Cajun Country

And a bonjour to y'all out there in Amigo Land.  Amigo Noah here putting my fingers to the keyboard as I recount some of our fun times and memorable meals on our recent trip through the Deep South, in particular, the incredibly diverse and gorgeous state of Louisiana.  

We touched down at Louis Armstrong international airport and drove straight to an educational workshop at New Orleans university, to watch the great jazz drummer Jeff Hamilton and other musicians give feedback to highschool jazz ensembles from around the area.  While we were quite famished from a full morning of traveling with minimal food, we fortunately had the foresight to bring along with us left over fried chicken from the previous night in West Palm Beach, Florida; the chicken became dubbed as "travel chicken."  While The travel chicken originally came from a soul food restaurant called Bay Bay's in West Palm Beach (not in Louisiana), it was certainly some delicious fried chicken, and kept us fed through out first day in New Orleans.  

 

That evening, we ventured to the historic Casamento's restaurant and oyster house, located in the Garden District. We feasted on huge fresh gulf oysters, char-grilled oysters, fried crab claws, fried oysters, and gumbo.   The char-grilled oysters stood out as an Amigo favorite, as they were topped with melted butter, garlic, and Parmesan cheese.  The gumbo was another delicious addition to the meal.  The dinner was of course accompanied by Tabasco, Crystal hot sauce, and Louisiana hot sauce.  

 

The following morning, we had a leisurely morning and took advantage of our time to go for a large brunch in the Lower Garden District in preparation of our drive to Lafayette.  We were joined by Amigo Sam's friend Roxane as we ate a crab and avocado omelette, corned beef hash and eggs, huevos rancheros, and one massive and delicious banana pancake.  This pancake was huge and had a fabulous consistent texture with lots of mashed up banana packed in.  

 

Our first meal in Lafayette was at a famous local dinning hall, Don's Restaurant.  While we could barely understand our server, speaking with a deep southern accent combined with a lifetime of cigarettes, we were recommended to get the crawfish étouffée and the gumbo.  This was certainly one of our best meals on the entire tour.  The gumbo was served with white rice and fillé on the side, a local plant that is ground up into powder and acts as a thickening agent for the gumbo.  The soup was filled with crawfish, crab, shrimp, okra, and was heavily seasoned.  The crawfish étouffée was also an amigo favorite, with peppers, onions, rice, tomatoes, and crawfish, all sautéed in a delicious fragrant sauce.  And let's not forget the Tabasco, which is bottled just a couple of miles away from Lafayette.   Our evening gig was also accompanied by a large crawfish boil, so we got to experience a local tradition of folks chowing down on pounds of succulent little crawfish, freshly boiled, and caught locally that morning.  

 

After a morning of teaching at Acadiana High School, we headed straight to Old Time Grocery Store, where we ordered the best po' boys Louisiana had to offer.  We had both fried shrimp and fried oyster po' boys, and these simple sandwiches came with a little lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, secret sauce, and were absolutely stuffed with sea food. Of course the sandwiches were eaten with Tobasco.  

 

While we were all really sad to leave Louisiana's rich culture and unique food behind, we had to move onto Alabama; essentially moving on from seafood to pork and BBQ territory. 

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Sam and Will enjoying their road chicken in the mile high club.  

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Char-grilled oysters from Casamentos in New Orleans.   

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Crawfish étouffée from Don's in Lafayette.  

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Gumbo with shrimp, okra, and crawfish at Don's in Lafayette.   

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Fried shrimp and oyster po boy from Old Time Grocery in Lafayette.  

In With the Old, In With the New!

Happy New Year Amigos! The start of the new year leads us to pause and reflect on all that we have seen and learned in 2014, and to send a big thanks to all the great folks we have met along the way. What a year it has been! We've got a full calendar coming together for 2015 and we're looking forward to visiting new places, playing new spaces, and stuffing our faces (that's three rhymes in a row) with local culture everywhere we go.

