10 UNESCO Sites Every African-American Traveler Should Visit

For Cuisine Noir Magazine. October 2018. 

Are you curious about traveling to countries that are particularly known for their UNESCO designated sites? Lazare Eloundou Assomo, deputy director of the World Heritage Centre, provides some insight into how the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) works.  UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world that is considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. These include monuments, habitats and natural formations that have aesthetic, archeological, scientific or anthropological value. All countries have sites of local or national interest, but sites selected for World Heritage listing are inscribed based on their merits as the best possible examples of cultural and natural heritage.

How did the UNESCO World Heritage list start?

The idea of creating an international movement for protecting heritage emerged after World War I. The 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage developed from the merging of two separate movements – the first focusing on the preservation of cultural sites and the other dealing with the conservation of nature.

How is a UNESCO site selected?

First, a country must pledge to protect its natural and cultural heritage by signing the World Heritage Convention and submitting a nomination for a site on its territory to be included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. A nominated property is independently evaluated by two advisory bodies mandated by the World Heritage Convention, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The committee of 21 representatives meets once a year to decide which sites will be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Some of the newest inscribed properties include the ancient city of Qalhat in OmanThimlick Ohinga settlement in Kenya and the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains in South Africa.

As history and culture play an important role in why people travel, here are 10 UNESCO Sites that every black person should visit at least once in their lifetime.

  1. Robben Island, South Africa

Used as a prison and hospital for socially unacceptable groups and later as a military base, this maximum-security prison located on an island near Cape Town imprisoned Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandel for 18 years.

  1. Lalibela, Ethiopia

Famous for its rock-cut monolithic churches, the town of Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities with11 churches built in the 12th and 13th centuries, a monastery and vernacular houses.

  1. Island of Gorée, Senegal

Located just off the coast of Dakar, close to Africa’s westernmost point, this island played an important role in slave trade in the Middle Ages.

  1. Medina of Fez, Morocco

The Medina is not only a visually stimulating cultural and spiritual center, it is also home to the oldest university in the world.

  1. Salvador Bahia, Brazil

The city was the original colonial capital and the first slave market in South America. It maintains many Afro-Brazilian traditions, religious rites, martial arts, food and dances.

  1. Old Havana, Cuba

The fortified characteristically Spanish town retains a mix of Baroque and Neoclassical monuments, private houses with wrought-iron gates and balconies.

  1. Pitons Management Area, St Lucia

With two volcanic spires, hot springs, a coral reef and wet forests, Gros Piton and Petit Piton make a spectacular backdrop to the western part of the island of St Lucia in the Caribbean.

  1. Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

This wildlife park stretching over 50,000 square kilometers is home to elephants, black rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos and crocodiles.

  1. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Sprays from the largest waterfall in the world formed by the Zambezi River can be seen from Zambia and Zimbabwe.

  1. Lamu Old Town, Kenya

The oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa features narrow streets with elaborately carved wooden doors, stone buildings, dhow boats and an annual Mualidi festival.

For more additional exploration of history, Moukala also recommends checking out some of the sites related to slavery to further understand the social and human impact around the world.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine

7 Wine Producing Regions of the World That You May Not Know About

For Cuisine Noir Magazine. October 2018.

Next time when you sit at a bar or browse the wine racks at your neighborhood wine retailer, expand your horizon beyond the well-known wine growing regions of the world. Most of us gravitate towards the familiar French, Italian, South African or Argentinean bottles for a little flavor of the world. However, there are some lesser known countries that are also producing great quality wines. Often, the production is too small for global distribution, but here are a few that are easily available at your neighborhood wine shop.

Croatia

The Dalmatian Coast overlooking the Adriatic Sea is dotted with small vineyards growing local plavac mali and pošip grapes. Cool winds and temperate climate make it ideal for white grapes and crljenak kaštelanski, which is the parent grape of what’s now known as zinfandel. It was Croatian born Miljenko “Mike” Grgich who brought these to the Napa Valley and Croatian wines are now gaining significant international recognition. Visit his Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford or board the Napa Valley Wine Train for a private tasting and tour.

