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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Drinking Beer with the Boss of Jingdong County

Apr.28.15

Drinking Beer with the Boss of Jingdong County

by Georgia Freedman

“It looks like we’re going up to the jail,” our minder told us as the minivan we were riding in took a turn and headed out of town and up a steep hill. We had been summoned by Comrade Luo, the “big boss” of Jingdong County, and had been told we were meeting him for lunch. No one had said anything about a jail. I took a deep breath, looked out the window and the pretty countryside, and tried to remind myself that I didn’t have anything to worry about because I hadn’t done anything wrong. Except that was only mostly true.

My husband and I were traveling in Yunnan, China’s southwestern-most province, learning about local foods. We had come to a place so far from the usual tourist spots that it would take four hours of driving down narrow, winding country roads just to reach a highway. Jingdong Town was the county seat, the kind of place farmers came to stock up on motor oil and laundry soap, spend an hour in a tiny internet café, and maybe visit a brothel. But the town itself looked surprisingly modern. There were newly paved four-lane roads, two (mostly useless) traffic lights, and a brand new promenade lined with flowering trees and colorful neon lights that snaked along the banks of the local river.

This, we were told, was all because of Comrade Luo. Just a few years before he had been the local head of the forestry department, but he did such a good job that he was promoted to the city planning office and, after lighting the river with thousands of colorful LED lights, to Legal and Political Committee Chair of the local party. It was a Chinese version of a local-boy-makes-good story: a young cadre uses his smarts and cunning to turn a county into his own little fiefdom.

We had met Luo for the first time earlier that day in his office in a brand-new complex of government buildings. Up in a corner office on the top floor, Luo offered us tea, smoked tobacco through a two-foot tall bamboo water pipe, and asked us if we had been near a particular market the night before. Apparently someone had spotted “foreigners” in town and called him. This is how we learned that the entire town was watching us and sending reports straight to the boss.

Being watched was not, however, what had me nervous. The real problem was our paperwork. Up until a few months earlier, my husband and I had been living in China on work visas, but while we were there the visa requirements changed, and by the end the legality of our visas was, shall we say, questionable. For this trip we were traveling on tourist visas, but this was also potentially problematic, because we weren’t really tourists. Given that some of my research would end up in American magazines and newspapers, one could argue that I should have applied for a journalist visa. In most places, no one cared about these kinds of discrepancies. But Comrade Luo did not seem like someone who overlooked paperwork. If he had the entire town watching us, how hard would it have been to have one of his assistants pull up our paperwork?

I was thinking about this as the van crested the hill and pulled up next to the jail, but then the driver pointed to a little building on the other side of the street. There, in the middle of nowhere, was a restaurant. Luo was inside, sitting in a courtyard made up of wooden trellises with plastic vines and flowers stapled to them—fake nature being used to block out views of the real thing. When we arrived, he got up and proceeded to introduce us to everyone eating lunch at the other tables. Mystery solved: we were there so that he could show off his foreign visitors to all of the officials who worked at the jail. Far from being in trouble, we were trophies, proof that Committee Chair Luo had connections in important parts of the world.

When we sat down with Luo and a handful of his colleagues, they ordered a few bottles of lukewarm Harbin beer. I was offered tea (as I often am when I am the only woman at the table in China), but I decided to stick with the beer. Of all the cheap, flavorless beers made in China, Harbin is one of the most insipid, but I needed a little something to calm my nerves. Luo’s assistant poured the beer into cups the size of shot-glasses, the other local officials crowded around the table, and we all took turns toasting each other and Comrade Luo until the food arrived.

The World Champion of Noodle Cups

Aug.16.17

The World Champion of Noodle Cups

by Emily Ziemski

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

Jajang in Korea

Sporting matches come with a whole lot of nerves and stress. Perched at the edges of their seats, millions of viewers anxiously watch their teams vie for glory. That, on top of the stress drinking, probably leads to a lot of upset stomachs. But Daejeon Stadium in South Korea has the perfect food to combat those nerves.

Noodle cups aren’t anything novel. The Jajang noodle cup, upon first glance, looks like any other noodle product, wrapped in cellophane. The unassuming brown package advertises what looks to be a monochrome beef stew. But it delivers so much more.

Jajang is named after the savory black sauce used in a Chinese-Korean fusion dish called jajangmyeon. Jajangmyeon is made mostly of noodles and pork chunks. The Jajang noodle cup pulls from the jajangmyeon sauce, which is roast beans and caramel. It also has what the package promises to be “large” beef-flavored flakes.

As a connoisseur of cheap noodle packs, a.k.a. a grad student, I can confidently say this might just be the winner among stadium eats, clocking in at roughly USD$1.13 per pack. And it’s a far cry from the average chicken-flavored packets.