We just closed out a glorious week in sunny California, where a recording session, fun shows in Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco, a visit to Sammy Squeeze's alma mater, and spicy burrito and Chinese food explorations combined into an action packed adventure.

Tiny Telephone Studios in the Mission is larger than their name implies. Founded by indie-music icon John Vanderslice, this beautiful and colorful maze of rooms is a vintage audio play land. It was the perfect place for the Amigos to get loose and creative. Recording directly to tape (like so many of our heroes) and armed with strange, space-age instruments and amplifiers, we spent three fun-filled days with engineer Rob Shelton and Marvin the studio cat, setting the stage for some new, rockin' tracks to be released in 2015.

Marvin the studio cat from Tiny Telephone Studios naps on a vintage console from the BBC.

Marvin the studio cat from Tiny Telephone Studios naps on a vintage console from the BBC.

Recording is a time and energy consuming process, and all those spicy new tracks got us pretty hungry. The Bay Area is host to all kinds of ethnic cuisines, and we were ready to explore. With so many memories of Chinese feasts from our state department tour, we came in to San Francisco's famed Chinatown looking for the best of the best. The local recommendation was Z and Y Restaurant. As soon as we entered the small, cozy restaurant, the smells of Sichuan cooking held us in eager anticipation. Each Amigo chose a dish to share with the table, taking care to ensure we had enough of the unique tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns to go around. We needn't have worried. The folks at Z and Y make sure you get maximum mouth-numbing with each dish. After a plate of tasty steamed pork dumplings ordered by Amigo Noah, we were greeted by a pile of delicious garlicky green beans loaded with Sichuan peppercorns. These crispy, pan fried beans were a highlight of the meal. Tongues numbed with the tingling citrusy glow of the peppercorns, we were ready for our main courses. First came Spicy Lamb with Flaming Chili Oil. Generous strips of lamb, bursting with cumin flavor came with cabbage underneath a sea of fiery red chili oil, turning our plates into moats of lava. This dish was a solid gold hit. Next came Ma-Po Tofu with Pork, easily the spiciest dish, with silky tofu melting in our mouths. Our final dish was the chef's suggestion of Chicken with Explosive Chili Pepper. The name says it all. Crispy, golden chunks of chicken came buried under a landslide of dried chili peppers. Armed with forks and spoons, we were on a culinary treasure hunt. Though the giant bowl contained precious few chicken pieces, the intense, spicy flavor was well worth it, and caused us to empty any remaining Tsing-Tao beers.

Spicy Special Rating: Highly Recommended

Spicy Times at Z and Y Restaurant. Photo by Toby Silverman.

Spicy Times at Z and Y Restaurant. Photo by Toby Silverman.

Explosive Excavation

Explosive Excavation

After a mandatory cat nap, we rode off for our annual performance at the lrgrndary Last Gasp Books headquarters. Equal parts underground comix publishing house and oddity museum, Last Gasp is a counter-culture landmark, with enough unique memorobilia to give Ripley's Belive It or Not! a run for their money.

It would be a while before we would work up a good appetite, but the following day found us searching for a top-notch burrito. Taqueria Guadalajara in the Mission immediately overwhelmed us with a variety of housemade salsas and hot pickled vegetables. The local recommendation was the Super Shrimp Burrito. Refried beans, avocado, and tasty-lime flavored shrimp built a perfect platform for sampling a variety of salsas. The green salsa proved to be a perfect pairing, but our lust for adventure brought out the tangy, mind-meltingly hot habanero for the last few bites, capping off a great meal and another great trip to the Bay area.

Spicy Special Rating: The Sauce is Boss

Taqueria Guadalajara's Super Shrimp Burrito with a palette of sauce options.

Taqueria Guadalajara's Super Shrimp Burrito with a palette of sauce options.

Hope your new year is full of spicy offerings. We'll see you soon!

