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Drinking the World Every Afternoon

What to Drink While Eating the World’s Largest Rodent

Mar.28.16

What to Drink While Eating the World’s Largest Rodent

by Darrin DuFord

Poker Beer in Bogotá

When I was preparing to eat a slab of the world’s largest species of rodent, I knew I couldn’t reach for just any beverage. It’s a respect thing.

I also knew that no previous encounter with guinea pigs, pacas, or any of the other petite edible rodents of Central and South America could have prepared me to properly honor the corpulent, web-footed, Great Dane-sized king of them all, the chigüire, better known as the capybara.

I was sitting at a table spotlighted by a skylight in the boxy eastern flank of Bogota’s Teusaquillo locality. The neighborhood’s pragmatic concrete walls, near the bustle and gloom of Avenida Caracas, occasionally find themselves rescued by the work of the city’s street muralists, but otherwise suffer quietly in their drabness. Inside, however, I felt uplifted and reassured knowing that the restaurant, Chigüire 53, had named itself after the animal barbecuing on the round, bell-like parrilla grill at the entrance. Thus, I’d figured the chefs must know a thing or two about what drink goes with its signature dish.

The drink selection, resembling that of pretty much any other low-key eatery in Colombia, was dominated by beers such as Heineken, along with a few national beers that seemed to emulate the paleness of said ubiquitous import. There are now a few microbrews in Colombia, such as the German-styled offerings of Apostol and the hipster-friendly brews of Bogota Beer Company. But no micros appeared on the menu at Chigüire 53.

Such a selection made me recall a conversation I’d had, several days earlier, with a professor of philosophy who teaches at a university in Medellín. He had been staying in the capital for the week. “People in cities often lose their culture,” he told me in a soft, almost mournful voice, referring to how people move to cities from other places, joining a cultural cacophony, drowning each other’s competing cultures out. And here I was in Bogotá, about to dine on a creature brought in from the country’s eastern lowlands over a hundred miles away, while considering beers manufactured by the country’s largest brewery.

Colombia is not known for beer. Yet Colombian-made beer is ubiquitous in the country, in open-air ceviche stands and fine dining establishments alike. As far as hydration goes, beer can be a safer choice than bottled water, as the latter’s supposedly sealed plastic caps may or may not snap when they open, and thus may or may not give you the shits. And, especially on the coast, an easy-drinking beer refreshes and cools faster than an amber, funky-scented Belgian brew. So which national brand would it be?

That was when packaging took over. I’d seen the memorable red and yellow signs emblazoned with the words CERVEZA and POKER above entrances to bars and restaurants. The words were usually flanked by slick illustrations of playing cards. Beer and poker: two elements for a fun night out. But I’d quickly realized that they were the same element. Poker is the beer.

What little corn-like sweetness I detected in the Poker, pronounced “Poe-care” in Colombia, turned to a faint bitterness, yet the beer contributed the only bitter hint to the crispness of the chigüire skin and the rodent’s clean take on porkiness (it’s a vegetarian animal, after all). Poker was a willing companion, a gastronomic wingman, thin on personality, the forgettable kind of beer that beer hobbyists dismiss. But the beer offered deference, enabling the chigüire to strut its stuff—or swim, as the species is also wont to do in the marshes of the Colombian lowlands. Even in a zone of apparent culture loss, something else can be gained.

That made Poker a forgettable beer that I can’t seem to forget.

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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