James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

R&K Insider: From the Middle East to the Mountain State

Meet the engineer-turned-entrepreneur who runs a food truck in Berlin. Also, why are Israel and Palestine fighting over a flower?

This post originally appeared on April 27, 2018, in Anup Kaphle’s weekly newsletter. Read the archives and subscribe to the newsletter.

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Happy Friday, folks.

It’s been more than seven years since the Arab Spring, the protests that began in Tunisia and then Egypt, before spreading across the region. This morning, we’ve published a fascinating story about a man who camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square when those mass protests began in Egypt. But the story of Muhammad Radwan, an Egyptian-American engineer, didn’t stop there. Weeks after celebrating the fall of Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly three decades, he flew to Damascus for work. A month later, he was detained by Syrian officials—and then kept in a prison where he was tortured and forced to confess that he was a spy. He was later released, and he returned to Cairo to run a tech startup for young inventors in the agriculture field.

Well, his story didn’t end there either. Two years ago, Radwan moved to Berlin and decided to start a food truck. He drives from his suburban home to the city center where he serves koshary, a wildly popular Egyptian snack, to Berliners. Today, thousands of miles from Egypt, his food truck has become a meeting point for Arab activists and artists who have sought refuge in Germany—but are who are keen to connect, reminisce, and feast on a classic bowl of koshary. In a way, his food truck has become sort of a “Little Egypt on wheels.”

Radwan has remixed the Egyptian dish, offering avocado and quinoa in the “Kalifornia” plate, olives in the Greek-inspired “Kalamata” dish, and couscous and raisins in the Moroccan fused “Kasablanca.” The use of the letter K denotes how these places or ingredients are spelled in German, as a way to connect with his growing German-speaking customer base.

I hope you read and share his story.

Earlier this week, we also published another great piece that combines politics and food—a thorny plant that has become the latest subject of dispute between Israel and Palestine in the West Bank. Palestinians have been eating the plant, Akoub, for generations. But now the Israelis want to protect the wild thistle because they say its population is severely depleted. Read the full story here.

Here’s something else you might find worth your time: R&K sister-site Explore Parts Unknown also published a deep dive into West Virginia. It has some great reads, like what’s it like to be black and hunt and how the pepperoni roll went from being a humble miner’s lunch into the state’s favorite snack. But my personal favorite: an illustrated guide to preparing a squirrel. Not into Sciuridae? We’ve got you covered, too: here’s a step-by-step recipe for an old-fashioned vinegar pie. Let us know how it is if you make it.

Now, about as far as you can get from Middle Eastern dishes and West Virginian snacks, would you like to know what the North Korean leader ate for dinner? Kim Jong-un, who crossed the border into South Korea for a historic meeting overnight, was set to be welcomed with an elaborately prepared feast, featuring dishes like this pancake to remind him of his younger years in Switzerland and bibimbap made with vegetables grown between the two Koreas. The dessert apparently features a mango mousse decorated with a map of unified Korea. And that’s not even half of what was being planned for Kim.

What did Kim bring from Pyongyang? No one knows. But he may have brought his own toilet.

And finally, I’ll leave you with this four-minute music video by Azerbaijan’s government. Come for the guitar riffs, stay for rocket launchers and heavy artillery.

See you guys next Friday.

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If you’re a roving journalist who wants to write for us, here are some guidelines on how to pitch us your story ideas. If you’re a regular reader of R&K, send us your thoughts and comments on what you like, what you don’t, and what we could do better. I’m at anup@roadsandkingdoms.com.

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