Fall in D.C. is a great time for getting out and about to have new experiences, especially after a long, hot summer spent hanging out in the local beer garden. Whether it’s trying out autumnal restaurant specials or hitting up local weekend festivals, it’s an opportunity to expand your horizons.
But sometimes the experience in the autumn is heavy on pumpkin spiced cocktails or festivals filled with random collections of offerings, from fried rice to Sno-cones to Girl Scout cookies. The object becomes to eat and drink, but there’s not much else to the experience.
But, then again, this is a think-tank kind of town, so we love a good lesson to go with our meals. Here are three opportunities in October to expand your mind and your waistband.
Because we just can’t get enough of politics, especially in these roller-coaster times when Twitter is set aflame nearly every day, be sure to stop into Off the Record at the Hay-Adams Hotel (800 16th St., N.W.) this month, where they’re continuing their stellar tradition of politically themed cocktails accompanied by seriously collectible cartoon-adorned coasters.
Available this month are four cocktails distinctly themed on current headlines: Prost, Meddler in the Rye, the 38th Parallel and Kiki’s Concerto — each accompanied by exceedingly clever coasters created by political cartoonists Ann Telnaes, Matt Wuerker and Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher. We’re not saying that the drinks aren’t good — they are, and they also feature D.C.-made liquors from One Eight Distilling and Don Ciccio & Figli.
But who can resist coasters with images of German Chancellor Angela Merkel hefting a giant beer stein, Russian President Vladimir Putin sucking down vodka shots (shirtless, of course), Korean Workers’ Party Chairman Kim Jong-un pouring out some “Bomb Bay Gin” and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg weighing olives in the Scales of Justice? We can’t.
To celebrate the grand reopening of the Smithsonian Freer/Sackler Gallery after a nearly two-year renovation, the Asian arts museum is hosting a free weekend-long Asian night market on the National Mall Oct. 14t-15. “IlluminAsia: A Festival of Asian Art, Food and Cultures” will feature plenty of music and crafts but the unifying theme is learning about Asian cultures through food. Set aside any ideas you have about what “Asian food” is because Asia is, of course, a vast continent that plays hosts to many countries, cultures and cuisines.
The open-air food market and the renovated museum will be open from 5 p.m.-midnight on Saturday and from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday, recreating the sights, sounds and smells of night markets found in countries as varied as Vietnam, the Philippines and Hong Kong. Check out a variety of cooking demonstrations from across the Asian spectrum, including ones by Himalayan chef Dorjee Tsering of Dorjee Momo, Laotian chef Bobby Pradachith of Thip Khao and Padaek and Bahrainian chef Bassam Al Alawi. Be sure to sample the Taiwanese shaved ice, find out what Uyghur cuisine is and sip on some traditional tea. You’re sure to find out that not all dumplings are the same.
If you’re haven’t had your fill of food and culture following IlluminAsia, then mark your calendar for the Smithsonian’s Food History Weekend at the National Museum of American History, Oct. 26-28, when scholars and chefs delve into the nitty gritty of how food influences culture and vice versa.
Some of the highlights of the event include free roundtable discussions on Oct. 27 such as “Migration Nation,” a session exploring how migration throughout American history has shaped regional food traditions, and “Tales of Three Dishes,” in which three culinarians — an African-American food historian, a Jewish cookbook author and a Mexican chef — each discuss how a specific dish is an expression of both their personal histories and cultures.
On Oct. 28, live demonstrations will take place in the museum’s demonstration kitchen, including one by “Top Chef” fan favorite Sheldon Simeon, who will share Chicken Hekka, a popular dish from his native Hawaii, and a discussion titled “The Culinary Diplomacy Project” promises to provide plenty of food for thought about the role that food can play in bridging the global cultural divide.
Kristen Hartke is a D.C.-based food and beverage writer; follow her kitchen adventures on Instagram, @kristenhartke.