I’m smitten with Nashville — and there’s a lot here to love. Today, I decided to celebrate by playing tourist (and procrastinating apartment-hunting). Highlights included:
- renting a B-cycle, the city’s bike share program
These cheerful kiosks are peppered around the city, and for $5 for 24 hours, renters can pick up and drop off bikes at any station. It’s a lovely theory, but slightly less practical to use. Bike-lane signage is fairly arbitrary, and particularly downtown where most kiosks are, traffic flows made biking precarious (and a little perilous). Still, the novelty was exciting, and I look forward to being a bike owner here one day…
- cruising in my b-cycle around the world’s only full-scale replica of the Parthenon. Nashville’s Parthenon was built for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition and now is the centerpiece of a large park.
- admiring the dog parks — there are lots
- visiting the Frist Center, which is hosting the art of Vik Muniz, the Brazilian artist who makes installations from garbage (and created the Academy Award-nominated documentary Waste Land)
If you look really carefully, Muniz’s rendering of this 16th-Century Italian painting includes an old chair, a broken keyboard, and discarded oil drums.
- having Vietnamese food, touring Nashville’s answer to Williamsburg (East Nashville), and dodging rush-hour traffic on I-440 — all of which will likely become staple activities of my future life here…
Hot chicken. It’s one of the hottest local foods in Nashville — and not just trendy-hot. Seriously spicy hot.
According to urban legend, hot chicken came about when the girlfriend of a man named Thornton Prince was angry at Prince’s womanizing and, one night when he came home late, cooked him hellfire-spicy chicken as revenge. Prince loved it, and the recipe was passed down in the family to the founder of Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack.
Nashville now celebrates hot chicken as its own: there’s a Hot Chicken Festival in July, and Prince’s recently won a James Beard Award.
Each shop has a slightly different approach, but the core ingredient is chicken fried in a buttermilk breading and then re-treated (sometimes pan-fried) with a spice paste of cayenne and lard. A lot of cayenne. It’s usually served on white bread with a pickle on top.
Last night, I checked out Hattie B’s. Once you select the type of chicken, you chose a temperature: Hot, Damn Hot, or “Shut the Cluck Up.”
We ordered three strips to taste one of each. Hattie B’s doesn’t mess around. I’m not sure the S-t-C-U strip was the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten, but it ranked somewhere in the top 10. I loved it, but the side of my lip where the peppers landed is a bit singed today. A friend said he could feel the spice just from the steam from our plate. Damn hot and damn good.
Will definitely be checking out the competition and report back…
Last night was proof that you don’t need a passport to have an eye-opening cultural experience. Wonderful neighbors in Brevard, North Carolina had invited me to join them for a fund-raiser for a local nonprofit SAFE, which helps victims of domestic violence.
I was picturing acoustic guitars, beer drinking, and parking lot full of Priuses and pick-up trucks. Brevard is great at that kind of thing.
I hadn’t pictured a Zumba dance off.
The venue was the Brevard Lumberyards, originally built in 1908. The site — formerly a set of abandoned shed with rusting RC Cola and Sunbeam Bread signs — has been refashioned art the Lumber Arts District.
And indeed, the Zumba dance off was complemented by vendors selling local jewelry, local beer (Dale’s Pale Ale, of course), and an adjoining art gallery opening.
I’m back stateside now, and though it’s great to be home, have to say I’m prematurely nostalgic for my trip. So I’ll wallow by posting a few favorite shots of Kuala Lumpur.
First off, those iconic towers…
Sunrise comes pretty late in KL, so the Petronas towers were still aglow with night lights on my morning run. I found myself looking forward to catching glimpses of them in the skyline — like the Chrysler Building or Eiffel Tower.
And on the urban-decay side of the spectrum, Chinatown had these lovelies to offer…
And some interesting flashes of what powers all that commerce — a facade flipside:
More to come from North Carolina and Tennessee, now that I’m back on the Blue Ridge side of things…
Finding Malaysian food in Malaysia (or at least in downtown Kuala Lumpur) was surprisingly not intuitive. I saw dozens of restaurants advertising themselves as Japanese, Thai, Cantonese, Italian, and American — and even Persian, Latin, and Turkish — but when I asked where real people ate, two different locals directed me to a mall food court.
My search improved when I started looking specifically for nasi lemak — the national dish. Its name means “fatty rice,” and it can come in many forms. But the core elements seem to be the rich, savory rice (cooked in coconut cream, and usually served on a banana leaf) and piles of stuff. Roasted peanuts, spicy sambal, and fried anchovies are the staples.
Most nasi lemak vendors have pans of saucy meats sitting out on tables. I had avoided these because those heaps of brown (unrefrigerated) meats of indeterminate age screamed food poisoning, but it seemed offensive to leave Malaysia without at least trying the nation’s favorite food.