Setting itself apart from the rest by using a liquid base, instead of the usual packet of powder, the result is something that feels a little more homemade and a little less college dorm-made. The thick, wheat noodles cling to the sauce, creating the perfect bite every time. This hearty, saucy, slurpy treat is perfect for an evening game, when the sun has set and some of the heat has gone out of its residual glow.

These packets sell out like hotcakes in grocery stores, so the best place to snag one of these may actually be a soccer match.

Photo by: Issa Del Sol

So Much More Than Corn-on-the-Cob

Aug.15.17

So Much More Than Corn-on-the-Cob

by Emily Ziemski

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

Esquites in Mexico

The number one sport in Mexico is association soccer—no surprise. There’s a deep love for fútbal in Mexico. During important matches, the country grinds to a halt as people crowd into stadiums to watch the games. The country is one of only six to qualify for every FIFA World Cup consecutively since 1994.

But, the real star inside these arenas is elote, or Mexican street corn.

Esquites, the portable version of elote, may be one of the most satisfying things that can be purchased in a cup. Roughly translated as “little corn cup” there’s nothing little about the pleasure that comes with a spoonful of Mexican street corn.

Corn is a staple in traditional Mexican cooking, but esquites is what to eat when cheering on your favorite team. Some esquites are boiled, the buttery-yellow kernels submerged in hot water until tender, but the best kind are roasted in a seasoned pan over an open flame until the kernels blister and char, usually accompanied by onions. Traditional esquites must use mature corn—not fresh or dried.

The warm corn is then coated in mayo and cotija cheese. A little gooey, a little melty, the dish is then topped off with a burst of lime juice and chili powder. Occasionally, fresh pequin chilis are used, but it’s simpler to use the powder for churning out mass amounts in stadiums.

Each mouthful is a burst of sunshine with bright citrus and warm, creamy mayo, with a little bit of a kick. The perfect thing to keep your mouth occupied when you’re not screaming at the referees.

Photo by: Enid Ayala

Nothing Says “Play Ball!” Like Hot Noodles

Aug.14.17

Nothing Says “Play Ball!” Like Hot Noodles

by Emily Ziemski

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

Udon in Japan

The crack of a bat; the slurp of noodles. These are the sounds that fill baseball stadiums across Japan. Forget portable snacks; for baseball fans that flood the 12 NPB—Nippon Professional Baseball—stadiums throughout Japan, it’s all about one thing: a steaming bowl of udon.

Throughout the open arena, spectators balance brightly colored umbrellas and tiny bowls garnished with aonori—seaweed powder—and katsuobushi—fish flakes. Chants rise up over the bleachers and are thrown across the divide as fans root for their chosen team.

Others choose classic fare like gyoza, edamame, and bento boxes. And though you can get hamburgers and hot dogs, nothing says “Play Ball!” here like digging into a pot of hot noodles.

The stadium food may be a far cry from peanuts and hot dogs, but it still hits on the ideal trinity of summer junk food: chewy, salty, and umami. Udon, a classic Japanese street food, involves thick, buckwheat flour noodles, nori (seaweed), and crunchy vegetables like green onions that bring color to the beige tangle of noodles. Occasionally, a generous mayonnaise drizzle makes an appearance.

Some hybridized versions include stuffing the noodles into hot dog buns, and some even chop up hot dogs into the noodles as a meaty garnish. Perhaps the only downside to this savory dish is that tossing the coated noodles in outrage over a bad call or an opposing team’s run would involve quite the cleanup. Save your edamame shells for your unsportsmanlike conduct.

At Japan’s oldest ballpark, Meiji Jingu Stadium, you can bring your own food and drinks inside—but isn’t part of the whole sports experience paying exorbitant prices for refreshments? In true sports stadium fashion, a small, generic beer is still going to cost you an arm and a leg—roughly $10 USD.

Photo by: Kagawa YMG

The Appropriate Response to Triggered Snowflakes with Nuclear Codes

Aug.11.17

The Appropriate Response to Triggered Snowflakes with Nuclear Codes

by Phill Leon Guerrero

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Budweiser and tuba in Guam

It takes a lot for people on Guam to get collectively riled up. After all, the chill, can’t-be-bothered islander is a stereotype with good reason. But with the repeated threat of missile strikes against my tiny, Pacific home this week, people all over Guam were searching for a way to detox from the anxiety and stress.

My answer? The classic “kick back.” Take two to 20 friends, add alcohol, and feel the high blood pressure reduce with each round of laughter. The ritual isn’t lost on the group I manage to assemble late Friday afternoon. It’s been a long week. Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington—both led by triggered snowflakes with nuclear codes—have escalated over the past several days at a faster rate than ever before. After President Donald Trump’s now infamous “fire and fury” threat, North Korea said it was readying a plan—subject to review—to launch four missiles that would reach the waters off Guam.