Lebanon

Although Lebanon has been producing wine for a few hundred years, it was the French influence during the World Wars that promoted a sophisticated culture of wine drinking in Beirut. Most of the wineries are in the southern Beqaa Valley growing, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Rhone varieties. Founded in 1857 by Jesuit priests (though no longer affiliated), Château Ksara developed the first dry wine in Lebanon, which is still available in 42 countries.

Moldova

Moldova is one of the largest wine producers in the world, exporting over 67 million bottles annually. The country’s southern region is best known for red and semi-sweet varieties. One of the major attractions in Moldova is “Mileștii Mici” — the largest wine collection in the world with almost 2 million bottles according to the Guinness Book and Cricova, an underground winery that stretches for 75 miles.

Georgia

Archeological digs prove that wine production in Georgia dates back 8,000 years when grape juice was buried underground in clay jars for fermentation. To date, wine is produced by small farmers, monasteries and wineries in traditional ways. Kakheti is the most popular wine-growing region in Georgia producing sweet and dry varieties. Winery Khareba is one of the most visited wineries in the country, located in a tunnel carved from the Caucasian Mountain range.

Brazilian wine brand Macaw

Brazil

Italian immigrants have been making wine in Brazil since the mid -19thcentury.  More than 1,000 wineries have emerged in Brazil in the last 20 years, most of them located in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. These are mostly good quality sparking varieties such as cava, charmat and muscat, as well as few young, easily drinkable table reds. The Serra Gaúcha region is also emerging as a popular wine destination with quaint resorts located on vineyards. Macaw, recognizable by a logo of the tropical bird, makes the most extensive variety of Brazilian wines that are available globally.

Morocco

Algeria and Morocco in northern Africa benefit from high mountains and cool Atlantic breezes that allow for the right climate for growing wine. Here too, French colonists introduced large-scale production of wine. Morocco has five distinct wine regions producing rosé, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, clairette blanche and muscat. Trinity Oaks Chardonnay and Amazir red blend are available at most Total Wine shops around the U.S.

Tanzania

Tanzania is the second largest producer of wine in Sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa. Thanks to South African investors and Tanzanian government-established Dodoma Wine Company (Dowico), local farmers are incentivized to grow and experiment with different types of grapes. Dodoma-based Central Tanzania Wine Company (Cetawico) is perhaps the most popular one, producing light and fruity chenin blanc, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and a local variety named for a Dodoma sub-region, Makutupora.

~Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine. October 2018. 

When Curiosity Turns to Love in Tanzania

For Cuisine Noir Magazine. January 2018. 

I arrived in Dar es Salaam with Grace Odogbili, a Nigerian-American chef and caterer from Brooklyn. Having worked with New York’s top restaurants and caterers, Odogbili started her own business, Dining With Grace, in 2010 to offer people a chance to savor regional cuisines of the African diaspora. She teaches nutritional culinary arts workshops in Brooklyn’s public schools, introducing underserved communities to healthier lifestyles.

This was the first trip to East Africa for both of us. For the next several days, we explored the cuisine and culture of Tanzania, like a local, with a local. “When I started The African Table, a monthly pop-up dining series in 2013, I hosted “A Night in Zanzibar” dinner at a Brooklyn art gallery where we had a multi-course Tanzanian inspired meal with live music. That’s where I met Justa Lujwangana, who had recently started a Meetup group namedCurious on Tanzania (COT). She was my featured guest and since that day we decided we must go to Tanzania together, ” says Odogbili. Lujwangana is a Tanzania-born African who has lived in Uganda and New York. She also founded COT as an experiential travel company.

Grace-cooking-at-COT.jpgWe headed to Lujwangana’s house in the quiet suburbs of Dar which she calls “the COT house.” The two-story bungalow, with its five bedrooms, beautiful garden and spacious living room and kitchen, is a private guest house listed on Airbnb. Dressed in a brightly colored cotton dress called a kanga, Luiwangana welcomes us to the place she calls home for a few months each year. “Karibuni Tena!” (meaning welcome to Tanzania) she exclaims with a big smile. This is a greeting we got accustomed to hearing many times during our visit. Over a breakfast of smoked eggplant and tomato stew, steamed cassava, chapatti and ginger tea, she tells me how she started COT. “I wanted to give people the opportunity to hear the untold stories of Tanzania and go beyond the safaris,” she explains about bringing groups from New York to Tanzania on dance, music, sporting and culinary tours.