I picked a canteen and pointed to several pans of vegetables. As I was sitting waiting for my meal, I noticed that everyone else around was a) male and b) eating with his hands. No chopsticks, no carbohydrate scooper (chips, injera, naan). Just greasy fingers of saucy rice.
Blessedly I was served with a fork and spoon. And it was tasty — something like a cross between Ethiopian and Indian flavors, with a side of fried anchovies. I don’t think it’s destined to become the next American food craze, but as a friend said, “it’s really a lot better than it sounds”…
… and an Ain Arabia (Arab Street) too.
Within Kuala Lumpur, it’s possible to do a mini-global tour. I hardly scratched the surface of neighborhoods, but Chinatown and Little India seemed like must-do’s.
Chinatown is a bargain-hunting paradise. Yes, there are throngs of booths selling counterfeit watches, pirated DVDs, and power adapters of all sorts. But amid the ranks, and on some side streets, I had a blast — sampling foods, buying gifts for the next three years’ of birthdays, and taking photographs.
It lacks the seediness of Bangkok’s tourist markets or the rotty-fish smell of New York’s Chinatown. Evidently, the Malaysian government is stricter on prostitution than the Thai, and they tightly regulate food-vendor cleanliness. This time-capsule of a lunch canteen in Chinatown, for example, was cleaner than most Waffle Houses I’ve visited (not to mention friendlier!).
As for Little India, when I asked a cheerful stranger at the subway station for directions, her reply was:
“You go straight and straight, and you keep walking until you see… India!”
Biryanis, bangles, and beauty salons. What’s not to love?
A breezy 20-minute train ride outside of Kuala Lumpur is a historic Hindu temple built into limestone cliffs overlooking the city. The caves are tunneled throughout with Hindu temples built inside. There’s also the world’s tallest statue of Hindu deity Murugan and a staircase where visitors can climb about 20 stories to the cliff’s temples. Sounds like a perfect tourist afternoon, right?
The concierge had warned me to be careful — it’s sometimes dangerous and full of… He seemed to forget the word.
“Pickpockets?” I asked.
“No — monkeys. They are not nice.”
Note to self: do not pet or provoke monkeys — even if they’re being cute playing with coconuts in front of scenic temples.
It was only as I started climbing the stairs that I realized the place was crawling with monkeys. They’re adorable at a distance, but as they slip by your arm on a guardrail at approximately 15 stories up a cliff, things get creepier.
While I would have loved to find the site to be a spiritual release, I was a little distracted by the animal life. In addition to monkeys, the cave’s temple featured bats, pigeons, and even some roosters. (Yes, I know — roosters? More than 300 feet up a mountain? Yup.)
I’m glad I visited, but I think I should have expected an zoological park rather than a temple.
Wow, the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia. This Kuala Lumpur gem brings together Islamic art, from China to Uzbekistan to Spain (with stops in Turkey, Palestine, Morocco and more). Architecture, home decor, weaponry — it’s all on display. Case in point, this Chinese Qur’an from 1730, or 1142 AH (the wall text offer dates in both the Islamic and Western calendars).
I was fascinated to see the continuity, as well as sharp distinctions in Islamic style — such as the layout of mosques, which differs depending on architectural lineage. Below, a traditional Islamic home in a historic Indian house…
And speaking of architecture, the museum itself isn’t too shabby.
At the Yangon airport, my boarding documents were written by hand. When I landed in Kuala Lumpur, I boarded a high-speed train to downtown and was able to check email the entire trip. A two-hour flight and at least a decade in time travel.
So far, I’m smitten with this town. Sure, it’s full of malls and skyscrapers. But the blending of Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern — with dashes of Western — is fascinating. Not to mention that the shopping is phenomenal.
The only catch is that I can’t figure out which part is actually Malaysian. I set out last night to try Malaysian food, and Jalal Alor (below) seemed like the foodie favorites for street eats.
Vendors were selling Cantonese, Indian, Halal, Szechuanese, and Thai food — and more. On the three-block walk home, I saw Italian, Moroccan, Persian, Japanese, Latin, and French restaurants, not to mention dozens of Starbucks, 7-Elevens, and KFCs. But not a single sign I saw said “Malaysian.”
I met some locals — third-generation Chinese, born in Kuala Lumpur who love Malaysia and are proud to live here. Still, they said they usually consider themselves “Chinese.” So maybe that is the Malaysian part — that it all exists here, mushed together and yet somewhat cordoned off.
And speaking of mushed together, time to hit the monorail…
Mexican Cantina at a mall in Kuala Lumpur — spotted: a guy putting sriracha on his girlfriend’s pizza.Oh yes, and the cantina serves hookahs…