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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Dignity Is a Small Price to Pay for a Story

Oct.13.15

Dignity Is a Small Price to Pay for a Story

by Paul Rimple

Chacha in Gali

I was in Georgia’s breakaway territory of Abkhazia for a story about the language rights of the Georgian population. Children were being taught in Russian and not their native language and I needed to talk to the minister of education, but she had evaded me for three days. Without comment from the ministry I had no story, and nobody to pay the expenses I chalked up. I really needed this story.

I left the capital city of Sukhumi’s gloomy December drizzle despondent, but not defeated. I had one last shot: Beso, the one person who could fix this for me. I just had to head to Gali, a purgatorial dominion of Georgians living in an apartheid state. Some 98 percent of Gali’s population are ethnic Georgians, but they only hold marginal positions in the administration and police force and are not allowed to vote. Beso, a Georgian, is an extremely resourceful and well-connected guy. He picked me up with his brother-in-law and took me straight to the house of the district’s education chairman. I waited in the car while Beso explained the situation from across a wooden fence to the Abkhaz official, who was wearing baggy, gray work clothes and muddy rubber galoshes. The body language did not look good.

“He said he cannot give you an interview without permission from Sukhumi, but he’ll say hi,” Beso said.

The education chairman, Daur, was leaning on a shovel and offered me a handshake without a smile. His front yard was an orchard of persimmon trees, the ripe yellow-orange fruits a fine contrast to the gunmetal sky. “Nice persimmons,” I said. “Do you make chacha from these?” While the Georgians and Abkhaz have property and political differences, one thing they share besides the word for moonshine is the tradition of hospitality. Daur glanced up at his fruit, then at me, and dragon exhaled through his nose. He opened his gate and invited us in.

Daur apologized for not having more to offer us. His wife, he explained, was visiting a relative. Daur arranged a basket of stale bread, a plate of stinky cheese, a bowl of sliced persimmons, and a second-hand plastic liter bottle of chacha on a table covered in a plastic table cloth with a cherry motif. He filled our glasses and made a toast to our gathering and we knocked them back. It wasn’t bad stuff. More toasts from the standard checklist followed—to peace, to our wives, to children, to friendship and so on—but I was the only one matching Daur, who was becoming more fraternal after each toast. Beso’s brother-in-law was absolved from partaking because he was our driver, while Beso carefully slowed down until he was just sipping.

At one point, Daur and I became Vakhtanguri brothers, which is the ritual of draining your glasses with your arms linked. This is followed by a kiss on each cheek. Then he invited me to his office the next morning for an interview. There was lots of love at that table. Things, I thought, were going quite well. I recall leaning over to Beso and remarking how drunk Daur was getting. “Ha! Ha! Isn’t that funny?”

When I opened my eyes I saw a ceiling and two children looking down at me, mystified by a drunken foreigner lying on their kitchen floor. This display of bad manners was definitely not good; horrific, actually. Where was I? “Sorry,” I said, then blacked out again. The next time I opened my eyes I was on a couch in a living room with a family around me watching television. Who are these people? What time is it? What day is it? I sat up, brushed my thighs and smiled. “Hi, I’m Paul.”

Beso had dropped me off at Zura’s house. Zura had fleeced me for what was supposed to be a loan of a couple hundred bucks a year earlier. He used that money to buy a very old Niva, which enabled him to get a job with an international aid organization. Zura said he would give me a ride to Daur’s office but first I had to help him push start his Niva, which could only be done with the gear in reverse. Hungover and cotton-mouthed, I helped him push that heap of iron along the muddy, pot-holed street for an hour until he gave up and found somebody with a tractor to pull him.

I was waiting for Daur outside his office when he came in. He had shaved and changed his work clothes for a rumpled green suit and black loafers. “How are you?” I asked. “Been better,” he said. “And you?” He unlocked his door and invited me to sit next to his desk. He eased into his seat and said with a shrug, “I can’t give you an interview. I still don’t have permission from Sokhumi.” The agony of defeat sunk deep and pinned my shoulders down to my knees. I was too dehydrated to cry, too weak to beg. “But I’ll call them now and get it,” he said smiling.

And that is how I got my story.

When it Comes to Drinking Palm Moonshine, Timing is Everything

Aug.23.17

When it Comes to Drinking Palm Moonshine, Timing is Everything

by Smriti Daniel

Toddy in Sri Lanka

We find our toddy tavern down a dirt road in Mannar; a one-room structure with a grimy, shadowy interior and an uninspired beige exterior. The only building for miles, it blends in perfectly with its surroundings—parched paddy fields dotted with wandering cows in shades of brown and white.

When the owner, Kumar, hears we are here for fresh toddy, he re-ties his lungi, grabs a jerry can, and heads off into the fields. We follow. The Palmyra palm trees stand in a little clump of green. In Sri Lanka, toddy taken from the coconut tree is the norm, but here in the north, it is the Palmyra palm toddy that is most beloved.

