From Mesa to Germany in 15 Minutes

From Mesa to Germany in 15 Minutes

As a lover of all things travel related, I have found that food is a huge component of travel that cannot be ignored. I have always loved seeking out new foods whenever I’m in another country. And when I'm not traveling, I love finding ethnic restaurants in my hometown to satisfy, not only my cravings for international foods, but also my longing to be in a new culture. It's fascinating to be able to drive ten miles up the road to a locally owned ethnic restaurant and feel like I've actually entered into the country itself. It's not always just the food that's attractive, but being in an atmosphere that feels like you've been teleported out of America into a totally unique culture. The food is just a bonus.

Recently, America has seen corporately owned restaurants popping up in every corner of the country. We’ve gone from down-to-earth, locally owned mom-and-pop shops to huge franchises in a matter of years. We’ve focused our attention and stomachs to places like Chilis, Outback Steakhouse, and Taco Bell. I don’t think we realized that right outside our doorsteps there is a world of locally owned diversified restaurants, where you can get a more authentic taste than any chain restaurant. Some may think that immigrated ethnic cuisine has lost its touch, due to the overflow of delicious and affordable chain restaurants, but for anyone looking to support local and immigrated foods, here is a guide to several culturally relevant restaurants right in Arizona. Since many of us can’t afford to jump on a plane today to Germany to chow down on an authentic Deutschland bratwurst, or to go on a wine tasting tour in Australia,  I’ll take us down the street to get the same great tasting piece of meat, and more delicious cuisine from all over the world.


Zur Kate German Restaurant

Since 1983, Zur Kate has been a hidden German gem tucked in a forgotten strip mall in Mesa. It began when Günther and Irene Krause left their well-established restaurant in Hamburg, Germany and journeyed towards the ‘Land of the Free’ where they settled in the Grand Canyon State. With experience in butchering, culinary skills, and managing their own local restaurant, the Krauses’ opened Zur Kate in Mesa. They were joined by Horst Schlembauch, a 23-year-old immigrant from Bayern, Germany, who is now the owner. Walk into this little shop and you’ll be fascinated by the elegant traditional German decor. The walls are filled with a variety of paintings of Germany, assorted animal heads, and German hunting rifles. Flags from every region in Germany align the eastern wall.  A large community table, where you’ll be obligated to talk with your neighbors, sits amidst cozy booths. 
As you converse with your fellow visitors, a seasoned accordionist will serenade you with traditional German tunes. Some songs may even cause you to get up and dance. The first time I came, an old woman couldn’t help but jiggle her body to the tunes. And to spice it up a bit, the accordion player began the infamous “Chicken Dance” melody. The poor lady didn’t know the dance moves, so a young man got up and taught her. My friends and I, in our booth, did the motions from afar and were encouraged to get up on the dance floor. Sorry, but I preferred dancing from the comfort of my seat, thank you. But if you so feel led to move your body, the staff will certainly not forbid you.
The menu will overwhelm you, in a good way, with an assortment of diverse Bratwurst and Schnitzel, along with the choice of two sides, including a distinctive German potato salad, home fries, spätzle (an egg-noodle dish), and sauerkraut. The bratwurst here was just as I remembered it in Munich. There is not one dish on the menu that is over $12. If you’re much of a drinker, you can’t leave the place without trying one of the many authentic German beers right on tap. Prices of beers range from $2-$4. This highly affordable, authentic German restaurant is the best place to go if you’re looking for something to satisfy your unique European cravings.


