The metal skewers of beef heart lifted from the grill grates, and three pieces were slid from them onto paper. The smell of char rose; grease spotted my plate, the dampness slowly growing. Biting into those anticuchos, those beef heart kebabs, was like biting into a veal slice: tender with a little chew. But here the offal zing was minimized by the thinness of the cut. It tasted primal and kissed hard by the grill, great food to be eating outdoors in the opening of a spring night.
Like last, this year’s Devour the World took place in Phoenix’s Japanese Friendship Garden. The vendor stands curled along the walk tracing the pond, and so did paper lanterns. Music filled the air, often two kinds at once.
The heart was from El Chullo. It was seasoned by a few things, mostly the sight of pond and sound of music. A band of Mexican dancers kicked legs and swirled dresses to fast-paced tunes blasted through a stereo, all color and fireworks. A musician in a bandanna played a shakuhachi, a Japanese flute, high notes hanging in the air like smoke.
Devour the World, compared to its biggest sibling (the Devour Culinary Classic), is slower and more compact, and much easier to enjoy if you’re allergic to crowds. People flowed through a tight loop of fewer than two dozen vendors, eddying at choice vendors and short bar lines of people with dry wine glasses. People with full glasses sip San Reckoner. Fork up tikka masala. Watch the pond mirror the slow-darkening sky, and, come nightfall, the paper lanterns along the water.
The draw of the event is that it’s a Devour event, sure, but also that it shrinks Phoenix. How many nights can you eat Mexican, Italian, Filipino, South American, Native American, Indian, and Indonesian in a 20-yard radius?
Last night was one of them. And some of it was pretty memorable.
The Rez: An Urban Eatery iced a lime-green cup of agua fresca that was as all over the map as the event’s vendors. It fired on about six different freshness cylinders, uniting honeydew, basil, pineapple, and jalapeño. People talk smack on honeydew. It sure isn’t the sexiest fruit. This drink pitched a mean case otherwise.
Similarly, a bite from the vegan restaurant Muse + Market briefly quashed, for the length its arroz con leche remained in your hand or fading from your short-term memory, the stigma on food prepared without animal products. A word meaning “milk” is in the name of this dish, and yet milk was scotched without a hitch. The coconut milk used in its place brought a creamier, lusher, sweeter body, the tropical vibes of the coconut-scented rice amplified by Champagne mango.
A classic Italian seafood salad was ready at the Andreoli’s Italian Grocery stand. Shrimp pieces and purple coils of squid, cold, drew freshness from parsley and lemon, and a more hillside than marine kind of brine from chopped Gaeta and Taggiasca olives. In its rightness for the outdoors, the salad rivaled beef heart. It came with a hunk of bread carpeted with black crust.
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And so pickled mushrooms weighed down on chips. Banana leaves cradled rice. Griddles crisped blue corn tortillas.
And so Asi Es La Vida zapped its cocinita pibil into sharp focus with red onion. Not long in, Bri’s power went out, and anybody who recalled the stunning lychee in cool carrot curry from the restaurant likely got seared by its memory, primed by the mere sight of the half-done assembly. As day faded, the crowd funneled past the pond and back. Wine disappeared. Mezcal, too.
And the pieces really started to puzzle together with nightfall: the lights, the music, the booze kicking in. And it seemed like, more than anything, that beautifully grilled Peruvian beef heart was going to steal the show. But even its primal tenderness was outdone, and not by something that eclipsed it, but by something that pushed it and all the other disparate, harmonious elements of the event to the level it shoots for. Chicha morada. Purple corn juice served with the heart. Dark as liquid violets and sweet as fruit juice, heady as wine. A purple bow on a serene spring night.