The Amigos

Top Tulsa taqueria

Greetings cowgirls and cowboys! The Amigos here coming at you live from the inside of our van.  We are somewhere between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Santa Fe, New Mexico … approaching Amarillo, Texas.  The land out here is flat, arid, and uneventful. The sky is vast, blue, and equally uneventful. But our spirits are high as we have had some fun gigs and are looking forward to some delicious food and hospitality in Santa Fe with Amigo Will's folks. 

We had a fun morning of teaching at an arts high school in Tulsa--fantastic musicians and cool kids. Afterwards we received a mouth-watering recommendation from several reliable sources for a lunch spot: El Rio Verde Mexican restaurant.  Located in the middle of an  industrial area of Tulsa, this unassuming casita was full of friendly waitresses, colorful plastic table covers, and cheap cold cervezas.  

Chips and salsa immediately came as we sat.  Two Amigos ordered the wet burritos stuff with chorizo, beans, rice, salsa, and topped with guacamole and cheese, then drenched with flavorful hot sauce.   The other two Amigos had the combination enchiladas: one cheese, one chicken, and one steak, rolled up in small red tortillas, topped with chease and hot sauce, served with rice and beans, guacamole.

The food was extremely raging. After our meal, the wait staff asked if we were a band, and then took pictures with us. What a great afternoon. El Rio Verde in Tulsa - highly recommended. 

Spicy Special Rating: Casually Raging. 

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Enchiladas … obviously. 

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Wet burrito - serious feast. 

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The awesome waitresses.

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Amigo Sam all tuckered out after a morning of raspberry picking on the farm in Cimayo, NM

Tex-Mex to the Max

Traveling to the iconic Kerrville Folk Festival in beautiful Texas Hill Country means long stretches of wildflower-lined highways and big Texas skies full of brilliant colors and awesome, violent displays of nature's power. Perhaps most significantly to us, it also means authentic Tex-Mex cuisine in grande portions. Our travel guide Roxanne picked us up in a recent model, Texas-sized, silver Chevrolet Suburban and wasted no time carting us to San Antonio's guacamole-topped jewel, Taco Haven. Here we found fifty or so happy locals getting down to serious chow time on classic flour tortilla tacos and cheese enchiladas buried under pillowy clouds of refried beans and topped with another gooey layer of molten yellow cheese. The plates came out too hot to touch, and it took a hand full of napkins to successfully move each plate to its proper owner. We cruised through a couple baskets of multi-colored corn chips and smooth burnt sienna colored salsa until our entrees reached a temperature safe for human consumption. The generous portions were perfectly smoky, salty, tangy, and refreshingly unrefined, and were accompanied by a whopping liter-sized sweet tea in a classic translucent red cup. Taco Haven really throws out the feedbag, providing enough smoky Tex-Mex taco goodness to satisfy even the most aggressive appetites. The key here is definitely about quantity, and a couple of us had to stretch out in the air-conditioned Surburban for a while before we were ready to visit the Alamo and do some western wear shopping. 

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After a little rest and some sight seeing, we cruised on down the road to Kerrville, following one of the most beautiful sunsets we have ever seen. We set up camp among a sea of vintage Airstream trailers and decorated school buses and headed out to check out some of the acts and meet up with our good friend, David Amram. The Kerrville Festival maintains a strong Texas identity in their programming. Bands routinely featured steel guitar and Texas two-step rhythms, and the craft booths displayed hand-tooled leather specialties and assorted Mexican-style jewelry. Concession stands offered a dazzling array of fresh and classic festival offerings, usually with a spicy twist. We found the best time to hit the stands to be just after the last band finishes their set, when we're primed with a couple local Texas beers and vendors are looking to liquidate their inventory for pennies on the dollar. Wyatt (see picture) had a friendly smile and healthy sunburn and invited us over to try one of his funnel cakes. While we waited for the crispy, powder sugar-covered cake to cool, he showed us this totally unique tattoo. It appears to be a marijuana leaf growing out of a palm tree with someone smoking the palm tree. Now that's spicy! The cake proved to be the perfect end to a perfect day, and we shared it with our new friend, Spring, who was in her eighth year as a Kerrville Festival attendee. Our hope is that in eight years we will be able to say the same thing. See you next time Kerrville!

