced cooked beans as a common breakfast.

This easy sauce with a bunch of ingredients is really good, but the rice is what makes this dish, I think.
I felt like I couldn’t avoid this dish that has been labeled as the national dish of Saudi Arabia: Kabsa Fahm (Ruz Bukhari). This was moderately complicated, only because it had several components to it. The first part was to season my chicken breasts with salt, pepper, olive oil, and Kabsa spice mix (I used saffron, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, pepper, coriander). Then I baked my chicken in the oven until it was done. I didn’t quite have as much chicken as I thought I did, but it was ok. Next was to make the rice. I rinsed my basmati rice and soaked it for 20 minutes and then drained it. Then in a sauce pan, I melted some butter (you can also use ghee) and sautéed some grated carrots and raisins. After a few minutes, I added in my rice, chicken broth, salt, and turmeric and cooked it until the rice was done. Lastly came time to make the Daqqus sauce, or a spiced tomato sauce. In a large sauce pan, I mixed together some plain tomato sauce or pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper, a little olive oil, minced garlic, some cumin, and baharat spice mix (similar to the kabsa spice mix, but with paprika and in different proportions). I let it simmer for 5-10 minutes while stirring. To serve this, I started with a layer of rice, added the chicken on top, then topped it with the sauce. I thought this was very good. The rice blew me away, and I accidently dried my chicken out, but the sauce on top solved that problem somewhat. It was amazing.

One of the reasons I love Middle Eastern food is that it seem so healthy.

To go with this, I made Fattoush Salad. I started with the dressing: olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, honey, minced garlic, salt and pepper, and shaking everything together so that it blended. Next is the salad part: in a large bowl, I added in sliced cucumber, halved grape tomatoes, diced red onion, diced bell pepper, diced scallions, parsley, cilantro, basil, and mint. I poured part of the dressing over the vegetables and tossed. Then I sprinkled a little za’atar and crushed pita chips into the salad and tossed again. This salad is perfect for a summer picnic. In fact, I’ll probably make it again for a cookout I’ve got in a few weeks. It was light, and the lemon and mint really brought out the other flavors.

This right here would be fantastic on vanilla ice cream.
And I couldn’t resist Cardamom-Flavored Fruit Salad, or Salatat Al-Fawaakih. Again, I started with the sauce: I added honey, water, and cardamom to a small skillet and brought it to a boil, then let it simmer for a couple minutes before taking it off the heat. Then I added in some lemon juice before letting it cool. (Ok, I actually didn’t have any more lemon juice, so I used some cranberry kombucha, and it turned out fantastic!) While it was cooling, I chopped all of my fruit and added it to my bowl: cantaloupe, mandarin oranges, an apple, some raisins (not many, but a few. I would’ve preferred the golden ones, but I didn’t get them). When my sauce was finally cool, I poured it over my fruit, stirred to coat, and let it chill. I loved everything about this, even the raisins that I don’t normally like. The cardamom blended well with the honey and the fruit. I’m going to make this for my cookout too.

What a wonderful way to end my weekend.
I can’t help but think of Anthony Bourdain this weekend. I watched him when he was on the Travel Channel with his show No Reservations. I know there are some people who didn’t like his demeanor, and that’s fine. But I liked his raw observations. He was never demeaning to the people or cultures around him, even if it personally made him uncomfortable at times. He learned and thrived from that uncomfortability. And he wasn’t high-brow. Tony would eat at high-end restaurants then turn around and eat street food or share a humble meal in someone’s kitchen. (I’m guessing he preferred the latter two.) He showed the people of a country, not governments. He showed how the “regular” people live and eat. And because of that, he was partly an inspiration for this blog: to show people a corner of the world they may not have known about, but to also see things in a different light. And it was to also train myself in a long exercise of seeing a culture from the culture’s eyes, not my own. The world lost an extraordinary storyteller. Here’s to you, Tony.

Tony in Saudi Arabia, doing this thing for real.

Up next: Senegal

Saturday, June 9, 2018


Unlike many cultures, traditional music in Saudi Arabia is somewhat limited. The nomadic life of the Bedouin just didn’t really make it easy to carry around musical instruments. However, occasionally, you would find the one or two individuals who would purchase an instrument in some of the larger cities and take on the burden. Mostly, people used what they carried with them as makeshift drums. And of course, their voices. 

Instruments used in Saudi Arabian music are ones that are found throughout the Middle East. Some of the ones you might hear include the ney (a double-reeded wind instrument), rababa (another type of stringed instrument), and the oud (lute-like stringed instrument).

The Najd region is known for a style of music called Samri. While the music is also used in Khaliji music, it also has an accompanying dance that goes with it. Samri typically includes a drummer beating rhythms on a daff drum to someone singing poetry. There are also two rows of men who clap and sway to the music while seated on their knees.

One thing I found disturbing was that because Saudi Arabia is led by such a conservative version of Islam, there are actually people who believe music is a sin. They believe that it’s taking away from serving their god. But they also made sure to include that there can’t be any songs about women or composed by women. Because, you know, that would ruin the whole thing, right? However, percussion music is ok (percussionists rejoice).

I found a few musicians on Spotify. The first ones I listened to tended to be more aligned along the traditional sounds. Although Talal Maddah is often considered Saudi Arabia’s first pop star, much of his music is very much based on traditional styles when it comes to the instruments used and vocal decorations. However, from what I can tell, the musical style and composition is more indicative of Western music. I kind of liked what I heard; it was kind of relaxing.

Omar Basaad is one of Saudi Arabia’s first DJs in electronic and dance music, and I have to say, I really like his stuff. And he was the first DJ from Saudi Arabia to make it on the international stage. What I like about his stuff is that it flows well, and while still mixing in some traditional instruments here and there and a few traditional percussion riffs.

And as I’m finding in many of these countries that often have suppressed free speech, you’ll also find an underground metal band scene. People will express themselves as they need to; it’s a basic human need. Metal and hip-hop seem to be the go-to genres for expression, especially for social commentary. Now I certainly don't know for sure what they're singing out. I found three hard-core metal bands from Saudi Arabia on Spotify: Al-Namrood, Creative Waste, and Grieving Age—all playing a fairly similar style of loud, screaming-style metal, even though there is definitely a Middle Eastern influence in there in places.

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