Saturday, December 11, 2021

Czechia (Czech Republic)

Our neighbors surprised us again with some fun snacks from Czechia left over from their Universal Yums box!  When I studied Czechia as a child, it was still part of Czechoslovakia, so it was fun to get to learn about what has happened since then and focus on the Czech culture.  Full of castles and old traditions, it sounds like a country we would love to visit!

Video List

There were some fun and unusual (to us) flavor combinations in the Czechia snacks we received from our friends.  Our kids enjoyed the apple cinnamon gummy straws:

On the other hand, my favorite was the spicy mustard chips!

Coming home from an activity, we stumbled across Sasha's European Market and HAD to go in and check it out!  While it mostly carries Russian goods, they did have some sparkling water from Czechia that we purchased to go along with all of our snacks.

We were also lucky enough to find an authentic Czech restaurant!  A quick Google search turned up Little Gretel, which we had always thought was just a German restaurant.  Reading this article from the San Antonio magazine set us straight, and we were super excited to go! 

We ordered the Svickova (beef with bread dumplings - on the far left), spaetzle (center left), Bohemian herb roasted duck (top middle), Jaeger Schnitzel (bottom center), Czech potato salad (center right), and Bavarian meatloaf (far right).  It was all really delicious, and the kids even enjoyed the cabbage.

For dessert, we ordered Czech kolaches in all of the offered varieties: farmer's cheese and fruit, poppyseed, and plum jelly.  We divvied them up so that we each got to try every flavor.  We decided that we would be very happy eating in Czechia!

Sunday, October 31, 2021


 Next up was supposed to be Albania, if we were going to go in alphabetical order.  However, we have some wonderful neighbors who have a subscription to Universal Yums, and they shared over half of their snacks from the Indonesia box, along with the cool pamphlet and map.  So fun!!  We learned that Indonesia is made up of thousands and thousands of beautiful islands located between Southeast Asia and Australia with hundreds of different ethnic and linguistic groups.

Video List

We had so much fun with the food, thanks to our generous friends who shared their snacks with us!  You can see some of the snacks on the Universal Yums Indonesian Snacks page.  We weren't a fan of the Matcha Chocolate Chip Cookies, but the Sweet & Spicy Chili Corn Nuts were a hit, as were the Strawberry Cow Gummies.

For our actual Indonesian dinner, we weren't able to find a solely Indonesian restaurant here in San Antonio.  Instead, we ordered Indomie instant noodles (Mi goreng flavor) from Amazon and found a recipe for chicken satay online at Allrecipes.  This particular recipe used ingredients that we had.  There were some more authentic recipes that we were interested in, but we weren't able to find Indonesian sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) or birds eye chilis locally, so we opted for the Allrecipes version.

The ramen was delicious!  If you use all of the seasoning packets (there are five!), it is quite spicy, but it is a more subtle burn that doesn't drown out the delicious flavor.

The satay was yummy, but the peanut sauce that goes on top is more of an acquired taste that my kids weren't crazy about.  There are so many other Indonesian foods I wish we could try (see here and here), but we had a blast with the ones that we did!

Saturday, October 9, 2021


We had already been planning on going through the countries alphabetically when the US withdrawal from Afghanistan hit the news.  We were horrified when the country fell quickly to the Taliban and have been participating with local initiatives to contribute to the resettlement of Afghan refugees to our area.  All of this made our study of Afghanistan both timely and personal as we tried to understand the country, its history and heritage, and what might be in store for them in the future.

 Video List

Here are some other good videos that we didn't have time to get to as a family:


When it came time to experience the food of Afghanistan, I was thrilled to find out that there was a restaurant of authentic Afghan cuisine not far from where we lived!  Called Azro, it even offered curbside pickup through their online ordering option (not available from the website, but if you search up the restaurant using Google, you will see a big blue "Order Online" button in the Google sidebar about the restaurant - use that).  The food was amazing, every member of the family loved it, and it is one of our all-time favorite country meals so far!

