Uganda Gets Its First Food Blogger, Sophia Musoki

For Cuisine Noir Magazine. September 2018.

Sophia Musoki (who goes by Sophie) is a 24-year-old food blogger from Kampala, Uganda. Her blog, A Kitchen in Uganda is one of the first, if not the only, food blogs that showcases Ugandan cuisine on a global scale. Since its inception in 2014, it has been recognized by CNN African Voices and shortlisted for Saveur Magazine blog awards, and her e-book won the Gourmand World Cooking Award.

Musoki chats with me from Jamaica, where she is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in business management and entrepreneurship at the Northern Caribbean University. I wanted to learn a little more about Ugandan cuisine and how she is setting it up to take the global stage.

Why did you start blogging?

I aspired to cook since I was a young girl. I couldn’t go to culinary school, so I started experimenting with food at home through my blog. In the beginning, it was just meant for me as I discovered creative ways to cook my food. I didn’t expect anyone to read it. I was doing it for my family and friends.

It was only in 2015 when a digital marketer approached me that I started taking my work seriously. He told me that I was the only one doing this in Uganda. I was shocked! I searched for other food bloggers and there was no one else writing about our food. Perhaps because the Internet is expensive here or no one looked at Ugandan food the way I did.

What’s the focus of your food blog?

In the food industry, African food does not show up in mainstream media. Very few people know about Ugandan food, which is influenced by colonial British and Indian immigrants. Ugandan cuisine, compared to other African cuisines, is simpler. We don’t really spice our food that much. We like it simplified. We believe that local ingredients have enough flavor and don’t need much seasoning.

My fellow Ugandans often read food blogs where the recipes call for ingredients we don’t find here. We can get apples and blueberries sometimes, but they are very expensive. To avoid the frustration, in my recipes I use ingredients that an average Ugandan can afford. We have a lot of local and indigenous produce that we can use to make our meals more exciting. Traditional stews, starchy food, posho (ground white cornmeal mixed with water) and soups can be flavored with local mangoes, avocados, oranges and jackfruits.

What does your typical day look like?

Every day is different. Cooking is only 50% of the work in food blogging. I plan the day before what I’m going to cook. On the days when I’m cooking and shooting, I can shoot up to three recipes. Then I schedule my posts out weekly.

I develop recipes for local companies such as Britania, Yo Kuku! and African Wine Traders using their products and earn commissions which help me sustain my blog. I also offer product photography to companies that need image libraries for their products online.

It is a lot of hard work. Often, family members help by holding the dishes (you may have seen their hands in my pictures) or with shopping in the market.

What would your grandmother say about your food blog?

She would be interested. For her generation, food is something they had for survival. There was no allowance for extravagance. It was mostly boiled, steamed or stewed for a quick nutritious meal that allowed you to fill your belly and get back to work.

I still cook traditional simple dishes that she makes, but make them a little more interesting. One of my favorite dishes is katogo, and she makes the best! It literally translates to a mixture of things. You can boil a combination of bananas, tomatoes, groundnuts, cassava or beans in a pot. I just add some ghee and avocados to modernize it.

How do you feel about your success?

It’s humbling because I never expected it to become this big. So, when I receive awards for my blog, it gives me affirmation that I’m doing the right thing. I am also inspiring and mentoring other African food bloggers.

What’s next for you?

Currently I’m working on a new e-book on a dish called rolex, one of my favorite things to grab when I’m working and don’t want to spend a lot. It is a popular local street food which has recently gotten the spotlight. I contributed to a piece on rolex and CNN picked it up, making it a phenomenon. Basically, it is eggs rolled in a chapati, filled with onions, cabbage, kale, meat and tomatoes. I am experimenting with other ways to make it.

What advice can you give to other food bloggers?

Be consistent. Keep doing what you are doing and something might come out of it. Devote time to producing quality work. Sometimes there’s pressure to publish regularly, but it’s more important to have quality. The readers appreciate that more.

Visit Musoki’s blog, A Kitchen in Uganda, at www.akitcheninuganda.com and follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine.

