Austin Int’l Chefs, Artists Share Favorite Dishes from Abroad

I believe there’s more for local travel enthusiasts to learn about international dishes just by stepping into their backyard than by reading a second-hand account in a book, blog or television program about a country first. That’s why this series of articles will be based on the advice of local business owners whose cultural influences have not simply intrigued- but shaped them, allowing the essence of a culture to become their very livelihood.

It’s because getting travel advice about international food that comes from the heart of someone that shares for a living forms an experience you can trust. It’s bound to feed more than your senses. A peer or friend’s opinion, or even a review on where the best international dishes are in your backyard might be a place to start, but read on in our series for the thoughts of true connoisseurs who’ve been influenced abroad and now share their learnings.

Our hope is that getting to know cultures through food favorites of local businesses will guide you to stumble upon something new that you didn’t know you’d love.

Read on as four Austin business owners share their favorite dishes, including why they enjoy the food, and where they remember it best prepared abroad.

From Colombia: Ajiaco con Pollo

Astrid is a local artist that owns Astrid’s Colombian Jewelry, a handmade shop in Austin featuring beautiful accessories from bracelets to earrings and necklaces made from natural materials like nuts and fruits, like in her native Colombia. Her favorite dish is a soup called Ajiaco con Pollo, from her state of Cundinamarca. Ajiaco is made with chicken, green peas and carrots, and different kinds of potatoes, including yellow or Andes potatoes, whichever can be found locally in Austin.

Ajiaco Con Pollo / Source: Sabores de Mi Tierra Facebook

The soup is made with guascas, a plant from the daisy family used for seasoning, which can be found in the Altiplano Cundiboyacense in the eastern Colombian Andes Mountains. “Colombia has a [rich] variety of food depending on where you are located… and everything is pretty yummy,” Astrid shared. She’s enjoyed this dish in her home state, and for the travel enthusiast recommends the small Colombian town of Machetá in the state of Cundinamarca because of it’s good food, but also amazing views, friendly people and outstanding landscapes.

From Cuba: Sandwich Cubano

When we asked Iska, the owner of south Austin’s genuine Cuban eatery Cuba512, formerly Guantanamera, what his favorite Cuban dish was, he said it was most definitely the Sandwich Cubano—the quintessential Cuban Sandwich because it’s so simple and delicious. “The ingredients inside a Cuban sandwich are simple: ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and every Cuban sandwich needs Cuban bread,” he shared. He also explained that although comparable to French or Italian bread, Cuban bread has a different baking method and ingredient list which makes the difference.

Sandwich Cubano / Source: Cuba512 Facebook

A native of Cuba, he recalled having the best Cuban sandwich in the city of Bayamo. He said that there the sandwich he had was made with pork, lechon in Spanish, roasted with firewood from the local hills. When considered, it’s understandable why the version of the sandwich served at Cuba512—coupled with a thoughtful ambiance and signature drinks like a crisp mojito—the restaurant maintains an esteemed level of authenticity to get you as close to Cuba as you can get in Austin.

From Jordan: Maamoul (also known as Kombe)

Ali, the owner of food truck Austin’s Habibi tucked below a towering skyscraper downtown, turned his childhood passion and family legacy into a local eatery. He serves the type of fresh, healthy and flavorful food that the eastern Mediterranean is known for, from Greece to the Middle East. While he features a number of savory dishes for locals to try, he also recalls his favorite dessert—a small, shortbread cookie called Kombe, in Turkey, but also known as Maa’moul in Jordan, where he had the best version of the treat because of its tasty and plentiful when served.

Maa’moul or Kombe / Source: Cardamom Rose Bakery Facebook

A native of the eastern Mediterranean, he especially enjoys Greece, a reason for the Greek influence in the dishes he serves. When he came to Austin, he decided to open the same type of eateries he grew with abroad while working with his father. Offering a taste of home, he also seems to remind us that no meal is ever complete without dessert. Curious cultural enthusiasts should stay tuned as Austin’s Habibi will be opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant soon.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Book this deal for just $1 and Get $12+ in Exclusive Savings at Austin’s Habibi

From Peru: Lomo Saltado

Miguel owns and runs the downtown Austin food truck Llama’s Peruvian Creole. Although his favorite Peruvian dish varies, he’s a big fan of Lomo Saltado, which his eatery also serves up. The dish is “a beef tenderloin stir-fry over steak fries and garlic rice to soak it all up,” he shared. In the version served at Llama’s, Miguel includes homemade sauces on the side, such as Rocoto, Huancaina, and Anticuchera.