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Bon Appetit Beat

The Amigos have been in New York City the last few weeks cooling off from our overseas adventures. But don't worry... we certainly haven't melted into lethargy, eating take out nachos night after night and watching reruns of the West Wing (although that sounds pretty amazing).

We've been making Amigos with some folks in the Food and Beverage community. Last night we had the pleasure of bringing some spicy Amigos heat to Bon Appetit... the magazine that is.

Bon Appetit hosted their summer kick off event at the French restaurant Montmartre in the west village. We hit them with everything from Django to Hall and Oates, with a few Amigos specialities tossed in there for seasoning. In the process we enjoyed many fine glasses of Rose and some truly exceptional pork and lamb BBQ, grilled to succulent perfection and then rolled in a small crepe with a smoky green cilantro sauce on top. Voila, a French taco.

 

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Keeping it Old Fashioned in Wisconsin

 

Fried cheese curds with Paprika dipping sauce and garlic Mayo at The Old Fashioned in Madison Wisconsin.

Fried cheese curds with Paprika dipping sauce and garlic Mayo at The Old Fashioned in Madison Wisconsin.

This is just a short note extolling the virtues of Wisconsin fried cheese curds. This is a light and healthy appetizer packing all your daily aminos, fiber, and lots of Vitamen S (Vitamen good for your Soul). They are served only in limited quantities so that you can sample just one or two without feeling full or bloated. Cheese curds have been proven to reduce stress and hypertension and also have an accelerating effect on your metabolism. Surprisingly, considering that they are cooked without the addition of oil or fat, they also grease up the hands and make your eighth note lines swing harder. Oh and if you have complexion issues or frown lines on your forehead, just rub a cheese curd on the surrounding area and your skin will be as smooth and clear as the beautiful lake Monoma around which we just walked while eating the most giant small ice cream cones we've ever seen before... Wash it all down with a classic Old Fashioned at Madison's The Old Fashioned made with Brandy, not Bourbon. Yes sir, Madison, is a wonderful town and the Amigos are feeling fine. Next stop, DC!

 

the Amigos with the fantastic singer and saxophonist Camille Thurman.

the Amigos with the fantastic singer and saxophonist Camille Thurman.

 

Loungin' in Laos, hangin' in Hanoi.

Xinchao friends and family. Amigo Noah reporting poolside at the Sofeteil Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. This is hands down my favorite hotel, I'm sure the other Amigos concur, and we will all be sorry to leave it tomorrow morning when we fly to Hue to perform at a big festival there. www.huefestival.com/index.php

This hotel is old and beautiful, built in a Classic French style, with a lavish breakfast buffet, fragrant flower bouquets everywhere, and an very friendly staff. There is an old bomb shelter built underneath the hotel and a big wall display of all the famous people who have stayed here. 

 

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but I could go on and on about the niceties and perks of staying at a five star French hotel. I'm hear to get down to the meat and potatoes of Laos and Vietnam. 

I know we have been a little lazy about posting, so I'll try to focus on the subject that is the namesake of this blog.  

Vientiane's own take on the Arc de Triomphe, called Patuxai. 

