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Drinking the World Every Afternoon

A Fortifying Drink While Resisting Thieves and Scoundrels

Feb.10.17

A Fortifying Drink While Resisting Thieves and Scoundrels

by Alexander Lobov

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Palincă in Bucharest

During these past weeks, as many in the U.S. pondered the meaning of resistance, they may have missed the news of relatively effective resistance happening in Romania. The country has been experiencing nightly protests in the thousands since Jan. 18, peaking on Feb. 5 at over half a million.

That night, I was in Bucharest’s Piața Victoriei—Victory Square, where the government sits—and pretty much every Romanian I know was also in attendance. The square was completely full; roads were blocked and people were streaming in from every direction.

We were sharing a plastic water bottle filled with homemade palincă from a northern province, Maramureș, shipped into Bucharest to keep us warm. We took turns drinking the clear, sweet spirit, which is distilled from a fruit mash according to traditions dating from the 14th century. It fortified us while we braved the sub-zero temperatures in the square.

We were protesting corruption and wondering how it was possible that after all the progress Romania has made—putting corrupt politicians behind bars, enforcing laws–suddenly, the political situation seemed to be regressing.

After the country’s most recent elections, a new government was sworn in on Jan. 4. It marked a particularly strong showing for the Partidul Social Democrat (PSD): a nominally center-left party that many see as primarily standing for corruption and the enrichment of associated cronies. Politics in Romania have been complicated of late, with coalitions changing and cabinets resigning frequently. But this was the strongest showing for PSD in a very long time.

While Western media celebrated this as a victory for a traditional European center-left party in the face of a far-right populist onslaught, many Romanians knew better. The PSD came to power on the back of an older form of populism: tax cuts for pensioners, a higher minimum wage, and free public transport. But its appetite for corruption did not appear to have diminished during its period in the political wilderness. In fact, it seemed enraged by the striking success of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate—the body charged with rooting out and prosecuting corruption—which has a 90 percent conviction rate and has convicted hundreds of high-level politicians and members of the judiciary, many of whom were PSD cronies.

In a move Trump would be proud of, the government made known its plans to push policies weakening the penalties to corruption through as emergency decrees, rather than going through Parliament. This intensified protests that were already simmering after drafts of the law were published the week before. Jan. 29 marked the largest protest since Romania’s anti-Communist revolution in 1989: 90,000 took to the cities around the country, including 50,000 in Bucharest. This record would soon be broken repeatedly.

The government looked like it would back down at first, but then passed the decrees anyway the night of Jan. 31. Prisoners indicted under anti-corruption statutes would have their sentences halved, some would be freed immediately, and corrupt acts of up to 200,000 lei (US$47,600) would be decriminalized. Outraged at this brazen legalization of theft, 300,000 Romanians took to the streets on Feb. 1.

On Feb. 5, the government announced it would rescind the emergency decrees. But by that point, Romanians weren’t in a trusting mood: 300,000 protested in Bucharest alone. In the square, we were surrounded by cries of “Hoți! Hoți! Hoți!” (Thieves!) and “Demisia!” (Resign!). The Romanian flag was everywhere, either in its current form or the revolutionary flag with a hole in the middle. At one point, cardboard cut-outs of key members of government were wheeled out wearing striped prison garb.

Each swig of the palincă seemed to focus my mind on the meaning of these protests. Romania has seen tremendous gains since accession to the E.U. in 2007. It has enjoyed some of the best rates of economic growth in Europe, a substantial improvement in quality of life, and a litany of small victories against its endemic corruption. Nearly every Romanian I spoke to in the square said they just wanted to live in a normal country, be part of the European community, and be led by people who were not thieves.

Romanians truly were bucking the far-right fascist trend. But their government was still letting them down. At the protests, you could see the children of ‘89 proudly waving banners again, grizzled pensioners, students, and young professionals. There were families with children; some had even brought pets. It was a resolute atmosphere of non-violence, and many said these protests had succeeded in uniting the country.

In the aftermath of these protests, the government has promised to rescind the decrees but will still try to pass them through a Parliament dominated by their own party. And of course, the PSD refuses to resign. Romanians continue to hit the streets on a nightly basis, cautiously hoping for better. As temperatures look to dive deep into negative Celsius territory, one thing’s for sure: more palincă will be necessary.

Photo by Jake Stimpson / Flickr Commons

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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