Tech and tourism: 11 people changing the way we travel

cnnCNN – July 2, 2015

There’s never been a better time to be a tourist.

Whether it’s a cool new app helping find the best flight deal or a website to help book an authentic meal in a stranger’s home in a foreign city, travel tech has made it easier than ever to make the most of your time away from home.

And it’s all thanks to the people behind today’s great industry innovations — including these 11 individuals who make us more excited than ever to hit the road.

Chris Lopinto, ExpertFlyer.com

Claim to fame: Getting you out of the middle seat

We’ve surfed the Internet to find the best airline deal, only to get stuck in the middle seat on a plane with limited reclining space and no legroom whatsoever.

If we’d checked out ExpertFlyer.com beforehand, that scenario wouldn’t have happened.

Co-founded by Long Island, New York, native Chris Lopinto, it’s a free app and subscription-based website that offers a bit of empowerment for frequent bargain travelers.

Lopinto says ExpertFlyer was born out of he and his co-founders’ own bad experiences as frequent fliers.

They designed the site to give users a way to check ticket prices or “fare buckets” (along with respective restrictions), availability of award tickets and upgrades (in real time) and create automated searches for a better seat based on traveler guidelines (seat alerts) before purchase.

Even travel agencies and airlines themselves are now using ExpertFlyer’s Seat Alerts app.

Layton Han, ADARA

ADARA CEO Layton Han.

Claim to fame: Dissecting complex travel data

Next time anyone gets a tweet from an airline about a seat upgrade opportunity, it’s more than likely Layton Han was behind it.

As the man in charge of the ADARA Magellan platform, Han works with 80 of the world’s most established travel brands, including Delta, United and Hertz.

The way it works is ADARA collects information from 300 million travelers to customize marketing and advertising messages, personalize websites and tailor customer communications based on individual preferences.

Before joining ADARA, Han co-founded the online loyalty marketing company MyPoints.com (now owned by United Airlines).

“Today, there are many different ways to communicate with existing and potential customers, such as through social media and mobile applications,” says Han.

“Travel brands need to develop and synchronize customer-marketing messages across various channels.”

Harri Kulovaara, Royal Caribbean Cruises

Claim to fame: Bringing massive cruise ships to the masses

Harri Kulovaara, who heads up fleet design and new build operations for Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises — his official title is “executive vice president of maritime and new building” — has a passion for the creating the biggest, most advanced and most exciting ships at sea.

In fact, he’s behind the world’s two biggest passenger ships — Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas — each one rocking 16 decks, over 2,700 staterooms and the capacity to carry more than 6,000 passengers.

Kulovaara, a naval architect with more than 38 years in the cruise industry, also launched the world’s first smartship — Quantum of the Seas — in 2014. This monster has virtual balconies in all indoor staterooms, skydiving at sea, an oversea viewing pod and robotic bartenders.

“Over the past 38 years, I’ve had the pleasure of bringing designers and builders together to push the boundaries of what’s possible on a cruise vacation,” says Kulovaara.

“At Royal Caribbean, we have some of the best, most passionate teams assembled to deliver the best product possible. I like to think I’m the leader that gives them direction, the glue that holds them together, and the catalyst that helps stimulate ideas.”

Roberto Milk, NOVICA

Claim to fame: Changing the way we shop for souvenirs

The “ah-ha” moment for Roberto Milk, co-founder and CEO of NOVICA (partly owned by National Geographic), came while he was in a Portuguese language class at Stanford University.

His professor remarked how hard it was for traditional Brazilian artists to make a living off their craft, giving Roberto the idea of creating an online, fair trade marketplace — all while working as an investment banker.

In 1999, Novica was born.

Fifteen years on, shoppers can now browse more than 45,000 pieces of limited edition and one-of-a-kind handmade works of art — including artisan-crafted jewelry, handmade apparel and world-style home decor — and get them delivered right to their door.

Championing local artists, NOVICA has given back almost $50 million to creatives worldwide by connecting them directly to consumers.