Vientiane's own take on the Arc de Triomphe, called Patuxai. 

well it sorta turns out that I don't have any pictures of food from Laos. How is that possible. I must have been eating it too quickly. The Lao government built Patuxai in the center if Vientiane in 1968. Apparently the US Government gave them a bunch of cement to construct a new runway for their airport, and instead the Lao government decided they would just use the supplies to make a monument. I think they made the right choice, and besides, it's much more exciting to land on a dirt runway anyways. Our last day in Vientiane we went out to a small day school for local children called Donkoi. We were greeted by a rowdy welcome song with flowers and drums, and the US Ambassador and his wife showed up as well. It was a special treat for two reasons; that was the first time those children had seen western music before, let alone live music, and that was the second country where the ambassador came to our gig (Myanmar was the first). The kids were very excited to see us play and afterwards they sang and danced for us, then invited us to participate in a game of "hop over the bamboo stick."

Amigos Justin and Sam, along with Mr Ambassador, receiving a water blessing from the school headmaster.  

Amigos Justin and Sam, along with Mr Ambassador, receiving a water blessing from the school headmaster.  

Our first day in Hanoi was a full rest day, but our second day consisted of a morning and evening show at two different universities in two different provinces. It was a true marathon, and like any marathon, there was a mid day banquet to complete it.  After our morning show, the "mayor" of the province along with several people from his entourage and the university, invites us to a lunch feast. They had salmon prepared three-ways, which is a very new and unusual thing for Vietnamese, but we were told that it was for special occasions. The first salmon dish was raw, like sashimi, and came with rice paper and different fillings for a "do it yourself" spring roll. The second salmon was fried filets with garlic. And the third was more filets with veggies and soy sauce.… or something like that. Oh yeah, and we had rice soup with salmon in it and a second soup with crab. The thing about these extreme banquets is that everybody must drink a lot, especially the special guests (the amigos) and their hosts. First comes wine toasts, then comes the local rice liquor (which was actually quite smooth), and by the end of it, everybody is chugging anything in site. It is the custom in many of these countries for each guest to walk over to the host and toast him and flatter him. Even our public affairs officer accompanying us from the embassy had to take down several drinks. By the end of it, everybody at the table was drunk, the amigos stumbled into our van on the way to our next university show, and the locals stumbled off to bed most likely. 

The public affairs officer taking care of some unfinished business after the feast.  

The public affairs officer taking care of some unfinished business after the feast.  

fresh pomelo and chili salt for dessert. 

fresh pomelo and chili salt for dessert. 

Well That's all I can recall about that day. We taught some classes at a conservatory here in Hanoi this morning, then we have a big public concert tonight. Very excited. Stay tuned Amigos, as our journey comes to an end, we will surely continue to post more on The Spicy Special. 

Amigo Sam being invited for a toast… whether he likes it or not.  

Amigo Sam being invited for a toast… whether he likes it or not.  

The Spicy Road to Burma Part 1

As I lie here on my bed at the Green Hill Hotel in Yangon, Burma, I can just make out the Shwedagon Pagoda, hovering above the dilapidated colonial roofs and coconut palms like a shimmering reflection of the setting sun. Yangon is the golden city.

 

The Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset from my hotel window.

The Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset from my hotel window.

The Spicy Road to Burma actually begins with our stay in Beijing, a city that now feels a million miles away. On Saturday we were up early to visit the Great Wall of China. As soon as we were out of the conjested downtown traffic, our driver floored the gas pedal and hurdled around bends in the road, passing cars on the left and right, and generally making us feel like he had a death wish. After a long night of Baijo drinking, singing, and feasting on Mongolian lamb dishes, this was an unwelcome surprise. By the end of the ride we were all a little shaky--but at least all the adrenaline and sweating helped kick our hangovers. 

We had a fine time on the Great Wall, which is one landmark that truly deserves its name.  

 

Hiking the Great Wall, you feel like you've risen above the smog and pollution of Beijing. 

Hiking the Great Wall, you feel like you've risen above the smog and pollution of Beijing. 

That night we played a great show and had our final Chinese banquet, an outstanding meal that included two kinds of Peking Duck.

 

There were two types of Peking Duck. One was in a sweet sauce, the other was crispy and dry and came with rice buns.

There were two types of Peking Duck. One was in a sweet sauce, the other was crispy and dry and came with rice buns.

