London’s Walks That Trace History, Food and Culture

For Cuisine Noir. September 2018. 

London is one of the largest cosmopolitan cities in the world, where different races are not only welcomed but celebrated. The influences of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean are felt throughout the city’s food, fashion, music and art.

Here are some ways to get a feel for the global influences in London in just a weekend.

Eclectic Music and Food

London’s premier neighborhood is filled with pubs, cafes and restaurants. And what better way to learn about the oldest multicultural neighborhood than through its food? When immigrants moved into the area, up until the late 1600s, Soho was known as London’s “French Quarter,” and cheap eateries, small theaters, brothels and music halls crept in. It is also where the bohemian arts scene took off.
Photo: Black History Walks

London Food Lovers offers 3–4-hour-long walking tours filled with colorful stories of Soho’s writers, poets, artists and historical figures. Along the way, you will stop to taste some of the best bites in town. From smoked bacon sandwiches grilled on lava at Kua’Aina; tender and juicy jerk chicken accompanied by crisp hush puppies at the Rum Kitchen; to the best chocolate drinks and desserts made with cacao sourced from Cuba, Tanzania and Ghana at Italian chocolatier SAID – you will go home with a content belly.

Return in the evening to Kinoly Court for blues, jazz, afrobeat or salsa. You can see fire eaters and fortune tellers at the circus-themed nightclub Cirque Le Soir, or transport yourself to a postwar 1940s underground tube station at Cahoots.

Banned Books, Movies and Walks

Black History Walks offers guided walking tours of 2,000 years of London’s black history. Historian Tony Warner has identified nine neighborhoods and spaces integral to the city’s black culture, including the Nelson Mandela Statue, African and Caribbean War Memorial and the Mangrove Restaurant, which was a meeting place for the Black Panthers. The tour lasts 2.5 hours and the information spans hundreds of years of history.

Photo: Black History Walks

They also host screenings of banned movies and talks on banned books through their African Odysseys series. Upcoming features include Best of Nigeria short films and African Superheroes Day. Hear from filmmakers, actors and leaders and get a behind-the-scenes look at the city that most travelers often miss.

International Bites and Architecture

You can’t come to London and not taste real English cuisine! Eating Europetakes you back in time to savor the best bread and butter pudding, fried fish and chips with homemade peas, and British hard cider at old-fashioned neighborhood pubs.

Photos: Sucheta Rawal/Go Eat Give

Wander the streets of London’s eclectic East End neighborhood to discover ancient Roman burial grounds, Georgian-style mansions built from the French silk trade, hidden synagogues and the most vibrant street art in the world. Stop at Old Spitalfields Market for global fashions and vintage arts and crafts. Lastly, settle on one of the 56 South Asian restaurants on Brick Lane for the national dish of the UK: chicken tikka masala.

East End is also home to many black writers, including former slaves brought from Nigeria — James Albert (aka Ukawsaw Gronniosaw) and Olaudah Equiano (aka Gustavus Vassa) — and is the backdrop of the Sidney Poitier movie “To Sir with Love.” It is said that the area of Tower Hamlets in East End was also known as the “Harlem of London” because of its black settlement and rich cultural identity.

Read the original story on Cuisine Noir

Why Mexico City Is the Cultural Destination You Should Visit Next

For CheapOAir Miles Away. September 2018

When you think of traveling to Mexico, you are likely charmed by the white sandy beaches of Cabo San Lucas, ancient Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, or the active night life in Riviera Maya. But, the capital of our neighbor south of the border has a unique, vibrant culture that often goes undiscovered by leisure travelers. Continue reading on CheapOAir Miles Away

How to Live It Up When You’re Down Under: A Guide to Spending a Luxurious Weekend in Sydney, Australia

For CheapOAir MilesAway. Aug 2018

Sydney is the largest city in Australia and one of the most cosmopolitan places in the world. With sunny skies, temperate climes, affluent restaurants, chic nightlife, and scenic harbors, the city offers the perfect mix of culture, adventure and luxury to a discerning traveler. If you have always wanted to have an extravagant getaway, Sydney is the destination for you. Continue reading on MilesAway.

History Lessons at a Slave Village in Martinique

For Cuisine Noir. September 2018

The French Caribbean island of Martinique sits just north of the sovereign island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean Sea. Best known for its laidback European-style fishing villages, black and white sand beaches and the bustling capital of France-de-Fort, Martinique also has a long dark history.