Kumar’s assistant steps up to scale the tree. He places his feet into a closed loop made of cloth, and then bracing himself against the slender trunk, begins his ascent. At the top, he has some clay pots—or muddy—waiting for him.

During the season, he makes this climb every morning and evening to harvest fresh toddy. A few weeks ago, he began by cleaning up the crown of the tree by shearing off old leaves and fruit stalks. He bound the spathe with cloth, and bruised the tender embryo flowers within to help ease the flow of the sap. The end of that bleeding spathe was trimmed and inserted into the clay pot. For the next six months, the plant will pour forth its juices—known locally as kallu—into the muddy.

As we wait, Devan, who brought us here, turns to me and says: “The best way to drink toddy is actually to sit under the Palmyra tree in the morning.” He and his friends will gather under the shade of the arching palm, frying cuttlefish and crab to eat and drinking deep from bottles filled just minutes ago. Sometimes, they will take a dried cuttlefish, stuff it, and marinate it in chili before gently easing into a boiling pan of toddy, where they simmer it until the meat is tender. It is Devan’s idea of a perfect weekend.

Still, we are not doing so badly ourselves. As far as bars go, this one boasts a view. A flock of cranes scatter and take wing over the fields; the sky is a dazzling blue. It is the windy season. The breeze rushes through the shorn stalks of brown paddy, and sets the leaves in the trees rustling. (Imagine a dull roar like the ocean.)

After several minutes, Kumar brings over his haul. It’s in an old mineral-water bottle, which, when sawed in half, also works as a crude cup. We pay him 180 rupees (just over USD$1), and he hands over the bottle.

My first impression is dominated by a sweet, funky stink. On my tongue, the toddy fizzes lightly; cloudy-white, it tastes ripe and yeasty. We put away a whole bottle, and laugh as the edges of the world soften.

This is how Palmyra toddy is meant to be drunk: fresh, under the shadow of the tree itself. If stored, every hour changes its character. A rapid natural fermentation process creates alcohol. Let it ferment for hours, and you have wine; let it ferment for days and you will have a vinegar. Luckily, today, we timed it just right.

There’s Nothing Finer Than Finding A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee

Aug.22.17

There’s Nothing Finer Than Finding A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee

by Jane Kitagawa

Coffee in Tokyo

When I first stepped foot in Japan 20-odd years ago, I didn’t realize how my relationship with this country would be intertwined with coffee. A staunch coffee drinker from Melbourne, Australia, my days there were fueled by morning triple espressos; rich, milk-kissed lattés; and a local favorite, the flat white.

But when I first arrived in Japan, it took me a while to figure out the coffee scene, and while I was in my adjustment phase, I found it hard to find coffee I liked.

Desperate for the buzz of a bold ristretto, I scorned the weak and diluted cups of “American coffee” at Dotour, a coffee chain popular with salarymen and drinking on-the-go. I found myself in a similar situation at Mr. Donuts, where I tried unsuccessfully to find my own Twin Peaksdamn fine cup of coffee” experience.

As my Japanese skills developed, and I made more friends with tastes similar to my own, I discovered Japanese kissaten, or coffee salons. The coffee was not so different to what I’d previously rejected, but the music kissatens, in particular, drew me in. Small coffee houses with extensive classical or jazz music libraries for playing on top-shelf stereo systems, I recall the now-defunct Classic in Tokyo’s Nakano. Ordering “Blend Coffee,” the only such item on the menu, I remember sinking into a leather chaise. Slowly sipping my drink and savoring the music, Classic was a refuge from the loudness and non-stop madness of my Tokyo life. I started to adapt.

I left Japan for a while, but returned roughly ten years ago, my family circumstances very different. I discovered that Starbucks, copycat chains, and indie players had since entered Japan’s coffee shop market.

Japan’s so-called “third wave” of coffee means it’s now possible to find the types of drinks and coffee styles that I used to find back home. Even Melbourne coffee is a “thing”; I know of two establishments capitalizing on Australian-style coffee. (They’re not bad.)

After 5 p.m., I often end up at Beastie Coffee Club, my new favorite café, a kind of hybrid of a kissaten and a third-wave coffee shop. Some days I’ll have an espresso. Others, a nostalgic latté. If I want something local, I’ll order a milky ice coffee sweetened with Okinawan black sugar. Perhaps what appeals to me about the place is that its hybrid style corresponds to my experience of adjusting and adapting to coffee in Japan.