Down Under Wine and Bistro

After living in Australia for a year, I knew I had to check this place out! I wasn’t let down. Love wine? How about having a true Aussie wine served and recommended by a true Aussie himself? At Down Under Wines and Bistro in Gilbert, this can happen to you. Roger Carpenter, a typical looking blonde hair, blue eyed Australian, came from the Land Down Under to Arizona to open what is the only Australian restaurant in Arizona. Walking in to this darling bistro, you’ll see all things wine and all things Australian….boomerangs, aboriginal art, and even a wine shop at the front of the restaurant. You have a choice of sitting at one of the glass-top wine barrel tables, which reveal wine corks from several wine bottles, or on cooler nights, sit outside on the patio. The lights are dim, the
mood is calming, and the people are friendly. I suggest you forego the classic Outback Steakhouse on Saturday night and head over to Down Under Wines, where you’ll hear live acoustic music, and if you’re a wine addict, you can sign up for the Saturday night wine tasting. For just $20, you’ll have a taste of five wines, plus an appetizer. Not a bad deal, hey? The Wine Menu consists of wines for all types of wine lovers. The sweet tooths can enjoy light wines like a Riesling or Moscato. The white wine drinkers can choose different types ofChardonnay from California to South Australia. And for the red wine lovers, there’s a Gemtree “Tatty Road” from South Australia, A Four Sisters Merlot from Southeast Australia, and various other red blends. Of course, they also carry the infamous Coopers beer, a favorite among Aussies.
Crocodile Potstickers
If you’re not a drinker, but have a daring and  adventurous spirit, come to Down Under to try  one of their infamous Australian dishes. I did. When I visited for my 21st birthday a few months ago, I started out with the Crocodile Potstickers appetizer with a plan to have Kangaroo as my main dish. Unfortunately, the server informed me that PETA had recently banned the import of Kangaroo. Bummer! Instead, I went for the next best thing, rabbit stuffed with jalapeno. Why? I’m not quite sure. It was something unique and something quite good. Other dishes include shrimp on the barbie, grilled barramundi (a type of fish), New Zealand mussels, and a range of decadent desserts, all meals for under $17. To complement my delicious dinner, the owner was kind enough to offer me a complimentary Sparkling Shiraz from South Australia. He wanted to get me started on my new life as a legal alcohol consumer. Then to top it off, the server brought me a piece of cake free of charge to wish me a Happy Birthday. Great service! If the food doesn’t give you enough reason to visit, their monthly events certainly will. July consisted of events like “Doggie Day Brunch” where you and your dog can enjoy some delicious treats together, “Karaoke Night”, and “Christmas in July” to celebrate Roger’s (the owner) 60th birthday. So, if you’re ready to try something exotically exciting, Down Under Wines and Bistro is ready for you.


The Nile Café

In this clean, Mediterranean infused restaurant in Scottsdale, you can either choose to go Greek or Egyptian for your meal. The Nile Café is run by an Egyptian woman named Souzan. I had the incredible opportunity to visit Egypt a few months ago with a group of my friends. Prior to our trip, Souzan helped us learn some Egyptian Arabic. She taught us the phrase As-salem All-ay-koom, which translates to peace be upon you. This is a typical greeting among Egyptians, and is responded with all-ay-koom salem. Souzan is very friendly and willing to answer any questions about her culture and the food. The menu consists of anything from Shawarma sandwiches to Koshari, a favorite among Egyptians, consisting of lentils, rice, macaroni noodles, and tomato sauce. I ate Koshari nearly every day in Egypt. It’s very rare to find this dish here, because it’s a very traditional meal in Egypt and not well known among Americans.                                      
Chicken Shawarma Sandwich
For appetizers, you have a choice of some very unique dishes including Babaganush, a charbroiled eggplant with pita bread, a Kibah Platter, which is simply meatballs with cracked wheat, and spices lightly deep fried, or Nile Fries served with feta cheese, parsley, and a homemade Vinaigarette dressing. If you’re a hummus lover, I recommend the sampler. It comes with five different types of hummus-regular, roasted bell pepper, cilantro jalapeno, artichoke, and sun dried tomato- and served with a pile of Pita Bread. It’s fun to try and guess which flavor each dip is. If your tummy is still grumbling after your meal, dessert options consist of Baklava, a rich pastry with layers of phyllo dough and served with nuts and honey, Kinafa, a pastry with syrup and a cream filling, and Rice Pudding. This culturally preserved restaurant will leave you feeling like you just stepped off a boat from the Nile River into Egypt.