Here is what we ordered (going L to R, top to bottom):

  • Borani Badenjan - a chunky eggplant spread that was really similar to the eggplant salad we had from Iraq and soooo delicious!
  • Borani Kadoo - similar to the Borani Badenjan but with pumpkin instead of eggplant, it had a milder and sweeter taste
  • Mantoo - steamed dumplings filled with ground beef, it had cilantro in it (which most of our family isn't a fan of, but wasn't overpowering in this dish) / We couldn't help but make the connection with Korean mandu, which are also meat-filled dumplings
  • Appetizer Sampler - Bolani Gandana (leek turnovers), Bolani Kachaloo (potato turnovers), Sambosa (pastries filled with ground beef very similar to Indian samosas), and Aushak (Afghan-style ravioli similar to the Mantoo)
  • Combination Kabab - Kabab-e-Morgh (chicken - red from spices), Kabab-e-Gosfand (chunks of lamb), Kabab-e-Kofta (ground beef), and Kabab-e-Qaburgha (lamb chop - bone-in) served over a bed of brown rice (brown from spices, not what we think of as brown rice)
  • Flatbread - just called Afghan bread on the menu, it is very similar to Indian naan
  • House Salad - similar to other Mediterranean salads, it has a yogurt dressing and cucumbers (light and refreshing!)
  • Kabuli Palow - since we already had lamb with the kababs, we opted for chicken with kabuli rice for this entree / This was the standout star of the meal!  Kabuli rice is spiced and cooked with carrots and raisins and almond slices.  Although the presence of raisins in rice gave my kids some hesitation at first, we all tried it and agreed that it was amazing!  And the chicken was super tender and tasty.
Not pictured was our desserts.  We ordered the coconut cake (because how can you go wrong with coconut cake?) and ferni (milk custard pudding made with almonds, cardamom, and rosewater and sprinkled with crushed pistachios).  Both were quite good!

Friday, September 24, 2021


 We had talked about trying to study the countries in alphabetical order, largely so we could follow along sequentially with the videos put out by Geography Now, a YouTube channel that we end up using for every country (unless they haven't made the video about that country yet).  However, after discovering that San Antonio had a Jollibee, we really wanted to try it out, so Philippines, here we come!

Video List

Link List

We were really excited to try out our local Jollibee!  Their main offering is fried chicken, but since we have lots of experience with fried chicken, I thought we would order some of the other dishes that we don't normally get to have.  So I got a Burger Steak Family Pack (it seems like a fast food take on Bistek Tagalog), a Palabok Fiesta Family Pack, and a collection of their Peach Mango Pies.  We were super bummed that Halo Halo wasn't on the menu (especially after my husband and I had watched Anthony Bourdain talk it up - small swear alert in that video clip), but pushed ahead anyway.

It was fun to go through the drive thru at Jollibee's and see lots of Filipino families inside.  Helped us know we came to the right place!

The food was fun, but definitely fast food, meaning that the pies (while tasty) were deep fried and super sweet, and the burgers were savory but limp.  The palabok was not what we had expected.  The flavor is very mild and almost sweet, while the bits of pork rind and little shrimp on top were chewy.

After eating the fast food version of Filipino food, we decided to give a real sit-down Filipino restaurant a try.  And of course, we had to pick somewhere with Halo Halo!  I did some searching online and turned up Sari Sari about 20 minutes away, which not only looked like it carried really authentic Filipino food, but looked like it was just a great restaurant overall.  (Later when I mentioned to a Filipino friend at church that I had finally gotten to try Halo Halo, she asked, "Did you go to Sari Sari?" I was so glad I could say, "Yes!")

They had a great online order feature, so we did carryout.  We got the Lumpia (fried spring rolls) and BBQ Sticks (kebabs) from the menu, and they were both really fabulous.  My boys raved over the BBQ Sticks for days afterwards!  We also ordered Kare-Kare (oxtail in a creamy peanut stew), Palabok (because we wanted to try a non-fast food version), and Sisig (chopped pork belly with citrus, onion, and chili peppers and topped with a fried egg).  Actually, the palabok from Jollibee's wasn't that crazy different.  Sari Sari obviously had higher quality ingredients, but the flavoring and structure of the dish were largely the same.  (Side note: palabok does not do well as a leftover.)  The Sisig was savory and spicy and worked well over rice, and the Kare Kare was good but not as rich as we had expected.

Last but not least was the Halo Halo!

I had brought a cooler with ice for the carryout and put it right in the freezer when we got home, but it was still a little melty by the time we got to eat it.  However, it was still delish!

The Halo Halo at Sari Sari had (from what we could tell): fruity pebbles cereal, flan, ube ice cream, strawberry tuile rolls, mixed jellied fruits, shaved ice, milk (sweetened condensed?), white beans of some sort, a purple bean paste, and maybe coconut something?  The further down we went, the less we were sure of what was in there, but it was all so yummy we didn't even care.  It is a the perfect treat for a Texas summer.  Halo Halo for the win!