Lomo Saltado / Source: Llama’s Peruvian Creole

“I’ve tried Lomo Saltado all over Perú. Besides finding quality beef perfectly cooked and smoky, the Huacatay sauces I encounter in Perú are uniquely delicious,” he shared. In his book, Perú always wins when it comes to ingredients because there’s nothing like a well-prepared dish served in the coastal South American country. He invites curious cultural enthusiasts to stop by Llama’s on September 4th for a free sample during its first annual Lomo Saltado Day.

Ready to explore more about Colombia, Cuba, Jordan or Peru? Let these few favorites be your guide. In Austin, if you look closely there is a slice of so many countries that you can start to explore locally.

Six 2017 International Film Festivals You Gotta Catch in America

Spring and Fall brings with it several international film festivals in America, especially in metropolitan and culturally diverse cities like New York, Washington DC, Miami, Houston, Austin, and San Francisco. During these international film festivals, goers will be treated to the best in cinema from more than 80 countries in some cases. These festivals offer a glimpses into the cultures, life experiences, and visual artistry of people from around the world.

Below is a list of upcoming international film festivals that you don’t want to miss if you like- or are curious about international cinema. If you love to travel or are curious about the way of life of people from around the world, you’re bound to find so many ways to live vicariously through the beautiful and compelling stories in these international movies.

New York City, NY

New York City International Film Festival, April 3-7, 2017

Known nationally, as well as internationally, the two-week long New York City International Film Festival (INYFF) brings world cinema to NYC from filmmakers around the globe. You’ll find movie showcases with artistic merit and scope from several countries and regions, including two days reserved for films from Latin American countries and China. For more information on tickets, the awards night, and schedule, visit the NYC International Film Festival site.

Houston, TX

Houston WorldFest, April 21 – 30, 2017

Houston’s International film festival, WorldFest Houston, is happening as I write. At WorldFest this year, you can catch more than 50 feature films and 100 short film premiers, at the City’s AMC Studio 30 Dunvale Theaters. The film festival emphasizes American and international independent feature films and features an annual spotlight on an individual country and it’s films–this year it’s China. For tickets, schedule of films and more information, click here.

cinema by caixa de luz, on Flickr
cinema” (CC BY 2.0) by  caixa de luz 

Miami, FL

GEMS Festival of Miami International Film Festival, March 3-12, 2017

The city of Miami’s International Film Festival took place March 4-13, 2016, but international film enthusiasts can catch the GEMS Festival in the Fall. Among its goals, the mission of the Miami International Film Festival has been to bridge cultural understanding through film. The four day film event, GEMS, will be held at MDC’s Tower Theatre Miami, and is slated to feature a specially curated program of new international movies, las joyas de la corona (the crown jewels) as it says, ahead of the Spring festival in 2017. For tickets, schedule and more information, visit the Miami Film festival site.

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017

This is longest running film festival in the Americas, and features a wonderful showcase of over 150 films. It’s rooted in an appreciation of film as both art and agent of social change for world citizens in the Bay area, and treats festival goers to narratives, action and animated shorts, as well as documentaries and more from over 80 countries. More than 70,000 people attend this international film festival each year. For more information, tickets, and film guide visit the San Francisco International Film Festival site here.

seeing is believing at sunset : castro, by torbakhopper, on Flickr
Castro Theatre where San Francisco International Film Festival is held “seeing is believing at sunset : castro,” (CC BY 2.0) by  torbakhopper 

Austin, TX

Austin Film Festival, October 26 – November 2, 2017

The Austin Film Festival (AFF) takes place in mid-October, and will feature 8 nights of international, short and feature films. Festival goers will enjoy over 150 regional, national and world premieres and advanced screening, from Hollywood to wonderful independent cinema, in the form of narratives, animations, documentaries and more.  For badges, passes and more information, visit the Austin Film Festival site.

Washington, DC

Washington DC International Shorts, December 9, 2017

Washington DC International Shorts is a year round film festival that collects and then screens selected movies at the end of each season. You can explore world cultures through comedy, drama, and animations collected, and then watch them when the festival launches in December. For more information on tickets and schedule of events, visit the festival here.

(Feature photo: “AMC Theaters” (CC BY 2.0) by  pasa47).

Go See These 11 Texans Rockin’ International Music

A few months ago, the SXSW Music Festival and Conference took over Austin, Texas, and 11 Texan performers joined over 150 internationally-inspired acts that converged from more than 30 countries to showcase their music. Plus, the city enjoyed live performances from several Texan musicians and performers of international music.