So whether you’re an avid traveler, an adventurous food taster, or you simply would like to support local cuisine and try something out of the ordinary, these restaurants are definitely worth your time, money, and appetites. This weekend, why not change up your typical routine, grab a few friends or a family member, and head out to one of these unique restaurants. If you’re looking for a heavy European dish to fill you up, try out Zur Kate. If you have a craving for a nice glass of wine, rock up (Aussie slang for ‘to arrive’) to Down Under Wines and Bistro. If you want something really different, go for The Nile Café. Or, seek out a new ethnic restaurant you can call your own. I can bet if you pick a main road in your city and drive a few miles, you’ll be sure to find a delicious ethnic nugget much like these.

Restaurant Information:

Zur Kate
4815 E. Main Street
Mesa, AZ 85205
(480) 830-4244
Down Under Wine & Bistro
1422 W. Warner Road
Gilbert, AZ 85233
(480) 545-4900

The Nile Cafe
7051 East McDowell Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85257
(480) 429-6453
Need more ideas? Other fascinating ethnic restaurants to try include Essence Bakery, a Greek cafe at lunch and French bakery at breakfast, and Tum Nuk Thai, one of Mesa’s best Thai restaurants.

Why Do We Travel?

I have recently began an online travel writing class through ASU and I hope to share some ideas and insights I gain throughout the summer semester on this blog. To start, we had to read an article by a writer named Pico Iyer who explains reasons why people travel. Then, in our own words, we had to share and discuss why we think people travel. Included below is the article along with my response.

Why We Travel (article by Pico Iyer)

I have sat in an airport terminal asking myself this same question, "Why do people travel?" I like to sit and watch people in airports. I know it sounds kind of creepy, but I love to imagine why individuals are there and where they're going. I have found that there is a wide array of both positive and negative reasons why people travel. The lucky ones travel for sightseeing, exploration, adventure, and simple leisure. The unlucky ones are forced to travel due to a death in the family, attending their dreaded family reunion, or to visit an ill family member. Whatever the reason, we all will travel at some time. It doesn't have to be traveling to another country, or even state. People travel to different cities within their own territory. Some travel for work. Others travel for school. Some travel to find a new life. Others travel to relinquish a long lost memory. Some travel to visit family or friends. Others travel to get away from family. Many of us travel to view the world through the lens of others. We visit new places to see how people in other cultures deal with life. We travel to gain a deeper understanding of this vast world that we live in. We travel to connect ourselves with our fellow inhabitants. We travel to see just how real life is.
I really resonated with Pico Iyer's first line, "We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves." Oftentimes when I'm stressed, overwhelmed or simply bored with life, I just want to travel. I dream to get on a plane and go wherever it leads me. I travel to lose myself in things unknown. And I've found that when I am placed in a new culture with new faces and places, I seem to find myself. I think many of us feel this way. When we travel, we get away from the hustle and bustle of life, we slow down, and we get out of reality; we lose ourselves in the adventure. And because we take ourselves out of "real life", out of what's comfortable and familiar, we have the opportunity to look internally and figure out who we truly are, outside of our comfort zone.
I also agreed with the dissimilarity of a traveler and tourist in Iyer's article. While traveling with my mom, I would always tell her, "Be a traveler, not a tourist!" A tourist, I believe, is someone who wants everything to resemble his or her hometown. They grab their guidebooks, maps, and a tour guide to see the place their visiting. A traveler, on the other hand, leaves their guidebooks and maps at home and they see the world not on their own terms. They allow themselves to take a wrong turn, get lost and build relationships with locals. A tourist eats at McDonald's and Hard Rock Café, rather than tasting local cuisine. To travel is to leave behind prejudgments, assumptions, and stereotypes and to take along an open mind and heart ready to learn, not just about the world, but to learn from the world.
What do you think? What are some reasons people travel? Have you experienced any of these?