East Charlotte, what is it good for? Food, according to Louise Barton, organizer of the third Taste of the World culinary tour. Earlier this month, tour participants experienced the cultural smorgasbord of our own little Brooklyn, shuttling in 10 buses between 16 ethnic eateries.
Barton explained the use of buses: "So people don't have to worry about driving in areas they normally wouldn't feel comfortable driving in." OK, so maybe they would only be getting the immigrant experience in their mouths.
My first stop on the tour was Kilimanjaro -- the restaurant on Independence Boulevard, not the mountain. Sierra Leonean Henry Smythe opened this African bistro and club last October. His grandmother Christiana, who Henry says was known throughout the country for her culinary prowess, singled out Henry, her favorite of her eight grandchildren, to teach her secrets to. Growing up in Africa, Henry recalls people coming to his home from all over to eat a Christiana--cooked meal.
Kilimanjaro isn't just Sierra Leonean. Henry's wife is Liberian and prepares her regional cuisine. Another cook is Nigerian. And another waitress/hostess added some American dishes to the menu.
Let me say as a disclaimer that this article isn't my tryout for the food section. Whenever someone asks me how something tastes, I find myself having to awkwardly explain that I have an unsophisticated palate. And having a note pad next to my plate made me feel silly, like I should be interviewing my food.
For one of the dishes I sampled, the egusi soup, I splattered yellow sauce over my description, so I'll have to go on memory. The potent soup, which like other African soups is really a sauce that goes over rice, is made from mashed melon seeds and tasted like spicy feet to me. I wouldn't recommend it to African cuisine neophytes. But the potato greens, made out of sweet potato leaves and palm oil was quite tasty.
At Pollos Marios, I talked to Laura Quintana, a waitress who moved here three years ago. The thriving Latin community in Charlotte means she doesn't get too homesick. On Saturday nights at Azúcar, which Laura never misses, she socializes with a bumping Latin scene. As far as the food goes, Colombian is pretty mild. None of the bean dishes have any spice. Chicharron (fried pork skin), which had the consistency of a tire, was the most fun to eat and to say.
Only ten people in Cuba are unhappy, according to Cuban chef Eríc Heriberto. Eríc decided to accompany his mom to the States when she got her visa, but he's awaiting the day Mr. Castro goes away so he can return to his homeland (and maybe help those ten people). All the Cuban food was fried (including the sangria, I'm pretty sure), but unlike Southern US cuisine, it's not salty.
To sum up how the world tastes in one word, it would be plantain. All three restaurants (Cuba, Colombia, Africa) served them. Colombia's was deep fried like an onion ring. Cuba's were thin, green and in shavings to be eaten with a seafood ceviche dip, and Africa's, my favorite of the three, were sweet and rich like maple syrup.
Nothing galvanizes the masses like El Presidente coming to town. Gray-haired Caucasian boomers and irate college kiddies may have been the most common dissenters calling for Mr. Bush's immediate impeachment, but they weren't the only ones.
I met a trio from Uruguay at the rally, a Brit, an ex-marine who served in Iraq, an Asian who thought he had coined a clever new slogan with his sign "Bushit" and a Russian immigrant here on political asylum. Actually, Dmitri the Russian was pro-Bush.
The demonstration was an utter failure. The President wasn't impeached in the auditorium of a community college in Elizabeth. I'm told the real impeachment process involves "formal hearings" and "the Senate" not sandwich boards and a pissed-off woman yelling, "Bush is an ass wipe."
I was the second protester to arrive (out of a couple hundred), and was given my pick of two signs from a graphic designer: "NC is turning blue" and "hipocrite." Both signs offended me ... as a journalist. One was a terrible inaccuracy (let's start with turning our metropolises blue), and the other had that terrible spelling blunder.
Once we got to the spot on Elizabeth Avenue, a sharp-dressed university employee in a suit attempted to help, telling us "off the record" that Bush's motorcade would be coming down Fourth Street not where we were standing. Our red-haired, pale leader didn't believe the "suit," even though the cars and news vans parked all over the street made it clear the motorcade wasn't coming down Elizabeth.
Being at a protest, you have to have a quick wit to respond to unexpected incidents with chants. "We've got a permit!" was shouted in unison when the police tried to section off the protestors, and "Arrest Bush, not citizens!" when a guy dressed in a spy costume refused to take off his ski mask.
If you get bored at a protest, a fun and difficult game is to try and find the chant starter. Or you can start your own chants. My "Bush is a weenie" and "misanthrope artichoke" didn't take.
Team-building too often is associated with forest retreats and the infamous catch the colleague as they fall blindly backwards. At Creative Loafing's April staff meeting, which included a team-building exercise outside by our loading dock, operations manager Patti Hannold proved there are many creative ways to make a staff uncomfortable.
The game: Who Can Blow The Longest? (A balloon ... in the air ... using straws.) My team, thinking the exercise to be awkward, let our balloon fall limply to the ground. The winning team, which many other staffers thought took the game too seriously, included film critic Matt Brunson, Jo Harishimi from circulation, publisher Carolyn Butler, Will Culp and Ben Dulken from sales, and editor Mark Kemp, who seemed to be doing nothing. They had the last laugh and won $10 each.
When asked how he would spend his winnings, fat cat Dulken said, "I planned on investing it directly in my 401K, but I ended up blowing it that night at Cans."
CULTURE VULTURES: Taste of the World Tour stops at Kilimanjaro