The Dutch, English, Portuguese and French fought over the island before total control was traded to France in 1815.  When sugar prices rose, sugarcane was established as the main crop and slaves were brought over from Africa to work in the fields. In fact, during its peak, 16% of Martinique’s population was African, as the slave population rose to 60,000 by 1736. It was ultimately the French government that abolished slavery in 1848.

Unfortunately, a lot of that history is buried in complicated history books and often doesn’t reflect the everyday struggles of the people today.

Gilbert Larose, a descendant of slaves, took it upon himself to educate people about the history of slavery on the island. Remembering stories passed down by his forefathers, reading historical documents, and traveling to West Africa, he put his research together to recreate the slave village, La Savane des Esclaves (The Savannah of the Slaves).
Photo: Go Eat Give

Larose started building the small open-air village museum in 1999 on a two-hectare of land in the forest near the town of Les Trois-Ilets. He worked from sunrise to sunset cutting trees to clear the land. Piece by piece, he assembled each clay floor, cane leaf roof and medicinal garden to recreate the traditional huts and houses from the 1800s. Fruits, vegetables and herbs were planted around the homes to show how the dwellers used the land for survival. Paintings of their struggles, mahogany wooden sculptures, original photographs, and tools used for torture were later added to the ‘Memories of Our Ancestors” exhibit. Larose calls his place, “The Antan Lontan Village” and sheds light not just on the history, but on the culture and art of the island as well. He meets groups on a large deck with dried palm leaves tiki and a mural of the village scene where he makes fresh juices and hosts cooking demonstrations and food tastings.

Larose’s ancestors were Nèg’ Mawon or slaves who fled the plantations to live freely, relying entirely on the land. As Larose grew more fascinated with his past, a genetic test determined his ancestry to be 25% from Togo, 15% from Congo, 11% from South Africa, 12% from Nigeria, and 13% from the UK. “I’m a mixed man. I am not white or black. When you understand this, you are not racist anymore,” says Larose. Though still a part of France, Martinicans call themselves “crossbreeds” and don’t identify themselves with one race over another, my translator/guide Leslie Ferraty from Beyond the Beach explained to me.

Larose also wants younger generations to learn about Martinique’s history, as told by a slave descendant, so he published a comic book, “Ti Gilbe Présente l’Histoire de la Martinique.” The French/ English book depicts the tales of the Arawaks, the Caribbean Indians, the French colonists, the Bretons, the Africans, and the Indians who came to live in Martinique from its earliest inhabited times through the abolition of slavery. Larose says, “When you go to school, you learn French history. You don’t study the slave history in Martinique. I wanted kids to discover the real culture and history of the island.” The book is written simply and is graphically intense with illustrations by Bordeaux-based Jojo Kourtex. It documents how the Carib men married Arawak women and how people from Brittany and Normandy were brought over as the first slaves, thus reminding readers of how far back mixed races have been around on the island.

As for Larose, he spends most of his waking hours in the village. Each year, he expands the site, adding signs in English and offering cultural programs. “I want Westerners as well as Martinicans to know about our past. This is the most important thing to me.”

For more information or to look at booking a tour, visit https://www.lasavanedesesclaves.fr/.  You can also connect with Larose on Facebook.

Read the original post on Cuisine Noir.

 

You Could Spend 5 Days in a Japanese Forest Training Your Mind Like a Samurai

For Travel+Leisure. August 2018. 

What would you do if you had to trade speaking, bathing, and texting for hiking through forests and jumping over fire, but you were promised you’d come out of it totally renewed? This is not your average digital detox — it’s a tradition practiced by Japanese mountain hermits known as Yamabushi for 1,300 years that is still helping people detach from physical and emotional desires and discover their inner strength today.

Read the full post and video on Travel+Leisure

St. Croix: Open for Business and Thriving

For Cuisine Noir. July 2018. 

Though much of the Caribbean has seen its fair share of devastation with hurricanes Irma and Maria, the U.S. island of St. Croix has bounced back a lot faster than its neighbors. One of the reasons for the quick recovery, as stated by native Sharon Rosario, is, “We don’t wait around for others to come help us. We get out and help each other out!” While insurance claims take months to settle, most of the highways on the island were cleaned out within days and reconstruction started almost immediately.

The kinfolk spirit of the island is rather infectious. In a matter of days, I was running into familiar faces at cafes and restaurants and introduced as “a cousin” from the mainland.

St. Croix’s local and expat community comes together each year to host the annual St. Croix Food and Wine Experience, a series of culinary events to benefit the 27-year-old St. Croix Foundation for Community Development. However, this year was exceptional as the needs of the community were pressing. Executive director Deanna James told attendees, “Natural disasters can exacerbate existing challenges and socio-economic disparities economies are facing. This hurricane highlighted how incredibly resilient this community is.”

