Globetrotting Musician Dave Bidini Eats Bone Marrow in Harbin and Goulash in Transylvania

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Globetrotting Musician Dave Bidini Eats Bone Marrow in Harbin and Goulash in Transylvania

With the looming threat of a Trump presidency, many of my friends have been talking about moving to Canada. Apparently it’s not just my friends — after Super Tuesday, Google searches for “how can I move to Canada” rose 350 percent.

There’s also that hunky feminist Prime Minister to consider.

Maybe now is a good time to become better acquainted with our future Canadian friends and neighbors. Let’s start with writer, musician, and recreational hockey player Dave Bidini.

Bidini is a versatile and productive artist who could be profiled in any number of the sections of this magazine. He’s a founding member of the Rheostatics (an influential Canadian band active from 1980-2007, who are scheduled to play a few reunion shows this year), has published twelve books, made two documentaries, wrote a play that was produced and a book that is being developed for the screen, and writes a weekly column for the Saturday Post. He’s the only person to have been nominated for a Canadian Gemini award for television, Genie award for film, and Juno award for music.

I wanted to talk with Bidini about food, and I knew he’d have plenty to say. After all, he’s a world traveler, both as a rock musician and as a writer. His book Around the World in 57 ½ Gigs (2008) describes his tour of England, Finland, Russia, China, Sierra Leone, and Ghana. Another book, Baseballissimo (2005), documents his time following an Italian baseball team. Paste chatted with Bidini about global culinary adventures such as these, as well as the virtues of on-stage gin and tonics, the dangers of pre-gig falafel, and the surprising difference between the perfect post-hockey game meal and the perfect post-rock show meal.

From the sound of it, we’re all gonna eat just fine in our new northern home.

Paste: You’re at a truck stop, you’re starving, and you have five minutes to assemble a meal. Please describe that meal, and how you feel about it.

Dave Bidini: I think, in its own way, a clubhouse sandwich can be quietly artisanal, or just plan good, so that’s always my default plan, especially if the turkey is real and off-the-bone, which it usually, surprisingly, is. I’ve always thought it’s a utilitarian way for a short order cook to prove that he or she can assemble with lightness and care. Burgers and fries are hatchet work, but the clubhouse requires some order and poetry. I’ve rarely been disappointed, even in the furthest outpost. And then maybe some pie. Pie is good, right?

Paste : Have you noticed any differences between a truck stop meal in Canada and one in the U.S.?

DB: As for Canadian versus America truck stops, it’s the same for both places: you have to know where and how to look. News of good truck stops are passed from word of mouth by bands the same way we talk, inversely, about shitty sound engineers, horrible club washrooms, rip-off promoters. News travels fast when there’s an oasis off this highway or that one: wild rice in Blind River, pierogies in Brandon, herring and eggs in Thunder Bay at The Hoito, the Finnish breakfast place.

Paste : When you’re traveling, what food from home do you crave?

DB: My wife’s risotto. Hall of Fame caliber.

Paste : When you’re home, what do you miss about eating on the road?

DB: Being able to wander into the great nothingness of wild, new terrain after lunch or dinner.

Paste : Is there anything special you like to eat before you play a show? Or anything you definitely do not like to eat before you play?

DB: There are lots of red flags. Middle Eastern food is the worst. I tell a story in “On a Cold Road” about our first ever showcase in NYC; how horribly, horribly nervous we were, and how, for some reason, we decided to get falafels before the show. We felt awful getting on stage— bloated, sick—but, for some reason, we played a running-for-our-lives show and got a record deal. Still, we all thought: let’s get through this so we can all go and have a nice vomit after.

Paste : Do you have any superstitious pre-show drink rituals?

DB: Gin and tonics are the best on-stage drink—refreshing, and doesn’t cling to your throat—but I won’t drink before, usually.

Paste : You’ve travelled the world. What countries stand out in your memory, food-wise?

DB: There are so many: sucking bone marrow through a straw in Harbin, China; African stews in Sierra Leone; the Yolky Palkys in Russia, which are sort of post-Soviet Denny’s but with delicious stand-up meat and cheese bars; goulash in Transylvania; fried whitefish in Tuktoyaktuk; and, of course, eating in Italy, where, in 2002, our family lived by the sea while I followed around an Italian baseball team for my book. The osteria’s were beyond-this-world: seafood pulled from the water moments before it was grilled in the simplest of terms.

Also, my wife’s family in the north of Italy runs a famous restaurant—Da Toni. You live there in rooms upstairs and just eat the rest of the time. On a few occasions, the ballplayers’ families tried, literally, to kill me with food: course after course after course, all absurdly delicious and home-cooked.

Paste : Is there one restaurant that you most look forward to visiting when you’re traveling? What do you like to eat there?

DB: I had a Japanese place in Vancouver called Kitto on Granville but, horror of horrors, it closed. The food wasn’t 10 out of 10, but it was delicious and cheap and, for me, it evoked the nostalgia of early triumphs in the band’s career on the coast. I’d steal two hours in my day, buy a Village Voice or New York Times or Sunday Times from the Granville Book Company (also gone) and have a meditative time at the restaurant. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do.

Paste : What’s your worst on-the-road food story?

DB: Once, we were told to dine at a place in Regina before the show; the club was covering meals. After we ordered, we looked around at what everyone else was eating and noticed how much more food there was on their plates. We asked the server what was up, and she said: “Oh, we’ve been instructed to give musicians only half orders.” You can imagine what kind of vindictive set we played later that night.

Paste : What’s the best meal you’ve had lately?

DB: My wife and I were in Stockholm recently, guests of Swedish Tourism. We were taken around town and then dined at an amazing place: Mathias Dahlgren. When we arrived at our booth, our server asked: “Do you like champagne?” We said that we did. We ordered reindeer and meatballs and fish—all so delicious—and then our host told us Sinéad O’Connor was performing up the street at a large, elegant club. She was fantastic, and being drunk on champagne and sated by the food made the experience perfect. It was a beautiful night in a beautiful city and I’ll never forget it.

Paste : What does the perfect post-gig meal look like? What about the perfect post-hockey meal?

DB: Funny, because I’d always way rather eat than drink after a gig. We used to go to a Chinese place in Toronto called The Phoenix—it’s not there anymore—and the proprietors knew we were musicians. We’d eat deep fried wontons and bird’s nest soup and red dragon fish and talk about the show. We’d had a terrible show one night and we showed up wearing the effects of the gig. The family who ran the place felt so bad they fed us for free: a long amazing meal they made to comfort us and balm our wounds.

After hockey, we rock burgers and fries and lots of beer.

Freda Love Smith is a drummer, Northwestern University lecturer, and the author of Red Velvet Underground: A rock memoir, with recipes. Follow her on Twitter.

Preview image by Llana Horsburgh. Top photo by Simon Law CC BY-SA.