One of My Favorites
Boy, what a rough subject to write about this week! Everywhere we go, just trying to shoot a fun little travelogue food show, it seems trouble follows us. We shoot two shows in Thailand and civil unrest erupts. We shoot in Arizona and the next thing you know the state government imposes restrictive policies on constitutionally guaranteed privileges aimed at resolving local immigration issues. What a world. This proves one thing for sure, look for all hell to break loose wherever we go next.
Last year we had a blast in Arizona and the show reflects the amazing spirit of the people we worked with. The food was amazing and several moments really stood out for me. First, my buddies at Pizzeria Bianco are the best pizzaiolli (is that the correct plural?) I know of. Chris Bianco’s marinara pie might be the best VPN pie in the USA. One night he took a few figs off the tree in the backyard and made me a taleggio and roasted fig pizza that still haunts me. But the food crawl we went on in Tucson the next day was even better. We went first to El Charro Café established in 1922, this is the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family, featuring traditional Sonora cuisine. In the Presidio, this legendary eatery is renowned for its unusual carne seca, a traditional air-dried beef that is a bit like shredded beef jerky once its on the plate but they make it on the roof-top of their patio in a large metal cage filled with beef drying in the desert sun. I liked it in big strips taken right out of the drying rack. We went and pigged out on Sonoran hot dogs served in a food cart in a parking lot of an old music store that’s now closed. They sell hotdogs every night from 6pm-midnight and have for the past 8 years. These hotdogs with bacon wrapped around it are served with a special bun ordered from a Mexican bakery, with mayo, pinto beans, onions and tomatoes. There’s a bar on the side with extra toppings: cheddar cheese, mushrooms, jalapeños, guacamole, Mexican “cotija” and the spiciest chili verde I have ever tasted. The best food of the day was at Pico de Gallo, a tidy taqueria that started as a taco stand but has grown into several small rooms by enclosing its al fresco porches. Everything comes on disposable dishware with plastic utensils. Beef tongue, cabeza, menduo (hoof & intestines), birria, chicharron & carne asada are superb as is their ceviche and their fresh from the oven pumpkin empanadas. Don’t miss this place when you go.
And don’t miss a day spent prowling Monument Valley and meeting the real Americans. The Navajo call themselves Diné, which translates to “The People.” Their Nation encompasses the land, kinship, language, religion, and the right of its people to govern themselves. There are about 300,000 Navajo living in the U.S. and 175,000 live within boundaries of the Nation. Navajo land is larger than 10 of the 50 states in America. It covers SW Utah, NE Arizona and the NW corner of New Mexico covering 27,000 square miles.
The Diné were hunters, gathers and nomads moving in small family groups. And today some of their descendants still live that way, in family groups. They became shepherds after the Spanish introduced sheep. Due to poor land quality, Navajo families were, and still are, forced to live far apart to provide sufficient forage for each family’s herd of sheep. Sheep herding is the main provision of income for many Navajo families and there is an Old Navajo saying: “You can’t separate the Navajo from the sheep. Navajo are the sheep. The sheep are the Navajo.”
Now raising sheep is not for the meat products but mainly for the income made from wool products. Navajo rugs are greatly prized by tourists and collectors. This craft has been passed down for centuries. The designs differ according to the region and clan who weave them. Each rug is woven to include one small flaw in the final product in order that any evil spirits residing in the rug may have a way of escape. Luckily I did not escape the mind boggling lamb mixed grill, blue-corn blood pudding and a touch football game with one family in particular and I don’t want to tell you any more about it because it was that amazing.
I will say that mutton is a mainstay and they eat every part of the animal: head, intestines stuffed with mutton fat, tongue, hooves, liver and blood for blood sausage. But there was one ingredient in particular that the ladies really wanted me to try. Keep your eyes peeled.
I went foraging in the desert with a survivalist, trapping rats and chowing down on them, and I spent a fun filled day at the Arizona State Fair and even rolled a pigeon or two. I got in touch with my softer side in Sedona too, but the real fun was hanging with my new buddies at the Scottsdale Gun Club. 1.25 MILLION rounds of ammunition are fired on SGC ranges each month, they do rental guns ranging from pocket pistols to belt-fed machine guns. SGC is firmly at the center of the modern day Southwestern gun culture by being not only one of the top gun stores in the country, but certainly the largest public indoor range and a true destination in the Southwest. This is a very high-end gun club. Membership costs up to $10,000 per year, and members fly in on their private jets to fire rounds that in some cases cost $1,500 per minute to shoot. But I wanted to check out the “Black Gun culture” which refers to people and items associated with military style firearms and self-defense. SGC does private company military training for privatized military jobs carried out by civilians. I trained for a day with ex Special Forces contractors firing M-60 machine guns, riding Humvees and using AK47, M16, M4s for target practice. Despite the meal of MREs that we chowed down on with Rob and Terry, this day was one of the best experiences of my life. These men and women are outstanding in every way and the training I received there was something I recommend to everyone.
Arizona THE SHOW, is one of my all-time favorites. Check it out and let me know what you think.