Sommelier Patrick Kralik runs Balter restaurant in downtown Christiansted that was the scene of the opening party that welcomed sponsors and organizers. Kralik highlighted local ingredients in modern creative passed dishes including shrimp po’boy and vegetarian dolma paired with Sonoma wine; speaking to global resiliency in action from California’s coasts to St Croix’s shores.

Photo: Sucheta Rawal

An intimate dinner called the Giving Table Dinner at Catherine’s Hope was held at a private mansion boasting 360-degree views of the island. About three dozen guests enjoyed a five-course dinner prepared by celebrity chefs Julius Jackson, Michael Ferraro, Negust Kaza, and Robyn Almodovar with fine wines and the tunes of live jazz music. All funds raised through the charity dinner and auction went on to benefit the foundation’s recovery efforts on the island for community revitalization, public education and fiscal grantmaking.

The event ended at a warehouse by the airport’s hangar where local chefs and wine wholesalers from all over the world offered nibbles against the backdrop of private and rescue airplanes. Even small businesses such as Da Cake Man, Fusions, Blue Water Terrace and Bayside Kitchen took great pride in doing their share to support the cause, offering tastes of lobster Rangoon, fried chicken and red velvet cupcakes.

Photo: Sucheta Rawal

The closing of the third largest oil refinery in the western hemisphere in 2012 led to a steep downturn in St. Croix’s economy and many locals turned to opening their own businesses. Some include Uptown Eatery in Christiansted, a 15-seater healthy international- inspired café run by Jane and Dave Kendrick. Across the street is BES Craft Cocktail Lounge, a popular watering hole where mixologist Frank Robinson handcrafts each cocktail from scratch, grating ginger and squeezing limes before turning them into works of art. Tucked away in the middle of the forest is food truck-style Nidulari Bakery and Mahogany Road Chocolate, selling artisanal breads, homemade cookies and fresh samosas. Savant is one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the Caribbean serving Asian-Caribbean-inspired dishes in a romantic Italian grotto setting.

Located on expansive land with rolling hills and a private beach, the family-run The Buccaneer Hotel is the largest hotel on the island and has hosted celebrity guests as well as filming of the reality show, “The Bachelor.” They also provided space to the Army, FEMA and relief workers after the hurricanes and helped with the clean-up. As things begin to look up for the island, The Fred is the newest hotel to open in 31 years. This boutique property in the cruise town of Frederiksted offers a trendy setting overlooking some of the best white sand beaches.

Photo: Sucheta Rawal

While the people of St. Croix will surely capture your heart with their friendly smiles and welcoming attitude, there are a few other reasons to visit this U.S. Virgin Island. Picturesque volcanic hills, pristine beaches and colorful historical towns set against lots of sunny days and cool nights make St. Croix the perfect place to vacation any time of the year. Frederiksted or “Freedom City” is also a good place to learn the history of St. Croix, which holds roots in Dutch ownership, sugarcane mills, Alexander Hamilton, American annexation and the emancipation of slaves. Here you can see Mocko Jumbie dancers welcome cruisers wearing colorful garbs and carnival masks and Afro-Cruzan pottery. Snorkel or kayak at the Buck Island Reef National Monument’s warm turquoise waters and get up close to the well-conserved coral and marine life. Shop for handmade silver jewelry at one of the many galleries and don’t forget to bring back locally distilled Cruzan® Rum.

St. Croix is open for business and now more than ever is the best time to go.  For more planning ideas and tips, visit https://www.visitusvi.comand http://www.stcroixtourism.com.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir. July 2018. 

How to Have a Romantic Getaway in Saint Lucia

One Travel Going Places. July 2018.

Fancy walking barefoot on fine white sand holding your partner’s hand, sharing a sensual couples massage listening to tranquil ocean waves, or relishing a slow private sunset dinner on the beach? Head to the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, one of the most popular spots among honeymooners and romantic vacationers. It’s well-preserved natural beauty, luxury resorts, fine-dining options, and relaxing spas are perfect for those looking for solitude and romance.

Here are the best ways to enjoy a romantic getaway to Saint Lucia…

Read the full post on One Travel Going Places.

Practical Tips for African-American Travelers in Japan

For Cuisine Noir. July 2018

Japan is a small country with a deep-rooted culture. Aiyana Victoria Mathews first visited Japan as a 19-year old African-American student. After attending Benjamin E. May High School in Atlanta, she went on to pursue her undergraduate studies at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)  and found a way to study abroad as a research scholar of rheology science at the Faculty of Engineering at Chiba University.

