Monday, July 23, 2012


When I was a kid, my dad took my brother and I to an Indian restaurant in Georgetown.  We split a platter that had lots of miscellaneous chutneys on it.  My brother was the first to try one of the brownish, greenish looking ones, and a look of "yuck" spread across his face.  After drinking water, saying how gross it tasted, and making his disgust clear, he asked if I wanted to try it.  By all human logic, I should have said, "no."  Why would anyone want to try something so gross and so capable of producing such a look of displeasure?  But, I had to know.  I had to know, what does "that gross" taste like?

So, I did.  And, it was "that gross."

I tell this story because I'm sure this type of morbid food curiosity is not uncommon.  Smart people upon hearing something is gross have the good sense to walk away.  Being a foodie means waving good sense and jumping in with both feet.  About a year ago, I wrote about trying live squid and silkworms in Korea.  Part of the driving force behind that was to know for better or worse, what food experience was I missing.

One high "ick" factor food I've been intrigued and taunted by is Durian.  For a while, I've heard about this smelly fruit that has such a strong stench, it has been banned on some subways in Asia.  There is even a no durian sign for places that don't allow its strong pungency to taint the air.  

Food shows and travel shows love making unsuspecting average Joe's try durian.  Food hosts describe the fruit and offer Joe a smell.  Joe smells and pulls away in revulsion.  Although this should make me not want to try durian, every time a food show host presented the big, yellow and red, spiky fruit to someone and I watched his/her expression of horror, I found that old morbid foodie curiosity piquing.

The chance to try durian never really popped up until recently.  I discovered in Lincoln, NE, that several of the Vietnamese restaurants offer durian bubble tea.  Knowing that access was now available, I knew the moment of facing durian was at hand.

When I went to Virginia in June, I visited my friend Kathy.  She reads my blog regularly and so had read from a post that I was interested in trying durian. She said she tried it and liked it, which helped give me a little more  food courage.  When we went to a Thai restaurant, Kanlaya, in D.C.'s Chinatown, durian bubble tea was on the menu.  With a little bit of Kathy's encouraging, I ordered one.  I figured, coupled with chewy tapioca pearls, cut with sweetness, and blended up, would be a chance to wade in.

It's weird.  The smell gets in your nose.  Then it takes a while to build up the sweeter side of the taste to get the smell out.  I had heard people describe it as sulfur like, rotten egg hints.  Antony Bourdain says, "Its taste can only be described as...indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother." He even goes so far as to describe the act of eating durian as "sexy."  To me, it is spring onions, with a hint of eggs, and a sweet not quite fruity finish.  If you drink enough of it, you build up the more tasty side of the fruit.  But, I never really overcame that taste of spring onions.  Once I ate some food and came back, spring onions would battle for flavor dominance.

After a couple of sips, Kathy asked me if I liked it.  I can't say "no," but I can't say "yes" either.  That distinct confusion of something that looks like a fruit and yet doesn't produce fruit like associations makes for some palate confusion.  So, if you want a bright fruit to enjoy, durian isn't it.  If you want a strong tasting savory bite, durian isn't really it either.  For me, it is a no man's land experience.  I know what it isn't, but I don't know what it is either.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Botanical Gardens

 After going to see the new Martin Luther King Monument, my friend Kathy and I talked about where to go next.  I mentioned that I hadn't been to the Botanic Garden in over 15 years.  Since Kathy had never been, we wandered around.  

The outside area is beautiful.  You can sit on a bench and enjoy lunch with views of the Capital or the museums.  From the gardens, the views of the Mall becomes encircled with leafy greens and bright flowery colors.   Inside, you can wander the themed rooms to see desert or jungle plants, the flora and fauna of Hawaiia, or one room filled with delicate orchids.  For the foodies, one of the displays features metal plants, grouped in bunches, and filled with the spices and herbs that comprise things like curry  or African Berbere.   With it, you could smell the individual spices and see how they come together to flavor your favorite dishes. 

I've included my favorite pictures from the gardens.  But, the photos don't even begin to do the beauty of the place justice. 

Next Up is the last of the D.C posts . . . Adventures with Durian
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Washington Monuments

When I lived near D.C., I kinda of took the proximity for granted.  Now, with living half a country away, I thought it might be nice to have some pictures to remind of what great city D.C. is.  Though not food related, I thought you might enjoy  my photographic walk through the Mall. 