Saturday, June 19, 2021


My kids knew just enough about Japanese cuisine and pop culture to be super excited to study Japan!  We are big fans of sushi, mochi ice cream, Studio Ghibli, and Pokémon - just to name a few.  It also has close cultural ties with Taiwan (where my mom is from) and Korea (where my husband lived for two years).  It is definitely on our travel bucket list!

Video List

We had SO MUCH FUN eating lots of different Japanese snacks, desserts, foods, and treats!  First stop was to World Market to pick up an assortment of Japanese items

The rice crackers were super yummy and a surprise hit with the kids.  We also found out that Japan has over 200 different flavors of Kit Kats, with about 40 of them being available at any given time on the market.  We watched a couple of videos of people trying different Japanese Kit Kat flavors, but none that I feel I can recommend without reservation.

We used the Miso & Easy paste to make miso soup and homemade sunomono (using my mom's recipe) to eat with a chicken teriyaki dish my husband made (super simple recipe he found in a recipe's comments section - sorry for not having a link!).

Later, we also had another dinner from Sapporo Sushi and Asian Fusion, a local restaurant recommended to us by some friends who love a good deal on sushi.  We had a couple of the shrimp tempura appetizers, two jazz rolls (avocado, eel, crab stick topped with crunchy crumb and eel sauce), and two two otaru rolls (avocado, tuna, and salmon).  Add in some brown rice and mochi ice cream we picked up at HEB, and you have a fantastic meal!

We thought we were done after that, but then I saw one of the snacks featured in the Buzzfeed video above for sale at our local HEB - the Popin' Cookin' sushi candy kit!  Although the taste of the candy isn't anything particularly special, my kids had a lot of fun making everything, and it looked pretty great!

This is one country that I don't think we will ever stop learning about!

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Eurovision 2021

 Have you ever heard of Eurovision?  Maybe if you've seen the Netflix movie The Story of Fire Saga.  But did you know it is how ABBA made it big?  They won the contest in 1974.  And Celine Dion - she won in 1988.  Think American Idol but with each contestant/group representing a country in Europe.  And they go all out in their performances!

This year I found out that was carrying Eurovision LIVE!  So we joined up on the 18th of May to watch the first round of semi-finals.  We missed the second round on the 20th but watched the entire finals on the 22nd - so exciting!!  I won't give away who wins, but I will say that it was a lot of fun.  We also made it educational by finding the countries on a map, and some of the jury votes went along with their country connections, so we could talk about those international relationships.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Koreas

We were super excited to study North and South Korea because my husband lived in South Korea for two years while serving a mission for our church, so he had a lot of fun memories that he could share with us.  He spent most of his time in Seoul except for five months he was in Donghae.  He even had a chance to visit the DMZ!

Video List 

We had a LOT of fun with the food and snacks!

First, we ordered a Korean snack pack off of Amazon.  We split everything six ways, so you don't get a lot of any one thing, but it still took us a few days to get through it all.  The biggest hits were the Milkis, the Crown Sando cream cookies, and the rice senbei crackers.

Next we found a Korean Market here in San Antonio.  My husband Dave picked up more Milkis and Crown Sando cookies, of course, but also Pocari Sweat (a sports drink that is actually Japanese, but that my husband had while in Korea), Aloe Dream (so so yummy!), a red bean bun, and fresh kimchi.

To top it all off, my husband made bulgogi!  He used a spicy pork bulgogi recipe but substituted chicken instead of pork.  It was spicy, but not so much that my kids couldn't eat it.  It was so delicious, I requested it again for Mother's Day!

South Korea is definitely a place we would love to visit some day!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Moldova (and Transnistria)

Moldova was a really good country to learn about, as none of us (parents included) were familiar with it.  It also opened up some good conversations about the history of the region, as well as terms like the Cold War and the EU.  Located between Romania and Ukraine, it has strong ties to Romania and a lot of Russian influence.  Home to the largest wine cellar in the world, it seems like a country still trying to get its footing in the post-Cold War era.  

Transnistria is recognized internationally as part of Moldova but is an autonomous region located on the eastern edge of Moldova between the Dniester River and Ukraine.  It has its own capital, currency, passport, etc.

Video Links

Food Links

our homemade mamaliga

I thought the recipe for mamaliga looked pretty easy and we had most of the ingredients on hand, so I gave it a shot.  Unfortunately, I think I made two major mistakes: the corn meal I used was a little old, and I didn't boil it for long enough.  While the corn meal we have on hand was fine for corn bread, mamaliga is pretty much nothing BUT cornmeal, so the past-prime flavor of the corn meal had nothing to hide behind.  Also, the texture of the mamaliga ended up being more creamy and cheesecake-like instead of bread-like, which I ascribe to not boiling it for long enough.  It said to boil until thickened, but I must have jumped the gun and moved on as soon as it had thickened instead of giving it the full recommended time on the stove.