Budweiser and Bud Light are the only beers I buy today. I intend to cut this American beer stash with a traditional coconut wine called tuba; an extra dramatic touch to the last-minute session.

The handful of guests that can make it arrive over the course of a half hour.

“So why are we drinking?” Morgan, a local musician asks.

I explain to her that I had basically been asked to get sloshed and rant about North Korea.

“Is it sad that I’m not taking this threat seriously at all?” she says. “The whole thing is fucking stupid to me.”

We shotgun a beer while we wait for the others to arrive. Our discussion drifts to the week’s media attention, which put Guam in a rare international spotlight.

Morgan’s friend, she tells me, sent her the front pages of Reddit when Guam was mentioned: brown tree snakes and a Catholic sex abuse scandal. She, like a lot of residents, are sensitive to how the media portrays the island.

A few more people arrive, and we begin to complain about Guam’s (justifiable) reputation as primarily a military fortress. That in 2017, the media still only counts military personnel and their families as American lives in jeopardy. About the U.S. senators who have pushed for war, because Guam is so far away from “home” territory.

That’s when we start cutting the beer with tuba. It’s a pre-World War II product I drink only when I feel particularly nationalistic.

It hits the spot. Slowly but surely the conversation shifts from whether the presence of the military makes us more or less of a target, towards local gossip and conspiracy theories about the sudden reappearance of a certain 90s local celebrity (who is now a military contractor) and whether it might be connected to this week’s war games. Geopolitics gives way to discussions about our endangered native language. The recounting of news is slowly phased out in favor of stories about our grandparents and our history.

Perhaps it’s a sign that Morgan has it right. The possibility of getting caught in a nuclear war isn’t that serious, for now. Otherwise, would we be able to joke like this?

The sun sets and our normal schedules kick in. Kids need to be checked. Gigs are fast approaching.

And just after the last person leaves, I allow myself to check Facebook. A live video of Governor Eddie Calvo speaking to reporters (local, national, and international) was the first thing on my timeline. He was announcing daily security briefs. He seemed to on board with the president’s “fire and fury” routine.

I turn, and see that the gallon of tuba still has about a quarter left, and chug it. Then I shotgun another beer, and start looking for the next kick back.

Photo by: 白士 李

Rules of Engagement for Firewater Consumption

Aug.08.17

Rules of Engagement for Firewater Consumption

by Jake Emen

Aguardiente in Medellín

The night starts innocently enough. I’m supposed to meet a group for dinner, two nights before a good friend’s wedding in Colombia. I haven’t seen my friend Sacha, his brother Martin—who’s also a friend—or their significant others in two years. But no way was I not flying to Medellín for this wedding.

And without knowing anything beyond the fact that we have a large reservation at a restaurant, I’ve assumed that I’ll be meeting grandparents and aunts and uncles and in-laws at a casual sit-down meal. I’ve assumed incorrectly.

Without any advance notice, it’s actually my friend’s bachelor party, a Medellín finale prior to his big day. This is explained to me after I suggest we wait to order drinks until “the girls arrive.” The girls are not, in fact, arriving. Apparently everyone else knew, the information was just never passed along to me.

I speak embarrassingly little Spanish. Even my Irish-French-Canadian friends can best me tonight, thanks to their Colombian wives. But there’s only one word I need to know this evening: aguardiente.

Good old Colombian firewater. Specifically, the ubiquitous anise-flavored Aguardiente Antioqueño, bottled at 29 percent ABV, and available in either the sugary red-capped edition, or the blue label sin azúcar.

I’ve had aguardiente before, but never really had it. As in, I never sat down with the sole purpose of drinking nothing but aguardiente until something reaches its breaking point—my wallet, my good sense, my consciousness, whatever the case may be.

As the group gathers, and I do end up meeting family members – brothers and cousins and husbands of sisters and friends—the rules of engagement are laid out for me. Most typically, a bottle is purchased for the table or group, along with a few small bottles of water or soda to chase it down.

There are no mixed drinks. There is no sipping. Aguardiente is all about shots, period. And if one person takes a shot, everybody takes a shot. If one person raises a toast, your shot glass better be filled and raised, ready to go.

I’m nothing if not game for a drinking challenge, so rather than taking the half measures of ordering individual shots or half bottles, I suggest we get the ball rolling the right way, with a full bottle. It was the first of four full bottles. Or was it five? Six? I can tell you definitively that I personally consumed more than a dozen shots. Undoubtedly, things were hazy by the time of my 3 a.m. departure back to the hotel.

The price was paid in full the next morning. We vowed to avoid aguardiente at all costs during the wedding itself. (These vows were promptly and repeatedly broken.)

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