This year I was in Washington DC for the 4th of July. Lodged in a hotel just blocks from the US Capitol, I anticipated garish, crowded celebrations and mawkish patriotism. I found little of it, just the floats pictured above and a glimpse of the evening's telecast. At this time of year the National Mall actually hosts a Folklife Festival that casts a spotlight on another country and culture.
In 2016 the festival presented Basque culture. We witnessed metalsmithing, pottery, stone-cutting, boat construction, weaving, painting, cheese-smoking, sports, singing and some truly unique performance. It was tough to imagine what was to come as we watched a troop of men (pictured above, click to embiggen), in what looked like petticoats and soft dancing shoes, lacing each other into furry coats as if they were corsets and strapping enormous bells onto their backs. Joaldunak proved very entertaining, and gave a friendly, generous translated interview about their village traditions, the family connections among the team, and the new all-woman group that's started up in their region.
Jovial cooking demonstrations ran throughout the day, with at best half of the jokes making it through to those of us who don't understand Basque. It was hard for me to imagine recreating any of their dishes at home, as they prepared fish three ways, and later added four kinds of red meat to a breakfast skillet. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the demonstrators' banter and pride in their traditions.
We did manage to find a few veg options at the Basque food stall. A cold bean stew didn't sound so exciting but was actually rich and well spiced, colourfully garnished with pickles and peppers. My hosts urged me to try Basque ciders - they have a particularly astringent aftertaste, ranging from sour to olive-y. The almond custard pastry we shared for dessert was a much more typical crowd-pleaser.
I spent rest of the week seeking veg-friendly dinners around the city centre. We, The Pizza was located just around the corner from my hotel. It's a bright and casual spot with an eye-catching display of enormous New York-style slices. A US$4 (~AU$5.30) slice of Forest Shroomin' Pie was enough to call dinner, but I grabbed a nice little Farmers Market Salad to diversify my veges (and took a slice of Spinach & Artichoke Pie away for next day's lunch). I also liked that they make a range of sodas with their own syrups. The Co, Co Nut Soda (US$3 ~ AU$4) was unusual and refreshing, but not a great match for cheesy pizza.
Happy Cow pointed me towards British-themed pub The Alibi. Their credibility was somewhat undermined by the inclusion of Cinnamon Sugar Sweet Potatoes with Vanilla Icing, Shrimp Po' Boys and Gumbo on the menu, but I was there for Vegan Fish And Chips (US$13 ~ AU$17.20).
These guys got the plate off to a good start by using Gardein mock fish - I reckon it's the lightest, flakiest fake-fillet on the market. The triple-cooked chips were a respectable tribute to the mother country, and the tartar sauce was much appreciated. (Honestly, I would've loved some green veges on the side.) Unfortunately my ginger soda (US$4 ~ AU$5.30) lacked both bite and bubbles.
Located in the business district, the pub was comfortable but a little cheesy, a spot for after-work drinks and tourists rather than neighbourhood residents. While I didn't have the stamina for more than one pub meal in a week, it might have be fun to try their other veg options, including sausage rolls, devilled eggs and mushroom burgers.
As the week went on I honed my hipster-vege eating, so stay tuned for few more DC eateries.
I also visited and blogged about Washington DC two years ago!