Cultural Night(s) 2014

As vice president of the Geography Student Association at my university, I have helped with numerous events but one of my favorites is Cultural Night.  We have this once a month and eat out at ethnic restaurants, experiencing a different culture through food.  Last year we had three, each with different amounts of success.

September’s Cultural Night was the biggest of that semester.  We had so many people come that the rest had to be seated in a different area.  First was dinner at Magic Lamp, Lebanese Mediterranean Grill and afterward was dessert at Sweet Jill’s Bakery across the street.  This was located in Long Beach, not too far from the university, so that partly attributed to our large group.  Both places had excellent food and I stuffed myself silly.

Magic Lamp has tons of dishes from handmade hummus to fresh seafood.  There are options for vegetarians and vegans so everyone can enjoy this place.  They also have a wide international selection of wines and beers.  Lebanese cuisine includes influences from all over the region especially the period when the Ottoman Turks controlled the area.  These foods include olive oil, fresh bread, lamb, stuffed vegetables, nuts, baklava (a sweet pastry dessert) and labneh (strained yogurt).  After the Ottomans’ defeat during WWI, France controlled Lebanon and introduced foods such as flan (caramel custard) and buttery croissants.  For the most part, Lebanese food is similar to other Mediterranean dishes with little red meat and lots of olive oil.  Grilling, baking or sauteing is preferred and drinks are almost never severed without food.  For some Lebanese recipes visit this site: Food in Lebanon.

Sweet Jill’s is famous for its cinnamon rolls, but they have pretty much any cake, cookie and muffin you could possibly imagine and they all looked equally mouthwatering.  If you are ever in the area, go there and have your sugar dreams come true.

October’s Cultural Night celebrated Oktoberfest.  We went to the Oktoberfest celebration held at Old World in Huntington Beach, a shopping and residential area that features German culture in both building design and commodities.  While this place was only a few miles from my home I had no idea it existed until this event.  For this night several people showed up and the food was good, but for me the place was too loud (they had live music) and a smoker’s paradise (I’m extremely sensitive to cigarette smoke).  Because of those two issues, I was not able to stay long and left the restaurant after I finished eating.  I did get to walk around the village though and saw the different touristy shops they had (though one was a gaming center).  Above all the shops were apartments, which is something that’s very common in Japan but not in America, so it was interesting to see it again.

German food is of course found in American dishes throughout the country, such as bratwurst (sausage), sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), frankfurters (hot dogs) and so on.  Within Germany there are many different regional styles of cooking, such as East and West during the division of the country after WWII and traditional variations in the north, middle and southern regions.

Northern German cooking features various types of soup, such as aalsuppe (eel soup) or eintopf (seafood stew) and weisse bohnensuppe (white bean soup).  The central areas feature more bread and cereal based dishes.  One area in particular, Westphalia, has heavy pumpernickel bread.  The south is more famous for frankfurters but it also has dishes such as Himmel und erde, which combines potatoes, apples, onions and bacon.

As for potatoes, they were introduced by King Frederick II (1712–1786) who gave away the seeds and taught people how to grow them.  Thus potatoes soon became a staple food, but Germans also use a lot of meat and bread in their meals.  Some like to combine potatoes with pears, apples or bacon.    They also make dumplings with both potatoes and bread, which are either fried or boiled.  There is also another kind of stew called Pichelsteiner (three kinds of meat and potatoes).  Fruit is commonly added to meat dishes to create a sweet/sour taste.  Apples are very popular in various desserts throughout Germany.  For recipes for some of these dished visit this site: Food of Germany.

November’s Cultural Night was unfortunately a bust as the place we originally wanted to go to was packed with no hopes of getting a table.  So we instead spent a large amount of time trying to figure out where to go instead and after much debate we finally gave up and went to Olive Garden.  Yeah, not exactly a truly ethnic restaurant, but we did what we could.  We also had the least amount of people show up for that night with only four people showing up, including myself.  The upside, the food was good.

For December we usually have a potluck and this year’s was at a community garden in Long Beach.  Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but I heard it had a good turn out and that everyone had a good time.

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