Washington, Lincoln, and WWII

Martin Luther King, Jr. 


Capital Building

National Museum of the Native American

Next Up . . . The Botanical Gardens
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Monday, July 9, 2012

What I Ate On My Summer Vacation

A couple of weeks ago, I left Nebraska and went back to Virginia to visit friends and family.  Over the time there I conquered a food fear in Washington D.C., tried some new vineyards and revisited a familiar one, and explored Floyd, VA.  It was a lot of fun and made for lots of food blog posts.  

So, over the next couple of weeks, you get to read all about what I ate on my summer vacation.  I'll start this week with some photos from Washington, D.C. and a review of a Thai restaurant in Chinatown.  Then, I have a series on Virginia Tastings, which will cover the vineyards I visited as well as a new experience doing a coffee tasting.  Finally, I'll end with a couple posts on sampling the food in Floyd.  

Coming Up . . . "Washington Monuments."

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cherry Risotto

Whenever I visit my parents, my mom asks that I make up some risotto. So, after finishing dinner one night, I asked what kind of risotto the two of them wanted. Since mom had just bought some cherries, I suggested a savory cherry risotto. I figured the challenge of using cherries to make a savory dish would be a fun experiment, and that if I could make it work then it would be a great side for poultry.

4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 tsp rosemary (half for broth, half on cherry/mushrooms)
½ tsp. ground white peppercorns
¼ tsp thyme
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp chili powder
1 tsp orange zest
Pinch of nutmeg
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups cherries, seeded and halved
1½  cup sliced mushrooms
pinch of salt 
½ half an onion, cut into slivers 
¾ cup white wine 
  cup risotto
½ cup of arugula, chopped finely

  • Place a pot over medium heat.  Pour in broth and add all the spices (1/2 tsp rosemary, thyme, chili, peppercorns, cinnamon, and nutmeg) and orange zest.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. 
  • In a large pan over medium heat, sauté cherries in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil for 3 minutes.  Then, remove cherries, add three more tablespoons of olive oil and sauté  mushrooms.  When mushrooms are lightly brown, add the cherries back and pour in ¼ cup of white wine.  Sauté for about 5 minutes, or until most of the wine is cooked off.  Remove mushrooms and cherries to a bowl and season with 1/2 tsp of rosemary and a pinch of salt. 

  • In the same pan, add 2 tablespoons of butter and add onions.   Cook until brown and wilted (not quite fully caramelized, but close).  Then, add the risotto and stir until the grain is translucent, except for a white dot in the center (about 5 minutes).  Add the 1/2 cup of wine and stir until completely absorbed.  Add a ladleful of stock, stirring continually.  Wait until the stock is completely absorbed before adding another ladleful.  Continue to keep adding broth a ladleful at a time, only adding more once the broth is absorbed.  It should take about 20 minutes or more to get the risotto tender.  
  • When the risotto is soft and you have added all but the last ½ cup of broth, add the cherries and mushrooms.  Cover with a lid and let finish over a low heat for about 5 minutes.  When you are ready to serve, add the rest of the broth, a small pad of butter, and top with toasted almonds or goat cheese.   
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Monday, June 25, 2012

Jazz in June

In the month of June if you happen to be walking around Downtown Lincoln on a Tuesday night, you will find yourself in the middle of quite a music, people, and food filled event called "Jazz in June."  The website for Jazz in June says it is more than just a tradition, "it's a summer standard."   Judging from the large crowd and lawn packed with picnic blankets and collapsible chairs, I'd say Lincoln agrees with that statement.

Although I wish I knew enough of Jazz to speak with intelligence about the music, scene, and band, I'll stick with what I know--food.

Even if Jazz isn't your thing, come for the food.  I haven't had much of a chance to check out the portable food stall life of Lincoln's fairs, events, or outdoor shindigs, so coming to Jazz in June and seeing what types of culinary caravans show up was quite exciting.   The types of food carts that showed up to Jazz in June represent quite a smattering of food niches.
 For snacks, Stahl's Cotton Candy makes up freshly spun cotton candy.  Pop Art serves frozen popsicles, and the sounds of small popcorn explosions and the scent of butter and sugar wafts from Golden Kernel Kettlecorn.  Then, on the savory side, you can sample some of the 36 flavors of Smoky Gun's Jerky.  I tried the Honey Bourbon and it made my taste buds really happy.

