This year was my sixth at ~BURNING MAN~, and boy, have my dining habits changed after my first year back in 1996, when I was “cooking” Tasty Bites from Trader Joe’s on a single Coleman burner, with no kitchen to speak of and eating out of the same bowl from my old Girl Scouts mess kit all week. (Mess is right.) But you know what? That year was a total blast. (See that pic? That was not my camp. That was CENTER CAMP.)
Over the years, and lots of trial and error, I was able to dial in a decent kitchen setup, bought a spiffy Coleman grill for quality breakfasts (the most important meal!), and even put on a +Rehab+ disco brunch one morning for over 60 people with the help of my friends and the hospitality of camp Comfort & Joy.
One of my campmates noted that we didn’t open a single can this year. (Well, except for those cases and cases of beer.) Food can taste sublime out there, even a hard-boiled egg can be transcendent (and a fresh salad? pure alchemy) because you’re pedaling your bike everywhere and building things and running around and dancing and riding art cars all night and it’s almost too hot to eat during the day and it’s easy to get worn out and in need of some fuel—you can go from hungry to HANGRY really fast, like a trebuchet catapulting a piano.
I had such ambitious dining plans before heading off to Burning Man this year: I thought I was going to check out all kinds of opulent spreads, and visit some cool SF restaurant industry folks who take part in the madness. People totally do it up, from the legendary Tuna Guys, fishermen who haul in hundreds of pounds of fish from Oregon, to campers preparing multi-course dinners with wine pairings and dishes like artichoke halves with lemon caper aioli, to famed barbecue joints, there’s Avalon camp that serves Vietnamese iced coffee, the pancakes each morning at Pancake Playhouse, the list is not unlike a dining guide in a city. Clocking in at 47,000 people this year, Black Rock City is not what I would call a podunk town.
Lisa Schultz of Mijita and the rest of the lovelies behind Figmint Café invited me for ribs on Monday night, and guess who completely missed it? What the hell, Marcia. Bless their hearts, they invited me for leftovers the next day, the best leftovers I’ve ever had out there, better than most dinners! Quite a spread, huh. Go ladies. They even gave me a to-go container for my campmates. Classy. They always had a cold beer for me, even at 9am one morning when I was riding home (oops) and they were just waking up and opening for coffee—see, beer is what I call the true breakfast of champions. They also offered an abundance of smiles and hugs, plus they had a kiddie pool of water you could soak your feet in. I was so grateful for this little home away from home. What generous and kind hosts, thank you!
An old friend was part of the staggeringly thoughtful Ashram Galactica camp, where you can enter a lottery each night to take part in their multi-course feast—check out the menu here. I couldn’t even get my act together to make it to their tapas happy hour—I was having too much fun doing whatever the hell I must have been doing between 1pm and 4pm each day. I did manage to make it by for some swell drinks, and thanks to everyone of Ashram Galactica for taking such good care of our friends Burcu and Orkan on their wedding day!
I was kindly invited by the folks at Sushilovecake for vegan brown rice sushi and tea and cupcakes, and I ended up running into some long-lost friends while I was on my way there and rats, I didn’t make it for the sunset dinner. Foiled again! I also had intentions to hang out with Russell Rummer, the executive chef of Roots restaurant, over a frozen daiquiri powered by a bicycle blender at their "Dusty Palms" camp, but the couple times I rode by, no one was home—they must have been having fun riding around and exploring, like me. Cheers.
Some stellar folks invited me for some “Fat Asses' original chicken” in the AEZ (Alternative Energy Zone) on Wednesday at 4:30pm, and guess who showed up late after it was all done? Yes, me. Late, late, late. I had just woken up, oops. (Keeping track of time out there is impossible, and downright futile. I don’t recommend it.) But they were total sweeties (thanks Matt and lovely friend!) and saved some badass chicken for me off their killer smoker, R2BQ—is that the best name or what? It was a stellar post-nap meal with my can o’ Tecate. Meow.
See a theme here? This was my year of being the cingene, or gypsy, as a hot Turkish boy named me. By day three I realized, Marcia, cingene girl, let it go. Five nights a week in the “default world” here in San Francisco I’m eating so many fantastic meals, over-scheduling myself here and there, sometimes going to two or three events a night… and out on the playa, I discovered it was time to shrug off the tablehopper identity, toss the calendar into the dust storm (metaphorically speaking, of course), and just eat when I was hungry, when it happened to cross my path, or my personal favorite, cook a change!
Here were a few discoveries the gypsy did make:
While trying to sniff out a famed and mythical barbecue setup (I was hungry and far from camp), the sweeties at Velvet Soulmine called me over and poured me a nice beer from their keg, and within ten minutes of hanging out with my new friend Jody over some sassy conversation, meowza, we got a surprise delivery from the Pizza Sluts! With a custom designed box. Hot! The bar was suddenly flapping with human vultures attacking the pizza, hilarious. The serendipity of the moment could not have been better. Thank you Pizza Sluts!
While filling out my application at the Costco Soulmate Trading Outlet, I got to have a peek at their kitchen, and scored a taste (or two) of someone’s delish family recipe for potato salad. Also was completely smitten with their Peach Pepper Whiskey I tossed back at the bar—can’t wait to make it (I did manage to get a recipe, how shockingly organized of me!).
Since we’re on the liquid diet plan, while at Abstininthe I had the distinct pleasure of pushing a habanero absinthe on Miguelito, a 4am friend who had the cojones to try it. He could have tried pear, or bacon, or a multitude of flavors, but no, he took on the diabolical habanero batch my food writer friend made, and to that I doff my cowboy hat. I had a brilliant laugh while waves of that shot kept kicking in, poor guy. Vaya con dios!
I was spoiled with random acts of bacon, and mushroom lasagne (the sober kind), and a hot Thai dinner (big love to Camp Hook-Up!), and shots, and cheeseburgers, and... I still managed to drop five pounds! Hallelujah.
Probably one of my favorite things is witnessing how food brings people together out there—mealtime is always a moment of camp bonding, and it offers a much-needed break in what are such busy days and nights. “Sit down, take a load off, here, eat some lunch I just made, would you like a cold beer?” are magic words. It’s also really hard work to prepare food on the playa, so it makes it one of the greatest gifts, whether you are giving it, or receiving it, but especially when you least expect it, like when some marvelously kooky guys decide to make hotdogs on a hibachi in the middle of traffic during the four-hour exodus, or when you wake up at 4:30pm and some kind soul saved you some chicken.