Another weekend in Shanghai, another laundry list of things to do. And over a 3-4 day holiday weekend, depending on the generosity (/Chinese management) of your employer, that list gets even longer.
Between the JZ Festival, DAFF, and SURGE Art Fair (inexplicably sponsored by Red Bull - because nothing fuels introspective creativity like seizure-inducing adrenaline juice), there was almost too much to see, do, and taste this weekend, and I tried my best to pack it all in, but from the start I knew one thing was a non-negotiable: the legendary Bubba's Chili Cookoff.
This year was the 8th annual Cookoff, and the event has become something sacred in Shanghai's social calendar - one friend even (only half-jokingly) suggesting that they make it a legal holiday. This was the Cookoff's second year as a "fully sanctioned" "Super Regional" (whatever this means) chili competition by the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI, for those still without membership cards). This is super-serious business kids - Bubba's apparently even sends the top three placing teams to compete in the International Championships in Texas, which strikes me as extreme but equally awesome in a commitment to chili perfection.
Now I had missed last year's chilifest by weeks upon arriving in Shanghai in October, and I was still hearing stories about the amount of beef, booze, and fun had over the day-long meat feast, so I was slightly stoked for this fall's fiesta.
Saturday dawned rainy and gray - on one hand exactly the opposite for what you would hope for an outdoor event, yet on the other perfect chili weather, so we packed up ponchos and headed out to the Cool Docks. After checking in at the desk for our wristbands and (kinda-creepy) baby taster spoons, we did a lap to approximate how many stalls there were (probably around 30) and which ones we would have to prioritize - it was only 1 pm and a good few had already hit pot bottom.
Even immediately upon arriving, we noticed that some teams had gone for more than just meat to beef up their chances of winning, and I could tell that the 'booze' and 'fun' elements were higher on the priority list for some - the men's lacrosse team, who were decked out in short-jorts and camo, trumpeting duck calls and wielding bourbon-blasting water guns, always seems to hold down the "team theme" fort at these events, and were already awarded accordingly.
It's always sober fun at the sweet lax stall.
Major props also go to the Chicks Cooking Chili team for their Breaking Bad-themed booth, complete with costumes of jumpsuits and goggles.
We wandered around tasting chilis for a while, all impressively different for being made of such similar materials. Some were served with cheese (by some absolute babes at The Rooster), some with Fritos (the Chicks again - nice one), and some with cornbread (from a sweet family-run stall), but I personally thought the super-spicy stew from Maya could come out on top, second only to Pistolera's unorthodox somewhat-sweet concoction.
Chicks at The Rooster.
Maya's 'secret' ingredient list (because with only around 100 elements, you could totally recreate it at home...), and the final product:
My vote for the Texas-bound ticket.
Apparently Pistolera hosts a chili contest all on their own, if that says anything about how serious they take their marinated meat.
Our tasting done, we retired to the less taxing job of watching an Elvis impersonator swagger on stage while sampling jerky from Tiny's Best, a new local brand soon to be sold at Pantry...
The 'Kickin Hunan Chicken' tastes exactly like dehydrated ribs from Di Shui Dong - high praise indeed.
...and appreciating innovations in bar-snackery.
The fannypack of bar snacks - not necessarily 'cool', but allows hands-free fun.
We also grabbed pickleback shots from the always-enthusiastic Shanghai Pickleback crew, who were slinging spicy brine brewed especially for the occasion.
It could have just been those last few swigs of spice, but I was buzzing.
A new China National Chili Cookoff Day could indeed be in order.