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If music be the food of…no, if food be the music of….no…if no musical food then where’s the love of life? March 26, 2006

Posted by merp in Food, Music.

I spent 5 days in Chicago last week (Thu-Mon), ostensibly for the Society for American Music conference (I’ve posted about that on the other blog). But we here know that it was really for the food and the music.

Saturday night, Lincoln Square Idol!! After a day at the conference downtown, I elled my way north for this Old Town School event (held at the Dankhaus–German-American community center-type-place, probably 80 years old). A dozen or more acts took the stage for 10 minutes each, all OTSFM faculty or students. Some of them were pretty mediocre, but gutsy, and a few of them were awesome. (Being the Old Town School, there was no derisive commentary from the judges–no commentary at all, actually. The only resemblance to American Idol was in the notion of a competition.)

It was the Hump Night Thumpers, of which I am an alum, who drew me out. (I used to play mando & spoons.) My fave was One Floor Up, a female rock band of former students who did a Tegan and Sara cover and an original–I would totally pay to see them. (And Tegan and Sara are a recent discovery of mine and the college girl in me is in love with them.) And there was good beer, of course.

At the conference itself, only snippets of good music were heard–a few seconds’ example of this or that to support the thesis of some paper. Except on my panel, where the organizer, Ron Pen, had brought in some Old Town folks–Paul Tyler, Steve Rosen, and Colby Maddox to play some old-time. Good stuff, of course.

And on Saturday night, a couple of us went out to the Hothouse–a uniquely awesome venue for world beat & jazz at a non-profit club/activist center downtown–to meet one of the Anns whose apartment I’m now living in (she now has my job in Chicago). The musician was Rhodee and band, playing Punta Rock of the Garifuna people of Belize (on whom Ann wrote her thesis). Convoluted intro to some seriously grooving dance music! Serious in the sense that the lyrics were about Garifuna nationalism and domestic violence and things like that. But it was all about shaking your bootie.

I ate out the whole time, but with the conference schedule, sometimes you just end up eating at Potbelly’s. Not that that’s a shabby thing! Best fast-food veggie sub, hands down.

Friday I hauled a bunch of friends on a walk much longer than anticipated to Reza’s, a Chicago standby. Persian food, with massive portions, including enough dill rice with each order to feed whole families. I had the veggie skewers, which came with an amazing orange-pistachio pilaf. And the new revelation for the evening was the roasted feta appetizer. Serious mmmmm. How hard can it be to roast a hunk of good feta? It just never occurred to me….

Sunday, Beth and I went down to Chinatown for lunch and ate at Spring World, a Yunnanese restaurant–the only one I have ever found in the United States. Yunnan is the province in SW China where I lived for 2 years 10 years ago and food is one of the things I miss most about it. This place is the real deal!

The starter is a little dish of spicy pickled vegetables (like these in this photo I actually took in Yunnan, 4 years ago). (A post is awfully boring without photos, don’t you think?)

Xiaoguo Mixian (small clay pot rice noodles)–the kind of thing one typically has for breakfast or lunch on the street, round & soft rice noodles (only fresh, never dried), spiced up red with chili peppers, zinged with mala huajiao (that Sichuan black pepper that leaves a numbing sensation on your tongue), and balanced out with some minced pickled mustard greens.

Niugan Jun (a kind of wild mushroom–literally dried cow fungus–hope that isn’t colloquially “cow pie mushroom” or something–it does sort of look like a cow pie). This is a big lump of a mushroom, when gathered. When you slice it open raw, it’s initially a predictable tan color, but as the liquid reacts with oxygen it starts to turn a deep blue–rather shocking. But as you stir-fry it, it returns to a comforting brown. And it has an amazing flavor. They must have used dried slices, but still feichang haochi, stir-fried with peppers.

We also had some yummy tofu-meatballs in a gingery broth steam-cooked in a clay pot (traditional Yunnanese cooking method for lots of things)–very good, but didn’t bring back the Madeleine-memories of the other dishes.

Next time I go: Qiguo Ji (steam-pot chicken) and Guoqiao Mixian (Cross-the-Bridge Rice Noodles)



1. 麻婆豆腐 « merp - January 24, 2008

[…] Province, just south of Sichuan. Not to say that Yunnanese cuisine is the same as Sichuanese – it’s not – but they do eat a lot of mapo doufu there. This version tasted authentically southwestern, though […]

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