By the time we finished dinner and made it back to the hotel, it was well after midnight. We were up about three hours later and on our way to the airport. 

We arrived in Yangon, Burma in the afternoon. After traveling within China for two weeks, we were immediately struck by how different this place feels. A colonial city, planned and occupied by the British for many years, Yangon is full of open spaces, lush vegetation and grand, albeit dilapidated, buildings-- a stark contrast to the severe and conjested architecture of the Chinese cities. 

After a great Thai lunch which included my favorite hard-to-find noodle dish, Mee Grob we were brought to a hip art gallery space in a downtown building where the embassy was hosting a jam session and informal party. We drank cold Myanmar beer (a relief again after China where all the drinks are served luke warm) and jammed with some local musicians, including a raging bluegrass fiddler who came up to the stage and immediately called the Orange Blossom Special.

 

Amigos Noah and Justin at the jam session.

Amigos Noah and Justin at the jam session.

Sunday was our big performance  in Yangon, to be held at an incredible old Art Deco cinema. The building has been unused for years and the embassy saw it as a good opportunity to reopen it to the public. The night featured The Amigos along with several ethnic performance groups from around the country. Burma is home to a large number of distinct ethnic groups, many of whom don't always get along. The show was aimed at celebrating the diversity of the county and the audience responded enthusiastically.

 

A dancer adorned with golden wings whirled to the rhythm of huge drums and gongs. 

A dancer adorned with golden wings whirled to the rhythm of huge drums and gongs. 

The night was a success but The Amigos were exhausted from the previous 36 hours which sort of unbelievably began at the Great Wall and ended in the 100 degree heat of the Burmese tropical night.

Today has been our first full rest day. We walked through the large lakeside park near our hotel and had lunch at the Strand Hotel, famous for being George Orwell's local haunt. 

 

In the middle of the lake is this wild dragon boat building which is actually a fancy restaurant.

In the middle of the lake is this wild dragon boat building which is actually a fancy restaurant.

 

Tea Leaf salad at the Strand Hotel is made of fermented tea leaves, peanuts, crispy garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, sesame seeds, lime juice and more.

Tea Leaf salad at the Strand Hotel is made of fermented tea leaves, peanuts, crispy garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, sesame seeds, lime juice and more.

Tonight we feast again Burmese style before we fly to Mandalay tomorrow for our second performance in this beautiful country. The Road to Burma Part II will follow shortly with many more tantalizing food pictures.

Mouth numbing chili peppers, terra cotta warriors, and bass repair.

 

Greetings from the polluted metropolis of Xian, China, where the sky only varies from a lifeless light gray to a darker cement shade. Amigo Noah reporting live and alive from our twelve-seater, Texas-sized tour bus (equipped with a card table and an extra loud horn).  An update on my quest to learn useful one-liners in Chinese: hua han gaou - I am tall. But the "hua" must have an upward tone, or else it means "language." And we all thought English was difficult. 

We have had a wonderful, restful, and filling three days in Xian. Our hotel is so fancy and comfortable that it's hard to convince ourselves to leave. However, our hunger and thirst always prove strong, and inevitably we follow our guide XT like the helpless lemmings that we are to our destiny. 

Many of these dishes are cooked with the Szechuan pepper corn; a mouth numbing spice that was illegal in the US until recently. There's surprisingly a large variety of noodle dishes here, all delicious. We have had a couple of cold and refreshing noodle dishes with thick wheat noodles, vinegar, bean sprouts, onions, and garlic. Several spicy hot soups with Guilin mi fen (rice noodles), Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles, and another one that was basically the same concept (spicy oily noodles) but people have insisted that they're all different. 

Last night we ate thirty six soup dumplings, aka "plumplings;" a number not all that large since there were seven of us, but considering that was only one course in dinner, one might get a better idea of the extent of our gluttony.  For those of you out there in Amigo land who don't know, soup dumplings are like steamed dumplings filled with meat, but also filled with piping-hot broth. Delicious!