Lunch-in-Dar.jpgTogether we explored the cosmopolitan big city. During the day, busy streets clog traffic as street peddlers walk up to cars selling everything from chopping boards and wood carvings to fidget spinners. At night, restaurants and bars are alive with women dressed in long flowing Western dresses and men in sharp Western wear sipping on cocktails, enjoying the summer breeze. We frequent several upbeat neighborhoods, watch live music and enjoy late night dinners.

The next day we board a ferry to the island of Zanzibar, Lujwangana’s “second home.” Everyone seems to come greet her as we walk through the narrow cobblestone streets of Stone Town. We stay at the Mizinghani Seafront Hotel, a historical building that was originally built for newly married royal couples for their honeymoons.Ornate wood doors, wool tapestry and mosaic floors speak to the hundreds of years of Portuguese and Omani influences left on the island. The island is also home to a small Arab and Indian population.

Grace-tasting-Swahili-pizza.jpg

Our main reason for being here now is the Stone Town Food Festival. A celebration of local flavors featuring over 30 restaurants offering special prix fixe menus, it culminates at a two-day street fair at the island’s gathering spot, Forodhani Gardens. We pay anywhere from $1 to $5 for a tasting and feast on fried sardines, fish balls, beet salad, hummus, pita and more.  Odogbili and I are intrigued by “Zanzibar Pizza” signs that several food vendors display. Minced meat, bell peppers, eggs and cheese are stuffed into a crepe thin like pocket and fried with ghee. Served with hot sauce and mayo, it is not a traditional pizza but a popular local street food no less.

In the morning we head to the island’s oldest vegetable market for produce and then to the home of a Swahili family for a cooking class. All of the female extended relatives and neighbors gather to greet us and give us a change of traditional clothes for wearing at home, which is custom. Odogbili instantly takes charge of the outdoor kitchen while all the women chop, shred, and fry food over a charcoal stove. “Cooking with the Swahili women felt like being home with your tribe of sisters. Everyone must play their part so we can all eat together. It felt like nothing was rushed, it was life and it was sweeter when done in community,” she recalls. After several hours of cooking, we sat on the floor eating with our hands and sharing laughs and stories.

The turquoise blue waters of the Arabian Sea are dotted with dhows, traditional wooden sailing vessels operated by skillful sailors. On one of the days, Lujwangana organized a special sail to one of the most beautiful sand banks off Stone Town and a picnic on the beach. Surrounded by white sand and crystal-clear water, we feast on grilled lobster, prawns, calamari, fish, accompanied by kachumbari salad, French fries and steamed rice. We take turns swimming and snorkeling.

No visit to Zanzibar is complete without a visit to a spice farm. At Jumbo Spice Farm, we get to understand why Zanzibar is named the island of spices. Cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg – practically all of the spices I had ever heard of can be found here. We also got a chance to make our own masala chai blend and received beautiful handcrafted floral gifts and had a delicious farm-fresh lunch. “I’ve used the masala chai spice blend for everything from curries, desserts, dry rubs and more. I make an amazing carrot cake with masala chai cream cheese frosting. It’s delicious,” Odogbili says tempting me a few weeks after our trip.

We end our tour with a safari at Selous Game Reserve, one of the largest animal reserves in the world, where we stay at a tented camp overlooking a river and spot zebras, giraffes, buffalo, impala and a lion. Here, we had a chance to interact with Maasai tribes and bushmen, learning about their traditional dances.

“Tanzania is truly a beautiful country with so much rich history,” says Odogbili and I agree. It offers everything from beautiful beaches, quaint hotels and indigenous art, to diversity of flavors from Arabic, Portuguese, African and Indian traditions. With warm hospitable people who are always smiling and dancing, it is impossible not to fall in love with Tanzania.

Enjoy these recipes for Masala Coconut Caramel SpreadBoiled Cassava w/ Kachumbari and Spicy Beet & Coconut Salad courtesy of Grace Odogbili. For more information about Dining With Grace, visit www.diningwithgrace.com and for Curious on Tanzania, visit www.curiousontanzania.com.

Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine. January 2018.