Thursday

Out In The Street: Chengdu, China & Sichuan Street Burgers


"Enjoy life like a giant panda." That's the motto in the panda packed Sichuan region of southwest China. According to locals, to enjoy life like a giant panda you must limit yourself to three key activities:

1) eating
2) relaxing
3) having sex once a year

Tempting. In parts.

On my visit I embraced number one on the list.

If you ever find yourself in the city of Chengdu, China (I sort of hope you never do) then make yourself feel better with a Sichuan street burger. With any luck the burger will distract you - for a couple of minutes at least - from the 14 million people, the endless grey concrete, the claustrophobic muggy weather and the intense smog engulfing this city.

Oh Chengdu isn't all bad I suppose. There's some lively fun parts for beers (imagine a Magaluf style strip of bars) and the food is actually really, really good. 

Burgers were number one on my agenda, and I soon got my fix from a hole in the wall vendor on Chunxi Road (or "Golden Street"). I say burger....


It looked like a pitta parcel filled with mince meat. And that's probably the best way to describe it actually. The meat? Beef, I think. With chilies, green beans and spring onions - similar to a spicy shepherd's pie filling (the Sichuan province is renowned for deliciously hot food). The mince was slightly dry, but it wasn't a problem when tucked into the moist steamed bread (this is the only time bread should be moist, and the only time, I hope, I'll use the word "moist" to describe food).


I soon realised that in Chengdu anything with a slightly round shape seems to be classified as a burger. So I tried four different burgers on Jinli Street - the street food mecca - during my visit.

Some sweet red bean paste burgers.


A steamed, meaty, stew/gravy bundle burger (greasy, but delicious). Wipe your oily fingers on the handy leaf.


And then another circular item - or burger - crunchy pastry stuffed with layers of even more pastry and an unidentifiable meat. I spotted rabbit head, duck tongue, chicken feet and various other body parts of animals knocking about, so it was potentially a pastry parcel of one of those.



It's not all street food though. "AHU Restaurant" is a huge place popular with locals, and soon our purple satin table cloth (think naff not nice) was spread with a spicy array of local dishes. Plates included fish flavoured pork, fried rice with pork, gong bao chicken and another pork dish called "pork without oil" which was, confusingly, swimming in oil. Dishes are typically very spicy - to balance the water in the air in the city - but not overbearingly hot.


When you're done with all of the eating - and there should be plenty - head to the People's Park, one of the oldest parks in China. It's where the locals hang out to drink tea, play games, dance (sort of line dancing but more sincere). There's also a very original and lovely dating facility in the park. Parents leave signs on sticks detailing the merits of their single children, advising the public on the kind of suitor they are looking for.

For example, "must be taller than 5ft 10, must have a good job, must not wear glasses". If you fit the bill you can then call the parents and they'll deem you suitable - or not - for a first date with their child. Who needs Tinder?


But back to the burger! Of all the burgers, the spicy shepherd's pie and moist pitta parcel combination was the best. It's not a reason to visit Chengdu (far far from it), but if you find yourself there at least you have my burger advice. And my sympathy.

You'll find these burgers at various stands in the city, or on Jinli Street.



Monday

BrewDog/Texas Joe's BBQ, Shepherd's Bush, London

Eat a burger, go to a gig. The two come hand in hand for me, and for several others I'm sure. 

One of those "others" is my dad. So when we went to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes play in Shepherd's Bush, it was a natural decision to have a burger together before. 

My poor dad. He sees how many burgers I eat. He loves burgers. I love burgers. We meet up, and we should eat great burgers together. But instead we ate the shittest of the shit, one of the worst burgers I have ever tried in this beautiful burger filled city. I want Burgers and Bruce to be positive place, but with burgers like this? Well, it's tricky.



Boom Burger, Notting Hill, London

Boom! A (relatively) new burger  has exploded onto the London burger scene, and it's as boom as the name suggests.

Out west in Notting Hill, burgers are now being served with a loud Jamaican twist at BOOM Burger. Order at the counter choosing from the beefy and bacon jam "boom" burger, jerk chicken burger, fish burger, cheese burger and a Caribbean-esque veggie sweet potato and chili jam burger. Take a seat inside or out, and tuck in to one of the top burgers in London, head bouncing to the beat of some seriously good reggae tuneage.

The Boom burger's (£8) brioche bun is toasted on the inside and packed with a generous meat patty, slightly jerky mayo, mild cheese, slim layer of lettuce, thinly sliced red onion, tomato (REMOVED) and a sweet, salty and boom ting bacon jam.