Photo: Courtesy of Chris Mollison

If A Wine-Colored Drink Turns Out Not to Be Wine, It Better Be Good

Aug.21.17

If A Wine-Colored Drink Turns Out Not to Be Wine, It Better Be Good

by Ranjini Rao

Kokum sherbet in Velas

It was a sweltering early summer day in Velas, Maharashtra, the kind that had us guzzling water by the gallon and yet feeling unquenched. The smell of the sea near our homestay, sulfurous and mossy, hung in the humid evening air. The kind hosts of our homestay welcomed us with warm smiles and a cool drink. The sight of rows of stainless steel glasses, some dented and wobbly, filled with an aromatic, reddish drink on a large wooden tray was puzzling. Was it wine? Was it Rooh Afza?

It was kokum sherbet, they informed us, and we took a hesitant first sip. The flavor was a cross between cranberry and plum, with mildly tangy and enticingly sweet undertones. It was so refreshing that we asked for many more servings. My daughter, whose idea of juice was limited to the odd Odwalla, the 365 range at Whole Foods, or homemade lemonade at best, wasn’t particularly ecstatic when she regarded the strange, wine-colored drink in a steel glass. It took more than gentle nudging to get her to take a sip, but once we’d crossed that bridge, she needed to be coaxed to stop after the third glass.

Kokum, of the mangosteen family, is a blackish-red super fruit, sour and delicious, similar to a few other fruits in India, such as jamun or star fruit. It is also known as the tamarind of the Malabar region. Having grown up in the south, and therefore more familiar with tamarind, I had only heard of kokum in passing and never encountered it. The many kokum recipes in Maharashtra were a novel treat. The tart and spicy sol kadi—kokum mixed with coconut—served as a curtain raiser to an elaborate meal and was soothing to the gullet. The side dishes and gravies infused with kokum extract had a distinct flavor, more complex compared to the sour, tamarind-infused ones on which I grew up.

During our stay at Velas, we had many more servings of the chilled, invigorating sherbet. We got up close with the kokum fruit, too, when a batch was sun-dried for in the backyard of our homestay. We bought a few packs from our hosts to bring home.

Forget Peanuts and Cracker Jack, Try Chicken and Cheese

Aug.18.17

Forget Peanuts and Cracker Jack, Try Chicken and Cheese

by Emily Ziemski

This week, we’re running a series on our favorite stadium eats from around the world.

Empanadas in the Dominican Republic

Merengue blasts from the loudspeakers dotted around the outskirts of the field while fans scream unabashedly at their favorite—and least favorite—players. Baseball in the Dominican Republic has a few unique elements. One is that all baseball fields feature natural grass—infield and outfield—never turf. Another is the food.

Some go for “La Bandera Dominicana”: a well-balanced meal of rice, red kidney beans, and stewed chicken, which literally translates to “the Dominican flag.” The beans, rice, and chicken are supposed to correspond to the red, white, and blue of the flag. (Some liberties are taken with the color of the chicken.) Others spectators forgo balancing this full plate and opt for a smaller, but no less tasty snack.

The ideal stadium snack shouldn’t just taste good—it should also be practical; easy to eat and also easy to hold. Like the empanada, a love letter to flaky, deep-fried pastry. In Santo Domingo, it’s foolish to show up to a baseball game without grabbing an empanada first. There’s nothing better than biting into a warm pastelito and savoring the small drop of grease that migrates from the paper bag onto your hand.

This one is pollo queso; chicken and cheese. Forget peanuts and cracker jack, this is a classic baseball pairing. And don’t forget to wash it down with El Presidente, the beloved local pilsner.

Photo by: Daniela Batya

A Salty, Meaty Snack for Watching Others Exert Themselves in Pursuit of Soccer Glory

Aug.17.17

A Salty, Meaty Snack for Watching Others Exert Themselves in Pursuit of Soccer Glory

by Emily Ziemski

This week, we’re running a series on our favorite stadium eats from around the world.

Pork Gyros in the Bahamas

There’s a lot of running happening on this beach, but it definitely isn’t Baywatch. Hundreds are gathered on blisteringly hot metal benches to watch one of the most impressive athletic feats of all—running barefoot on scorching sand in pursuit of soccer glory.

Witnessing all of this calorie-burning can work up an appetite, so it’s important to have a protein-heavy snack on hand. Enter the gyro—a salty, meaty, hearty nosh. A gyro isn’t necessarily the first thing you think of for suitable beach food, and it probably won’t help anyone feel beach-body ready. But it’s satisfying, which is of course much more important.

Beach soccer is only in its ninth recognized national federation year, but gyros have been a stadium food staple here since the late 1880s. Greek food became a mainstay of the Archipelago when immigrants came to the Bahamas to kick-start the sponge harvesting industry. By the early 1900s, the Greek settlers began opening their own restaurants.

The thin slices of perfectly cooked pork slide from the rotisserie like butter, and are placed in a soft, warm, charred pita along with tzatziki. Every bite is a perfect blend of charred meat and cool, creamy sauce. With the gentle breeze, it’s wise to tote a snack that’s easy to eat, and will be safe from wind and sand—such as the gyro, which comes neatly wrapped.

Photo by: Otishka Ferguson

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