With all of that in mind, it is no surprise that it wasn't a hit with the kiddos.  I served it with sour cream and feta as recommended (and forgot to take a picture of the slices, which actually looked kind of pretty) so we managed to all try some, but we aren't going to make it through this whole loaf, that's for sure!

Saturday, February 27, 2021


 Our next country kept us in the same region; we went from Lebanon to Iraq!  As much as Iraq has been in the news over the past couple of decades, not much is explained about the country outside of the scope of the War on Terror, so I appreciated the chance to get to know the country outside of the political lens.  Often called the Cradle of Civilization, Iraq is the main location of ancient Mesopotamia and the Babylonian Empire (along with Syria).

Culture and History Videos

We had a hard time finding travel videos about Iraq, probably because many areas have not been considered safe to travel to for many years.  But we were able to find some about the Iraqi Kurdistan region.  While a little long, it was nice to get some on-the-ground feel for the country.

Travel & Food Videos
Traditional Iraqi Food Lists

I couldn't believe our good fortune when I found a local restaurant that carried Iraqi dishes!  Kabachi Grill had several items on their menu that we were excited to try: Iraqi Eggplant Salad, Biryani Rice, Iraqi-style Char-grilled Chicken, Iraqi Masgoof (grilled fish), and Iraqi Coconut Fudge (Halawa Dihiniyya or Daheen).  We also got some flatbread, hummus, red rice (rice cooked with tomato sauce) and salad with the dishes - yum!!

The eggplant salad (two square clear containers near the bottom) was sooo tasty!  The masgoof was fun but salty, and it was a new experience for my kiddos to deal with fish bones.  😂  The chicken and both types of rice were a hit, and the fudge (not pictured) was phenomenal.  And how can you go wrong with flatbread and hummus?  So glad we could try out Iraqi foods!

Saturday, January 16, 2021


 We are so excited to learn about Lebanon next!  There are many things I hope to learn as we journey virtually to each of these places, but gaining a better understanding of the history and people of the Middle East / Levant region is a specific goal I have.  Lebanon is a fantastic introduction to the area.  Located north of Israel and west of Syria, the Lebanese Republic is the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East and has a history that goes back over 7,000 years.

Videos we watched:

There are actually some great virtual tours of locations in Lebanon available online too:
Of course, to top off our country study, we can't miss out on trying the food!  We found a Lebanese restaurant not far from us called Zaatar Lebanese Grill.  I had been keeping a list of the foods mentioned in the videos above to try and make sure we tried those, and luckily this restaurant served almost all of them - yum!

Apologies for the poor pictures - we were so busy eating that we forgot to take anything other than a family pic!  Things we ate:
  • kibbeh - a wheat shell with ground meat inside - near the top of the pic slightly on the right
  • tabbouleh - a finely chopped salad of parsley, cucumber, tomato, olive oil & lemon juice - bowl near the middle of the pic, slightly right
  • fattoush - a green salad with radishes and tomatoes - seen on the plates
  • manoush - a flatbread pizza with various toppings: akawi cheese, lahme (spiced ground beef), zaatar (a spice and olive oil blend), and spinach - in box on bottom right
  • warak arish - grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice - in the clear containers at the very top of the photo
  • several kinds of meat kabobs & rice - the big aluminum contained in the middle
  • hummus - black bowl on the bottom
  • baba ghannouj - roasted eggplant dip with pomegranate seeds on top as a garnish - to the right of the hummus
  • falafel and pita bread
  • Lebanese milk cake - like tres leches cake but garnished with pistachio and rose - not pictured
The kibbeh was a big hit with everyone, and falafel and hummus are always a favorite in our house.  The kids had to stretch themselves a bit with some of the other dishes, especially the warak arish and the spinach manoush, but each dish goes best in conjunction with the others instead of as a standalone.  And my husband and I will happily be eating delicious leftovers all weekend!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Papua New Guinea

 Next up - Papua New Guinea!  This country is a fascinating place with such well-preserved diversity - linguistically, ethnically, and in their flora and fauna.  We have watched a lot of nature documentaries so were vaguely familiar with some of the amazing species of birds that live there, but it was wonderful to be able to take a deeper dive and really get to know more about Papua New Guinea.