Sunday

Parrilla Natural, Algarve, Portugal

This seemingly unimportant burger became much more significant when Springsteen joined the stage with The Rolling Stones in Lisbon recently. I get through a lot of burgers. I’m too embarrassed to tell you how many. Let’s just say about 50% of the burgers I eat make it on to here. I need to choose the very best, the very worst, or the very relevant.

And this burger is now relevant.

The Algarve is the region in South Portugal – not Lisbon, I know – but two hours down the road, and somewhere where E Street Fans, or Bruce himself, may head on holiday after a concert in the capital. Bruce's naff vests aren’t fooling me, he can try to cling on to his young NJ boy look, but there is no doubt he enjoys the finer things in life. And the Algarve is just fiiine.

Allowing myself a “night off” from burger reviewing, I didn’t make notes or take pictures of the meal from every angle, as I normally would. But I remember this: the bun was soft and seeded, the patty was fantastic quality - this is a Uruguayan steak restaurant - and it was topped with chunky slices of soft onion and sun dried tomatoes, so big they lolled out the side. It was a mighty burger, difficult even for me to wade through.



Thursday

Billy Idol: Padova, Italy, 10th June 2014


There was a crotch thrusting, fist clenching, lip twitching sweaty night of passion in Italy this week. Don’t worry, it’s not how it might sound. But it was just as exciting. 

Always fond of a jaunt to Italy, and with Springsteen’s touring schedule up in the air for the foreseeable future, I booked tickets to Padova, and eagerly headed off to this northern Italian city to see another of my “childhood favourite” artists perform for the first time.

Billy Idol?!” One friend exclaimed. “Isn’t he dead??” 

Nope. Still rocking…still thrusting.

Feeling the need to defend the latest, slightly obscure, Italian concert pilgrimage, I took to telling people I was heading there “for the craic”. 

“I’m going to see Billy Idol in Padova.” I told their puzzled faces. “It’s for the craic!” I nodded unconvincingly.

And some craic it was. You’ll often find me harping on about Italy being an essential destination for a concert, and this was no exception. The venue, a very hot tent-like giant balloon, was crammed full of excitable aging tattooed punks. And me. 

I watched the show undress (literally) from the third row (with no queuing!) and for the next two hours I saw songs I’d sung along to so innocently as a child, shamelessly performed by a sweaty, gyrating 58 year old 80s rocker - chunky thighs and crotch wodged into leather trousers so tight I was half baffled. But mostly impressed. 

You can just about see my open mouth  - from @BillyIdol


It wasn’t just those tight trousers leaving me awe-struck. Within 15 minutes the band had belted out some of my all-time favourite “Billy Idol Classics” – Cradle of Love, followed by Generation X’s Dancing With Myself before Billy took his package pushing and fist clenching up a notch for a shirtless Flesh For Fantasy.

“Do you like good music, do you like to dance?” Idol asked us, seducing us by song. That night I liked both, and so did the crowd – men and women whooping as he stripped off his jacket, disrobing to reveal enviable abs and a body slick with sweat. 


The thrusting paused for a brief minute or two during Sweet Sixteen – one of Idol’s slower paced songs - in which he swapped his tambourine and “arm out/fist clench” signature move for an acoustic guitar. Hidden among the faster paced masterpieces, it felt bizarrely intense and emotional. A guitar solo from Steve Stevens followed soon after, slim legs jeweled in sparkly flares, leopard print shirt exposing a bare chest, face damp with sweat causing smudged black eye make-up, and hair - well the hair was something I can only hope to achieve one day.


Managing more outfit changes than Britney Spears (I counted 10 in total), Billy “Fucking” Idol (as he fondly refers to himself) then took to the stage in a three quarter length suit jacket – the kind I beg my dad not to wear – confirming this really was an 80s extravaganza. At the beginning I’d felt like a bit of an outsider, a conman. Sporting just one very well hidden and seriously shit tattoo from my teens, I wasn’t sure I was as hard-core as the bicep inked fans surrounding me. By this point though, I was embracing it, and by the next song – Rebel Yell – I was hollering “MORE MORE MORE” with the rest of the crowd. “YOU MAKE ME FEEL GOOD,” Billy cried. The feeling was mutual. 


On to White Wedding, the Dancing In the Dark of Billy Idol’s catalogue, given a spin with an acoustic start before the band went for it after the first verse. By Mony Mony, the final song, the crowd were wild with enthusiasm. Drenched in sweat, together we chorused “Ride The Pony, Ride The Pony” – not the most thoughtful lyric I’ll ever sing, but undoubtedly one of the most fun. So. Much. Fun. 

So, that’s what happens when you travel to Italy for a Billy Idol concert. 

You may not sing the most profound lyrics, or experience the raw emotion of a Springsteen concert, but oh my, Billy Idol is worth seeing live. 

Do it for the craic.




Head to www.billyidol.net  - he's still touring! 


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