Today we went to see the terra cotta warriors. There are three main mausoleums and they were all quite huge and spectacular, and I mean huge in Chinese terms, so really huge in America. They were only discovered in 1974 when a bunch of villagers were digging for a well and happened to stumble upon a head poking out of the ground. It's truly a magnificent display of a seldom seen combination; art with military power. Imagine if the United States General wanted to put money and time into creating a vast tribute to our army....

Lastly, the bass I have been using, split on the seam between the front piece and the side on the ribs. It's not a big issue, and is a pretty common problem, especially when traveling in dry climates. But when traveling in China, nothing is easy to handle. We got word of a bass repair man at the conservatory, but when XT (our guide) and I showed up, we were politely told (obviously after I carried it up four flights of stairs) that the repair man was on holiday. That man said he had a friend who makes violins and could easily repair it. We show up at the new man's "repair shop," which is just his one room apartment with a man set up selling meat on his front stoop, and are greeted by an elderly hunched over man missing the majority of his teeth. After the necessary formalities of showing us all of his violins he had made and several pictures of him playing violin, he quoted the repair at 1000 Yuan, roughly $163 USD. No thanks. After several more phone calls, we met with the bass professor at the conservatory who immediately told me he had the proper clamps and glue to do the job. Best of all, free of charge. 

About to hop on China Eastern airlines to Beijing.  Over and out for now. 

 * side note * I composed this blog entry while on the bus in Xian but wasn't able to post it until we got to our hotel in Beijing. Tonight we only had 30 soup dumplings, which was a little disappointing. I'm sure Sam will write a feature on them. 

soup dumplings. 

soup dumplings. 

tofu and minced pork. Look at all those chilies!

tofu and minced pork. Look at all those chilies!

Lotus root, chicken wings, and chicken feet.  

Lotus root, chicken wings, and chicken feet.  

terra cotta soldiers. 

terra cotta soldiers. 

many many terra cotta warriors. 

many many terra cotta warriors. 

Bumpy bus rides

 

A warm ni how friends and family! That's Chinese for howdy. Amigo Noah here, reporting from the rolling green mountains of Longsheng in China. Our bus chugs along steady and true as we wind along the unpaved two-lane road between Sanjiang and Yangshuo. Small farm houses and shacks speckle the road side, tea plantations coat the hills, and the green river dances with the highway, occasionally hiding itself from view at various turns. But folks, I'm not here to gush about the view from our Diesel engine tour bus. I'm here to talk about two things; a feast and the world's largest floating stage. 

We pulled up to the Radisson in the small town of Liuzhou (roughly 3 million people) after a bumpy ride around 1:00 in the afternoon. Our eyes tired, our butts massaged, and our bellies growling. It is truly remarkable to see all of the cranes and construction going on in all these cities. China is developing extremely fast and tall apartment buildings and shopping centers seem to pop up every day.  Whinny, our translator, had never been to this city but has a keen eye for good food and knows about our love for special meals. 

After a quick walk around the block we duck into a restaurant about half full with local families. We sit down, the waitress brings over a hot tea pot filled with several brightly colored flowers, and Whinny orders the feast: steamed pork dumplings, steamed shrimp dumplings, shredded potatoes in vinegar (tastes better than it sounds!), spicy green beans, garlic peppers, chicken (the entire thing with the head), ribs with lentils and lotus, and spicy eggplant (an Amigo favorite). Plus rice. Keep in mind that all of the veggie dishes had minced pork in them. That was certainly one of our favorite meals of the trip thus far. 