But, world music lovers in Texas don’t have to wait for next year’s music festival to enjoy live performances from these Texan musicians and their ensembles. Take a journey into numerous cultures through music in your backyard through the sounds of the world near you. Here are the bands to check out from across Texas and several international music genres.

1. 1001 Nights Orchestra, Austin, Texas, describes itself as a “buffet of colorful music showcasing Middle Eastern cultures’ diversity and unity,” and beyond; known for music including Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Russian, and more.

1001 Nights Orchestra, Austin, Texas

2. Atash
, Austin, Texas, creates a powerful, worldly and original sound through it’s use of musicians from around the world, as part of spreading it’s message of love and peace.

3. Eddy Kenzo, Dallas, Texas, a Ugandan native, music was a safe haven for Eddy, whose life story was short of magical, and bred a talent that led him to an international audience of thousands.

4. Gina Chaves
, Austin, Texas, Gina’s band has won audiences throughout the U.S. and abroad, as a multi-ethnic Latin pop artist, who is also Austin’s 2015 Musician of the Year.

5. Hard Proof, Austin, Texas,
an Afrobeat ensemble that’s become known for its great sense of rhythm and melody, this group is internationally-inspired from Nigeria to Ethiopia in its adventurous jazz.

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#Austin its your own fault if you missed this magic.

A post shared by Hard Proof (@hardproof) on

6. Intocable, Zapata, Texas, 
creates music because of its belief in it’s power to transcend boundaries- of genres, of borders, of languages, and that’s what we love to hear. You can catch the Mexican-inspired band play Norteño Tejano style of music.

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Coqueta desde Bryan, TX. Gracias por un #llenototal

A post shared by INTOCABLE (@grupointocable) on

7. Joel Laviolette & Rattletree, Austin, Texas,
 takes electronic music onto the live stage, featuring giant wooden marimbas (xylophones), customes, lights, video, and more in his trance inducing music of Zimbabwe.

Joel Laviolette & Rattletree

8. Khali Haat, Austin, Texas
, is a seven-piece collective that recently self-released its debut album of afro-beat, afro-pop and psychedelic-funk.

9. Los Skarnales, Houston, Texas
, performs a true-to-the-root mix of ska, cumbia, and rockabilly, with a punk attitude, throughout the U.S. and Mexico.

10. Henry Brun & The Latin Players
, San Antonio, Texas, a native of Puerto Rico, Henry is a Grammy award-winning Latin Jazz artist, and master at congas, bongos, timbales, and percussion instruments of Africa, Brazil and the Middle East.

Henry Brun & The Latin Playerz

11. The Chamanas, El Paso, Texas,
is a 5 member Latin Indie pop fusion ensemble possesses a unique combination of styles and genres from traditional Mexican folkore to pop, Brazilian Bossa Nova, Indie, Danzon, and more.

Author Jessica Lipowski Shares How to Bike Like The Dutch

Guest Post By Blogger and Author Jessica Lipowski

The city of Amsterdam is synonymous with biking. According to iamsterdam, the Amsterdam Tourist Board, the city is home to an estimated 881,000 bicycles and only 811,185 inhabitants, more bikes than residents. On average, 58 percent of the population cycles daily. Biking is more than a method of transportation; it is a way of life.

Completely different from any other city I’ve experienced, biking in Amsterdam is like a fast-paced game. Peddling along in the designated bike lanes, others fly by, accustomed to the speed. Parked bikes are peppered across the city, sometimes clustered together in huge structures like that at Centraal Station or sitting outside on the street, locked, in residential neighborhoods.

At first, the Dutch intimidated me as they made their way from Point A to Point B while chatting on their cell phone, holding hands with a lover or even riding with an extra passenger sidesaddle on the back. Out of shape, I couldn’t even comprehend biking 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) to commute to work or meet up with friends. My first biking experience in Amsterdam was a disaster, almost colliding with a tram and losing a shoe, twice. Now, after living in the Netherlands for more than four years, I can keep up with the best of them. On average, I bike 8 kilometers (5 miles) one way to go somewhere and weave my way through the city, knowing the fastest route.

Tips for Biking in Amsterdam

  • Stay in designated bike lanes, often marked with a biker painted in the path or with white dotted lines on either side.
  • Observe traffic rules (even if you are tempted to follow someone ignoring signs). One in particular is worth mentioning. There are little triangle shapes on the road, indicating who has the right of way. If the triangles are upside down and facing you, you must yield.
  • While most Dutch do not wear a helmet, it is better to be safe than sorry, especially if you are feeling unsure.
  • Respect other cyclists. It is fine to bike side-by-side, but if it is particularly busy do not block the entire bike path. Be courteous to your fellow cyclists.