For refreshment, you can try refreshing fruit drinks from Aloha Tea Room or get a bright smoothie made by Great Harvest Bread Co.  I went with what to me was the only logical route, a $1 glass of home-brewed root beer from the Root Beer Guy, aka David Stajner.  It has lots of vanilla, is nice and sweet, and is a great summer refreshment.

Nibbles and drinks aside, choosing a main course is hard when the selection is so wide and intriguing.  I was tempted by Greek fare at the Parthenon, crab rangoon from Manilla Bay, or "bombay sliders" made by Aloha Tea Room; all sounded intriguing.  Or, I could have had pizza from a portable wood-fire grill courtesy of Rolling Fire.  A  portable wood-fire grill, that is pretty unique.  After a couple investigative laps around the carts, two food options begged to be sampled. 

Food Stand Tasting #1: Shongaezee’s Native American Grill
Dough being tossed about in a deep frier will almost always catch my attention.  Who could be immune to such a combination?  Then, couple frybread with options of hot dog, taco, or burgers seems to take everything you love about fair food and put it in one ridiculously compelling taste argument. 

I have never heard of Native American Frybread.  So, this was a little food lesson for me.  According to the "Native American Frybread 101" poster on the stall, frybread came about from reservation living. The common rations where foods like flour, cheese, and lard.  So, frybread served a good use of those materials by frying discs of bread in lard.  Frybread isn't fried in lard anymore, but the recipe and prep have remained the same.
After snooping for a while to see what frybread option looked tastiest, Dennis and I went with the Native Burger: frybread, hamburger, lettuce, tomato, and cheese.  Frybread itself reminds you almost immediately of a doughnut.  It isn't sweet, but that combination of crunchy outside crust and ridiculously soft inside is exactly like a doughnut.  So, the experience of the Native Burger is like eating a hamburger on a savory doughnut.

In other words, heavenly.  The best part is the bit at the end when all the mustard and ketchup has run to the bottom and been soaked up by the bread.   

Food Stand Tasting #2: Daffodil Gourmet Catering
It is a rare thing to find Persian food in places other than metropolitan cities.  I've only had Persian once and that was in a trip to L.A.  It is a unique branch of food that isn't quite Greek, isn't quite Lebanese, and isn't quite Indian; instead, it is concoction of all three.  The dish I had in L.A. was Khoresht Fesenjan, a stew of pomegranate and walnut, and it was incredibly unique in flavor and texture.

Since I can always get Indian and Mediterranean, it seemed silly to pass up a chance at Persian.  After trying the food, I'd say that nobody should miss the chance to try Daffodil's food.  Dennis and I split a dolma, spinach pie, and a kotlet (a meat, onion, and potato patty).  The dolma has a hint of cinnamon and spice and so stands out from its tarter Greek counterparts.  The kotlet was moist and flavorful and worth eating repeatedly.  But, the spinach pie was the best.  So wonderful flaky and with a smooth spinach inside that was just what you want a spinach filling to be with the right balance of spinach, cheese, and seasoning.  I don't think you could go wrong with any of the items, but the spinach pie is a must. 

June 26th is your last chance to check-out the Jazz in June scene.  So, bring a blanket, sample some food, and have a great night of enjoying some jazz with friends. 

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pho Nguyen

On the day I set aside to try out Pho Nguyen, I arrived after the restaurant had closed.  And, since I am leaving town today, I won't get a chance to complete my Pho Tour with you until later.  

So, I've set aside this posting space to review Pho Nguyen.  Check back in early July to hear how my Pho Tour of Lincoln, NE, ends.  

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Green Papaya

 Next up on the Vietnamese food tour is Green Papaya.  Green Papaya was actually recommended to me when I first moved to Lincoln, but it took me a while to get around to trying it.  More recently, I was reminded that I need to go there and try their food when someone told me that they'll serve a whole shrimp (head and all) on one of their soups.  That clinched it for me as a must try place.