Over the next two decades, Mathews studied the Japanese language, learned its peculiar customs, participated in colorful festivals, understood the way to do business and created Gardner-Mathews, a travel consultancy which specializes in customized itineraries for cross-cultural training, corporate concierge, and project management.

Whether you are thinking of traveling to Japan or planning to go for another visit, here are some practical travel tips from someone who calls Japan her second home.

Understand Cultural Norms

“When I first arrived in Japan I did not know how to use chopsticks, what to eat beyond sushi, or what a karaoke jukebox was. But I made friends quickly, and they taught me everything,” says Mathews about her first few months living in Chiba, a university town near Tokyo. Her strong desire to learn the local culture made her experience of living in Japan positive. She says that many of our misconceptions stem from our limited views of the world.

One of the Japanese ladies who conducted an orientation warned Mathews and her classmates as soon as they arrived. She stressed the importance of respecting all people, no matter what their socioeconomic situation, age, job description or rank. “Here we respect everyone as they all serve an important purpose in society,” is advise Mathews remembers to this day. “It made me realize that it’s a person’s responsibility to dictate how he/she will be treated,” she adds.

Be an Ambassador

Being a tall black person in a foreign country can make you stand out. However, Japanese people are genuinely friendly and interested in meeting people of other races. “Yes, I felt the stares, but they were more out of curiosity than animosity,” Mathews confesses.

“When someone came to know that I spoke fluent Japanese and had lived in Japan for a while and saw that I was respectful of their culture, they bent over backward to support me. In the U.S., I would have been written off as someone who was too young and inexperienced.” Mathews frequently takes delegations to Japan for business development and networking opportunities.

Venture Out of the City

Japan is a very small country but it has a lot to see and do, and chances are there will be something of interest to you. Most people who travel to Japan stay in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo captivated by skyscrapers, busy crossing, fish markets and neon-lit pachinko arcades. You’ll soon realize that Japan is a great place to explore art, architecture, fashion, culinary arts, spirituality, temples, and nature.

Mathews says, “One of my favorite things to do is take a sunrise hike to Mt Fuji. The sky is glorious and it is also physically gratifying to make the trek.”

Talk to the Locals

One of the things Mathews suggests doing is bar hopping and talking to people. She likes to visit upscale and intimate wine bars that serve snack foods. These are popular with Japanese people who are eager to learn about foreign culture, i.e. drinking wine, so you are guaranteed to find a few people who speak English. Once a dialogue is established, they will likely offer to show you around or give you more travel tips, and it is completely safe to accept.

Don’t Make Plans

As much as you want to plan your trip in advance, allow flexibility to wander around and get lost. There are a lot of events and festivals that take place in Japan that are not advertised. Walk between train stations through quiet neighborhoods in the metropolitan and you may run into a festival with street food, temple celebrations and incredible photo opportunities. It is also a great way to see the daily way of life.

Purchase Hyper Local Souvenirs

Wondering what to buy in Japan? Each prefecture or district in Japan is known for a specific food due to its agricultural affinity and these make for great souvenirs. Most of these are cookies or sweets with a local ingredient and it is customary to give omiyage (or travel gifts) when meeting another Japanese friend. For example, you may purchase three cheese filled tarts from Sapporo, mentaiko (spicy salted pollock fish roe) from Fukuoka, and chinsuko (shortbread cookies) from the islands of Okinawa.

When Mathews told her family that she was going to Japan, they warned her, “It is too far and unknown. You will feel out of place.”

But that was never the case. Mathews responds, “I had no idea what to expect but learned a lot about Japan that is not obvious in guidebooks. Tokyo has a large international community with French, German and African, so race is not an issue. There are also several clubs with DJs, music performances, and karaoke bars in Tokyo frequented by African-Americans. In her final thoughts, Matthews shares, “The people are very polite and have a healthy respect for time, nature and each other. I always feel at home in Japan.”

Connect with Mathews on Twitter and LinkedIn for additional information about Japan as well as services offered by Gardner-Mathews Travel Concierge.

Written for Cuisine Noir. July 2018

How to Get an Authentic Cultural Experience in Barbados

For CheapOAir Miles Away. June 2018. 

The eastern Caribbean island of Barbados is known for turquoise blue waters, tropical beaches, lots of sunshine, good food, and friendly people. While most visitors who to come to Barbados spend their time in all-inclusive resorts, the best way to experience the island is by indulging in its Caribbean roots. Here are a few ways you can discover what authentic Bajan culture is all about…

Read the full post on CheapOAir Miles Away.