Growing up in metro Detroit, I learned to ride my bike as a young girl around the age of six, but biking for me was a fun activity in the spring and summer months. For the Dutch, however, biking is ingrained at a young age. It’s viewed as an efficient mode of transportation, not necessarily promoted for being green or as exercise. Of course, those two aspects are added benefits, most certainly helping the Dutch maintain their slim figures, but the bicycle is a great way to drop off and pick up children from school, do grocery shopping, meet up with friends or get to and from work. Families even cycle in groups, whether heading into the city or for a picnic in the park.

Tips to Incorporate Biking Into Life Back Home

  • Hop on your bike to meet-up with friends, especially if you’re meeting for a drink. If your city does not have designated bike lanes, research cyclist rules and follow those practices. You can also bike on the sidewalk, but respect pedestrians, as well.
  • Explore the local area by bike. Biking gives you the opportunity to look around and take in your surroundings.
  • Instead of taking the car to go grocery shopping, hop on your bike. Invest in saddle bags and a backpack. You will naturally bring less groceries home, but this enables you to shop for a day or two at a time and use the freshest ingredients for your upcoming meal.
  • Research groups in the area that you can join. Who knows; perhaps your new best friend – also a cyclist – is just out there waiting to be found.
  • Wear a helmet.
  • In the end, it’s simple; enjoy!



Follow Jessica Lipowski on Twitter @JLipowski. She is also a host of two weekly twitter chats: a cultural travel chat using the hashtag #CultureTrav and another on the road less travelled (#TRLT).

5 Things You Should Forget for Truly Memorable Travel

When it comes to packing for a memorable trip, you’ll get tons of advice from people telling you what to bring with you. From the right clothing for the climate, to must-have travel essentials and gadgets, and let’s not forget everything related to logistics like the who, what, where, and when of sightseeing when you arrive at your destination.

What most people won’t tell you is how to absorb what you see and do in order to make the most of your trip. It’s up to you to decide how you’ll absorb your surroundings, but the purpose of this list is to give you some tools to help that you don’t even need to pack. Sure, travel feasts the senses, but what speaks to you and reaches your heart during the journey are much deeper than what you’ll carry in your bag.

Keep these 5 ideas in mind before any trip for a truly unique experience and profound memories after.

1. Forget to pack something

While you’re prepping for your trip, you’ll be tempted to come up with the ultimate list of clothing to bring with you. Consider forgetting a few things, you know, purposely. Packing a couple less shirts will encourage you to keep an eye out for replacements in your destination. You’ll know you need it, leaving your mind free to keep an eye out for a couple prized local pieces that’ll have a story.

2. Get out from behind the camera

Find a shop and buy a journal. A nice, locally handmade notebook is ideal, and then put pen to paper and write what your heart feels as a result of what you do and see, visually or in your mind’s eye. Think about what words and pictures describe your surroundings and jot or sketch them down. A locally-made journal also makes a great memento. You can even tuck keepsakes you find like pretty leaves or flowers between the pages.

3. Don’t learn too much before hand

Sure, you should learn ahead of time what piques your interest, but leave some room for your imagination. Once you get to your destination, pay attention to what makes you curious and then give into it. Do you see an interesting sign, a piece of art, or intriguing person sitting down at a cafe? Linger, browse or walk in. Whenever you feel a nagging feeling, that’s your heart telling you to explore.

4. Pick up on local customs

The best way to identify with others is to put yourself in their shoes. Do people take breaks at interesting times during the day, like a siesta? Take one, too. Do people eat meals earlier or later than you’re used to? Find out what’s customary in your destination and follow suit.

5. Remember that people are people

You might be tempted to spend your time in places where you see familiar attributes. If you let your heart guide you, you’ll end up in a unique shop or an eatery made up of locals, and you’re guaranteed to discover something you didn’t know you’d love. Every time you interact with someone new, or someplace new, you’ll find that while the gestures might be different, a genuine greeting is always recognizable.

The next time you’re traveling, remember these five ideas for a more memorable experience. When you remember to follow these tips, to keep an eye out for greater experiences than you’ve imagined, to get on their level and to identify with them, you’re bound to feed more than your senses.

This is Why America is not a ‘Melting Pot’

It’s been proven that beauty is refined in diversity. Because when we take a canvas and mix, or melt, all the colors together into a single composition, it blocks individual characteristics and essentially creates a void of color.