After a quick 30 minutes of rest time, we piled back into the bus and headed out to the world's largest floating stage. Floating on the Liuzhan river,   our venue looked more like the under water head quarters of Dr. No in James Bond. We were greeted by a rough looking sound crew, more interested in puffing on cigarettes and inspecting our instruments, than setting up the equipment. After some deliberation over stage plot and whether or not Will should set his drums up on an elevated riser (which we obviously chose to do), a group of about twenty high school students dressed in brightly colored and and ornamented clothing came to the stage. They were of Chouang decent, a local minority group in the area. Their teacher explained that they had prepared to sing us three songs; a traditional welcome song from the Chouang, John Denver's Country Roads (surprise!), and a traditional Chinese song called Jasmine Flower. This was eerily coincidental since the last two songs were ones that we had been performing all over China, and were about to perform for them. We both sang for each other, and it was a truly beautiful and moving experience. Justin said it best when he turned to me after it was all over and said, "any politician who is thinking about cutting funding for the arts should have seen that." I couldn't agree more, in fact, any political differences the US and China have probably could have been resolved if our leaders had witnessed this exchange of music and love between two groups who couldn't even communicate without interpreters. 

The kids and their teachers were very eager and enthusiastic to spend as much time with us as possible. For most of them, this was their first time seeing Americans, let alone interacting with them. In particular the girls loved gathering around Brianna to watch in awe as she puts her make up on before the show. We decided it would be fun for them to join us on stage to sing Country Roads with us, a sort of "we are the world" moment. The idea of performing with us in stage really excited the kids and their teaches, and the elated group ducked backstage to prepare for their big debut.

Our show was preceded by a lights and fountain show with loud romantic symphonic music blaring over the soviet-era speakers. Alas, the fountain next to our stage was merely the largest water fountain in Asia, not the world. However, with the brilliantly lit sky line and mountains in the background, it was quite beautiful. Then our show commenced, the kids sang, and we all went out separate ways. 

Exhausted back at the Radisson, we went up to the hotel bar to order food and drinks. After one hour our $20 BLT's arrived, we devoured them in silence, and dragged our feet to our respective rooms, only to wake up at 7am and do it all again. Road life. 

floating stage in Liuzhou. 

floating stage in Liuzhou. 

elated high school kids in Liuzhou. 

elated high school kids in Liuzhou. 

 

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feast in Liuzhou. 

feast in Liuzhou. 

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Phnom Penh, Fish Amok and BBQ Udder

We apologize for the delay in getting this first post out. We've been adjusting to our new climate and time zone. 

Our first morning in Cambodia we headed downstairs for our "continental" breakfast, which we were pleasantly surprised to find included everything from sushi, to DIY noodle soup with crispy garlic, hot chillies, fish, tofu and bean sprouts, to platters of ripe mango, pineapple, dragon fruit, jack fruit, and guava juice.

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One of the national dishes is called Fish Amok. It's a sweet curry with local white fish and a tangy tamarind sauce you throw on top. 

 

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We've had a series of series of great meals so far and tried a number of great salads featuring cooked shrimp, smoked fish, papaya or mango, mint and galangal. 

 

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We've walked through some pretty epic open air stall markets and seen everything from trays of fried bugs to a few dogs roasting on spits. No one has gotten that adventurous yet and we regret passing up the opportunity for tarantula the other night...  

 

 

 

But we did have Barbecued cow udders last night. It was an exceptional meal including two cuts of beef, spicy/sweet shrimp and an entire fish with different chillies and tamarind sauces. The udder was not my favorite part, but we were pleased to try something new.

 

BBQ cow udder

BBQ cow udder

I have to say my favorite thing so far has been the incredible snacks that our hosts have brought to rehearsal. Sweet sticky rice with mung bean, dragon fruit or crispy pork wrapped and steamed in Banana leaf sure puts the grease on the blues.

Tonight we have our large performance in Phnom Penh at an open air circus tent. Tomorrow we head to the country side to visit the town of Kanpong Speu.

That's all for now but we'll post again soon. Hurray for the Spicy Special!

 

Fish Amok

Fish Amok

sticky rice snacks!