Geraldine Calpin, Hilton Worldwide

Geraldine Calpin, head of Digital for Hilton Worldwide.

Claim to fame: Opening hotel doors

Walking up to the check-in counter of a hotel could soon be an old school experience thanks to the technological leadership of Geraldine Calpin, SVP and global head of Digital for Hilton Worldwide.

She’s bringing the same level of convenience travelers are used to when booking airlines and car rentals to hotel rooms.

This year Calpin, who joined Hilton Worldwide in 2002, is spearheading an initiative that will enable Hilton’s guests to unlock rooms with their smartphones, a technology that has existed for some years but not been implemented on a global scale.

Guests can browse through floor plans at more than 4,100 properties globally before making a personalized room selection.

Then, they can check in digitally using the smartphone app.

Ed Kushins, HomeExchange.com

Claim to fame: Swapping bedrooms

The idea of trading bedrooms with a complete stranger might not be for everybody, but for those who want to save money and literally live like a local when on vacation there’s HomeExchange.com.

California-based founder Ed Kushins’ came up with the the idea in 1992 as a solution to the high expense of accommodations and the lack of cultural immersion that traditional hotels and resorts offer.

Kushins, a former U.S. Navy submarine office, was way ahead of his time. Back then, it was a printed, mailed book.

Today it’s the largest online home exchange network in the world.

To date, HomeExchange.com has facilitated an estimated 1 million property swaps worldwide.

Dale Moser, Coach USA/Megabus.com

Claim to fame: Making bus travel hip again

Thanks to Dale Moser, CEO of Coach USA/Megabus.com, bus travel doesn’t have to conjure images of sketchy seat mates and smelly washrooms.

Armed with a state-of-the-art fleet of double-decker buses equipped with Wi-Fi, power outlets, the latest safety technology and tickets that start at $1 sold online, Moser created “The Megabus Effect” and made traveling by bus between cities cooler and affordable.

By marketing to college students and young professionals, Moser has guided Coach USA, Coach Canada and Megabus into a $700 million business — with Megabus.com alone serving more than 40 million customers in just nine years, in more than 120 cities across North America.

Ruzwana Bashir, Peek

Claim to fame: Saving travelers hours in research time

Co-founded by CEO Ruzwana Bashir in 2011, Peek is a digital platform best described as an online concierge — a one-stop site for travelers looking to book one-of-a-kind experiences, from swimming with sharks to shopping with stylists.

It’s especially key for those of us disillusioned by the sheer quantity of attractions on the mainstream travel booking sites — and conflicting user reviews that accompany them.

With Peek, the theory is, we know we’re getting the goods.

The platform combines Peek.com — the online marketplace — with PeekPro.com, a suite of back-end software tools that power online bookings for activity operators on their own websites.

With Bashir leading the way, Peek Pro has grown more than 500% in the last year, while the Peek team has more than tripled in size.

How’d she do it?

Probably doesn’t hurt that she’s got an MBA from Harvard Business School — where she was a Fulbright scholar — and a BA in economics from Oxford University.

Zeke Adkins and Aaron Kirley, Luggage Forward

Aaron Kirley and Zeke Adkins,  Luggage Forward co-founders.

Claim to fame: Skipping the luggage carousel

After spending a fair amount of time schlepping bags through airports, Aaron Kirley and Zeke Adkins set out to form a company that ensures bags arrive at the destination at the same time as travelers — by mailing them.

Why not just check the bags?

Luggage Forward offers a reliable and cost-effective door-to-door luggage delivery service that saves time, excess baggage fees and customs hassles.

Naturally, the founders — who met in high school — say the idea sprang from their own unfortunate experiences lugging bags through airports.

Travelers can ship luggage and sports gear (bikes, skis, snowboards, golf clubs) to more than 200 countries and territories worldwide using Luggage Forward.

Travis Kalanick, Uber

Claim to fame: Changing the way we get from point A to point B

Of all the names on this list, Uber founder Travis Kalanick definitely has created the most headlines.

And not all of them favorable, with everyone from taxi drivers and journalists to politicians coming out to criticize his ride-booking app.