So, to me, America is not a melting pot. It’s a kaleidoscope of color.

By allowing each individual color’s unique properties to shine on its own part of the canvas, it brings out a composition that is pure, and ‘cultured’ because it’s free of our own coarse perceptions of what is beautiful. That’s also how I see diversity and the cultural contributions of immigrants in the U.S., and why I became inspired to join and partner with the campaign celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month in June.

In America, especially in recent years, we’ve gratefully had opportunities to chase our dreams, to travel, and to see and get to know the world through the places we go and people we meet along the way. Along the way, we discover affinities and commonalities, not by mixing them up, but rather by viewing them in light of their natural beauty, and then adopting them with an open heart.

But only if you let your guard down.

It takes courage, knowledge, empathy and love to do that. I think for most people who have ever gone to a local cultural event or traveled abroad, and gone out of their comfort zone, they get it.

I founded the cultural event company MezzeCulture in 2015 and the online magazine Mezze Weekly this year to help more people do that. To encourage the nearly half of Americans who’ve never traveled abroad to do it, and those who have to do more of it. Both communities are about exploring cultures through stories and activities in your backyard. Local businesses become beacons of world discovery, for getting to know the world in our own backyards.


Nearly 1 in 5 small businesses, and almost 40% of restaurants are owned by recent immigrants, those who are foreign born, first or second generation immigrants. Why? Because they’ve gone out of their comfort zone too and reaped the rewards. They have a cultural story, and are eager to share it with anyone who is willing to listen and in the cases of services businesses like restaurants and musicians, to experience it socially.

It is when we can see, empathize with and appreciate the characteristics of the individual, that the ever changing beautiful canvas of a kaleidoscope comes  into view. America’s rich multicultural heritage makes it the most diverse country in the world. It is home to 189 million citizens spanning 15 ancestries, and over 80 million foreign-born, first- and second-generation Americans.

Yet only half of our country has ever traveled abroad.

I’m grateful to have traveled internationally, letting my guard down, learning to bridge different cultures—both as an American and as the daughter of immigrant parents. My experiences have brought an inherent understanding of the unique challenges of being an American of recent immigrants, but also of the multidimensional refinement of our perception of beauty when one culture is allowed to be positioned next to another.

For the half of Americans who have passports and have experienced the diversity in the world, millions are shedding light on the beauty of our local immigrant communities. It is only when international experiences—whether abroad or locally—reach the heart that empathy can develop to illuminate the beauty of diversity in our own backyards.


“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was born in America in 1983, as a first generation American to immigrant parents of Middle Eastern heritage, and today feel fortunate to live in a country that has the greatest potential to be tolerant of differences, where we can get to know people of different backgrounds because of America’s heritage.

I’m also proud to be a partner because I believe that by elevating the worldwide influences that make America unique, we can break down barriers, span distances and bridge cultural divides by uplifting the history, authenticity and charm of our country’s rich multicultural heritage.

It’s a privilege to share my story to support the like-minded mission of co-founder Tolu Olubunmi, and her team, who are showcasing the inspirational stories of American immigrants, who will one day ha e the same opportunities as citizens who came before them. residents who  MezzeCulture is my way of helping to elevate immigrant businesses in local communities by turning international travel experiences inside out and illuminate them locally.

In an age of globalization, it’s often easy to forget the origin and value of the unique people and places around us, but through MezzeCulture and Mezze Weekly’s communities, local businesses and partners we can unite across diversity by celebrating cultural heritage through every destination, experience and story contributed to both platforms to intersect the cultural affinities we have in common.


At both MezzeCulture and Mezze Weekly, this collective effort can expand not only cultural tourism in every city the platform reaches, but also creative and enrichment tourism activities anywhere. The MezzeCulture platform is starting with Austin, Houston, Miami, Washington DC, New York City, and San Francisco.

For more than half of Americans who have never traveled abroad and even for veteran travelers who relish in authentic cultural experiences, barriers often get in the way of international travel. My hope is that both MezzeCulture and Mezze Weekly encourage people to get to know the world through the cultures, traditions and origins of the immigrants around them in addition to the inspiration they’re used to through guide books, online media and television.


By trying international culture expressed through food, drink, music, shopping, and more locally, people can be inspired to integrate, embrace and overcome barriers like cultural knowledge, and time, hassle or cost of travel, while sampling international activities in their own city to illuminate a kaleidoscope of color, so to say.

Sources: Ancestry statistics according to the 2000 U.S. Census; Immigration statistics according to a 2015 article.