8am: Who says culture from your own backyard isn't as good as that from a few thousand miles away? Since so many of us living here today are transplants, start out by getting a good taste of what's local. Truly great Southern dishes for breakfast can be found at The Coffee Cup — you've probably driven past it, and have inevitably heard others speak of this amazing shack by the stadium that serves some of the most delicious artery-clogging soul food around. I wouldn't recommend indulging in the smothered, fried pork chops for breakfast, but they do serve some mean chicken and waffles in the morning. Savor your breakfast with, duh, a cup of coffee.
9:30am: Feel like you just ate a ton of bricks? That's right — welcome to the South. But a drive down I-77 takes you to a place of leaner natives — and shows you how to get fit just as they do. The Peaceful Dragon is a vegetarian restaurant/tea house/meditation center/dojo/purveyor of all things relaxing. The variety of martial arts and yoga classes are conducted in view of those shopping and eating, perhaps as an inspiration for you to get off your ass and treat your body better. If exercising on display isn't your thing, a plethora of tricks of the Asian health trade are on sale for you to use — or at least look at with the best of intentions — at home.
11:30am: Back in Center City is the Afro-American Cultural Center, a great resource for exploring another background, with a particular emphasis on its existence in America and the Charlotte region. The AACC brings artists and historic presentations to town, enhancing the awareness of an essential element of this area's culture.
1:30pm: One of the best ways to explore another culture's cuisine is via the marvelous concept of a buffet. And we're not talking about the local dive's all-you-can eat spread of fried chicken and meat loaf, but an establishment run by purveyors dedicated to introducing their patrons to the best of their country. At Sangam Indian Cuisine in Cornelius, owner Ashok Kumar and Chef Singh do just that seven days a week with a gourmet buffet. Mr. Kumar will walk you through the dishes (which change daily), introducing novice taste buds to the cuisine with perfectly fried pakora and helping you work up to more adventurous Indian fare. The hike to the lake is worth it.
3:30pm: Starbucks might claim to have a corner on the worldwide coffee market, but Ethiopians were the first to cultivate the bean. For something different from your usual cup of caffeine, the Ayalew family provides a unique option. Meskerem Ethiopian Cuisine hasn't been open for long, but reservations are already recommended for its coffee ceremony.
5pm: Since you've sampled African culture already, head to House of Africa in Plaza-Midwood to continue your exploration of the continent's wares. From skins and masks to original art, this gallery next to The Penguin is stocked with some of the most original and beautiful findings you'll see in the region.
7:30pm: For a sampling of folk and religious art from Peru, Turkey, Guatemala, Mexico, India and other countries, Pura Vida hosts "Wine and Culture" nights from 7-10pm each second Friday of the month through August. The store, full of paintings, jewelry and home accents from a variety of faraway lands, will present live performances during these special nights to further your cultural immersion.
9pm: As a disclaimer, I recognize that German food probably isn't the wisest choice before a night out. But the Rheinland Haus serves some tasty schnitzel. The Rheinland prides itself on being Charlotte's first German restaurant (founded in 1966) and has served loyal beer- and brat-seeking patrons for decades. Come to think of it, who can really complain about starting a night on the town with a few steins?
10:30pm: As you may have noticed, a day around the world necessitates sampling food from each country. Luckily, Latin Americans have concocted a sexy end-of-day activity to work off some of those calories — salsa dancing. Unfortunately, it's not the easiest activity to do well, but Latorre's is happy to help out with free salsa lessons every Friday and Saturday night at 10:30. You don't even need to bring your own partner — just some ambition and your dancing shoes. Afterward, you can show off how much you've learned to all the other salsa fans that crowd the club each weekend. Best of luck!
Just The Facts:
THE COFFEE CUP - 914 S. Clarkson St., 704-375-8855.
THE PEACEFUL DRAGON - 12610 Steele Creek Rd., 704-504-8866, www.thepeacefuldragon.com.
AFRO-AMERICAN CULTURAL CENTER - 401 N. Myers St., 704-374-1565, www.aacc-charlotte.org.
SANGAM INDIAN CUISINE - 20910 Torrence Chapel Rd., Cornelius, 704-655-9600.
MESKEREM ETHIOPIAN CUISINE - 601 S. Kings Dr., 704-335-1197.
HOUSE OF AFRICA - 1215 Thomas Ave., 704-376-6160.
PURE VIDA - 1521 Central Ave., 704-335-8587.
RHEINLAND HAUS - 2418 Park Rd., 704-376-3836, www.rheinlandhaus.com.
LATORRE'S - 118 W. 5th St., 704-377-4448, www.latorresrestaurant.com.