Our video list:

In researching for our meal, I found this really interesting survey of the people and cuisine of Papua New Guinea done by the Australian Government's Department:  Wikipedia also had some useful information:

I saw that mumu was a dish mentioned over and over again in the articles I read, with Wikipedia even calling it 'the national dish of Papua New Guinea.'  So I decided that is what we would make!  Mumu is more of a method and general style of dish than a specific recipe, so I pulled from several sites to put together my plan for making mumu at home:

  • Mumu - International Cuisine:
  • Papuan New Guinean Mumu - Coffee & Vanilla:
  • Mumu - The Fair Trade Cook Book:
Luckily, our local grocery store is fairly well-stocked in a wide variety of items, so I was able to get plantains, taro root, a pineapple, bunches of spinach, and a banana leaf in my normal grocery run, along with a cut of pork belly.

I decided to go the route of using a foil-lined roaster pan that was then layered as follows: banana leaf, greens (spinach), root vegetables chopped and peeled (taro root, plantain, homegrown sweet potato/yam), chunks of pork belly, cubed fresh pineapple, greens (the rest of the spinach), and banana leaf.  For spices, I liberally sprinkled each layer (except for the pineapple) with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I also sprinkled curry powder on the pork layer and then drizzled coconut milk over the pineapple layer. 

Once the final banana leaf layer was placed on, I sealed everything in aluminum foil and then baked at 400 degrees for over an hour, checking once after 45 minutes.

Once finished, it looked a lot like the pictures in the online recipes, so I felt pretty good about the execution.  We had everyone try a little bit of every ingredient in the mumu so they would get the full experience, and overall it went pretty well.  The pineapple flavor didn't overpower everything the way we thought it might, but the plantain flavor was new and did give everything a taste of unfamiliarity that took the kids a little bit of getting used to.  The least favorite part was the cooked spinach - no surprise there.  Overall, everyone did pretty well with it and we cleared at least two-thirds of this dish at dinner.

For dessert, I bought tapioca pudding cups, as I thought that would be the closest thing to Saksak I could get locally.  I was not much of a fan of tapioca as a kid, but it isn't too bad and the kids enjoyed it.

I'll leave you with a clip of the nature documentary series Our Planet that we watched on Netflix - the birds of paradise of the island of New Guinea:

Friday, January 1, 2021

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has such a long and complicated history that spans the entire globe, not to mention the fact that it is comprised of four member countries, fourteen British Overseas Territories, and three Crown dependencies.  There is a lot to dive into and learn about, but we tried to keep it contained so we can get to more countries in a shorter amount of time - we still have so many to go! 

Unfortunately, our favorite geography resource - YouTube's Geography Now! channel - has not made it to United Kingdom yet in their videos, as they are working on them alphabetically.  Luckily, we had the next best thing - CGP Grey!  While not strictly a geography channel, CGP Grey tackles lot of interesting questions in a very engaging way, and he has done a number of explanatory videos on political aspects of the UK.  We watched two of them as part of our study, as well as a brief history video we found elsewhere:

We also found these videos interesting in learning about the foods, sites, and culture of the UK:
We also tried to do a bit of a dive into a couple of the four countries that comprise the larger United Kingdom:


I feel like we only scratched the surface of learning about the United Kingdom, but it solidified our family's desire to travel there!

We have a restaurant nearby - The Lion and Rose - that advertises itself as a traditional British pub.  So we had to try it out!  We tried to pick out the types of dishes we had been learning about: scotch eggs, the Tour of Britain (fish & chips, shepherd's pie, Irish banger sausages, and broiled tomatoes), bangers and mash (with English pork banger sausages), bubble & squeak (mashed potatoes with cabbage), and the king's bread pudding and English trifle for dessert.

Scotch eggs - hard-boiled eggs, coated in sausage and bread crumbs and then fried

bubble and squeak, front and center, with breaded and fried mushrooms
(shepherd's pie is in the styrofoam cups, with fish & chips on the left and bangers & mash on the right)

Maybe it was just our kids' moods that night, but they actually complained more about this meal than they have for any of our past meals.  Maybe it was that it was so close to being familiar that they didn't care for the change in textures or flavors?  I have to admit that the items aren't quite as ... savory as we are used to in American cooking.  Fewer spices are used.  But Dave & I enjoyed it, and the desserts were both a hit (of course).  And we tried to turn it into a good lesson on having an open mind and good attitude when we travel or experience new places and foods.

Twelve countries down, only 184+ more to go!