Just last week, the French government ordered Paris police to crack down on Uber after violence erupted at demonstrations by taxi drivers against the online ride service.

Neither fans nor Kalanick appear to be deterred.

His app is now available for travelers in close to 300 cities on six continents.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, he sent a letter to investors announcing plans to invest more than $1 billion in its Chinese business this year.

Kalanick is also fighting to get legal access to major U.S. airports, most of which ban ride-sharing service drivers from picking up passengers.

Your next airport pickup could be just a click away, if Kalanick has his way.

Volunteering offers tourists a feel-good vacation

For CNN World. July 2014 

(CNN)How often have you been on vacation and barely left your resort? It’s all too easy to stick to the tourist trail when you have little time available and are in unfamiliar surroundings.

I love traveling, but after visiting more than 30 countries, I found myself feeling like I’d missed out on experiencing the real places. It seemed like most people see the same sights, take the same pictures and come away with more or less the same experience. I wanted to have a more authentic experience.
Only after I got off the beaten tourist path did I realize how people truly lived, what they believed in and how rich their cultures were. The experience led me to volunteer in countries such as Russia, Morocco, Nepal, Spain, Indonesia and Cuba; I worked at places such as women’s empowerment centers, orphanages, farms, day care centers and facilities for the elderly. I taught English, women’s rights, proper nutrition, art, crafts and sports. Sometimes I found that just spending time and talking to people was appreciated, such as elderly women in Yaroslavl, Russia, who have few visitors and who interrogated me as if I were their granddaughter.
I found these experiences so rewarding, and out of a desire to share that, and to give something back to the places I was visiting, Go Eat Give was born.
Go Eat Give champions a concept that I call “voluntourism” — aka volunteer vacationing. The idea banks on travelers looking for a short-term holiday that includes cultural experiences they will find meaningful as well as a chance to give back to the community. Go Eat Give has volunteered more than 2,000 hours of service in more than 20 countries.
Teaching English in Segovia, Spain

Here is how the concept works: We support local businesses by staying at hotels and eating at restaurants that aren’t part of international chains but rather locally owned. Some of the fee for the trip goes to a local charity. Travelers also bring a bag of items the neighborhood charity requests — for example, suitcases full of toothbrushes, dental floss, soap, clothes, office supplies and over-the-counter medical supplies.
The best part of Go Eat Give is that travelers get to volunteer in the community they visit. One of the places I take travelers to is Indonesia’s Bali. The beautiful island is popular with divers, sunbathers, yoga retreats and honeymooners. Many people don’t realize that abject poverty is just blocks from the fancy resorts. Possibly even fewer stop to think about the people who work in the resorts, how they live and what opportunities their children would have. These hotel workers have no running water in their homes and no beds on which to sleep. They eat and clean up after themselves with their hands and get sick often due to lack of proper sanitation.
On our first trip, Go Eat Give volunteers taught hygiene and nutrition to the kids at village schools through a local organization called the Bali Children’s Project. We realized the reason they were not washing their hands is they had no sinks with running water. Fund-raising is under way to enable the next group of travelers to install sinks and plumbing equipment, with the help of villagers, at 40 schools.
Another project we support is a women’s safe house in India. This home offers a refuge for women who have survived sex trafficking or teen girls who may be at risk. The women receive housing, food, counseling and job skills training so they can get back on their feet. The volunteers teach skills such as typing, cooking, knitting, cosmetology, etc., so these women can eventually have the confidence and expertise to become working professionals and escape the cycle of abuse.
Our hope is that once travelers witness projects for themselves, they’ll become invested in supporting them going forward. It’s one thing to get a postcard in the mail saying you are sponsoring a kid to go to school somewhere far away. It’s another thing to meet the children, visit their schools, walk through their villages and then support them.
Through Go Eat Give, I hope to accomplish my mission to raise awareness of different cultures with travel, food and community service. I want to pave the way for all travelers to be able to make a positive impact on the places they visit as well as enrich their own lives.
~ Written by Sucheta Rawal for CNN World