Green Papaya's menu offers a similar fare to Vung-Tao.  There are several Bubble Tea options, banh mi sandwiches, pho, other noodle soups, and rice noodle bowls.    There are also other fun drink options like Pennywort Drink, espresso, and ca phe sua da, or espresso coffee with condensed milk.  Two of the people I was eating with ordered the espresso and condensed milk, and it looked like fun.  You get a little metal container with the grounds and then you pass water through to make your own espresso at the table.
I got the Taro bubble tea.  I had sweet potato bubble tea in Korea and thought it was one of best bubble tea flavors I'd found.  I had heard that taro is supposedly the same thing; but, Taro was a little sweeter, almost marshmallow like, than sweet potato.  Even though it wasn't quite what I thought it would be, I still loved it.  The bubbles weren't at all stale and were squishy and chewy like they should be.   

For an entree, I should have made it a fair comparison to Vung-Tao by getting Green Papaya's pho. But, I was more in a seafood mood, so I went with the Special Rice Noodles with Crab, Shrimp, and Pork. It was  fantastic.  The broth was the rich, velvety quality you want from good stock, and the crab gave it a faint sweetness.  The meat was tasty, the shrimp really good (although there were only a few), and the crab (although imitation) a great vehicle for soaking up broth.
Dennis tried the Grilled Chicken with Egg Rolls bowl.  The egg rolls were unique with a hint of cinnamon and spice, and the chicken had a great flavor, but was a little dry.   I don't think he was that blown away, but his issues were what my issues with rice noodle bowls are.  They sound good, but are just kind of bland.  It is the only Vietnamese dish that I've come across that doesn't excite me.  I think it is because my noodle dishes from Asian restaurants usually have such full sauces, that rice noodle bowls just seem kind of straight forward in comparison; Plus, I also end up comparing it with all the flavor and nuance that you find in pho, which I will chose over rice noodle bowls any day.  

Between the tastier soup and fresher bubble tea, Green Papaya made a better impression.   

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Vung-Tau Deli

Vung-Tau Deli was the first stop on my Pho tour.  I drive by it all the time on my way to work and with every pass was increasing curious as to what a Vietnamese Deli entailed.  I also saw a sign for Bubble Tea, and I can't pass up a place with Bubble Tea.

I went for lunch on a Wednesday and the place was really well trafficked.  When I mentioned this to the waiter, he said that this was actually a slower day.  The place has about ten tables and those were rarely empty for long; so, if that is a slow day, I can't imagine the turnover of a regular day.

In overhearing the conversations at other tables (yes, I eavesdrop when eating on my own), I heard lots of oohs, aahs, and praises.  One table had three 20-somethings and one of them was orienting the other two on Vietnamese food, bubble tea, and how to eat the noodle bowls.  Another table contained four people visiting from Texas who liked the place so much that they had come two days in a row.

Over all the tables, the most common dish being eaten appeared to be a noodle bowl with pork and slices of small fried egg rolls.  I was going to try a banh mi, but they were out.  So, instead, I got a bowl of pho and a lychee bubble tea.

The lychee part was great; but, the bubbles were a little stale.  The bubbles weren't that jelly, squishy, and chewy texture so essential to bubble tea; instead, they were a little frozen tasting and a little hard.  I do give them props for offering lots of great bubble tea flavors, including durian, which I was a little too scared to try.  I'm working up to trying durian, but it is taking some mental prep.
As for the pho, I also wasn't completely blown away.  They don't offer tofu as a pho option and tofu is my favorite topper; it soaks up all the broth and becomes a little pho flavor explosion when you eat it.  Instead, I got slices of beef, which were good, but just not as fun as tofu.  The broth itself had a nice richness, but was really cinnamon strong.  Instead of a subtle warmth, you got all the aroma and taste of the cinnamon, making the pho a little sweet.

In this experience, I have a pretty strong disjoint between my own impressions and the positive reactions of others.  So, I think it sort of comes down to preference.  The other customers and Urbanspoon reviews give Vung-Tau a lot of high praise.  Plus, the waiter, who must also help run the place, was really friendly and nice.  He knew lots of the people who came in, suggesting that Vung-Tau has a strong following.  I was really impressed by how many names he knew, how often he remembered what they liked to order, and how well he picked up on small clues.  Those qualities alone speak to a restaurant you would like to keep going to. 

As for the food, I think I would go back and try the banh mi or a noodle bowl; but, as a far as the pho, I'd keep looking. 

Vung Tau Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lincoln’s Pho Food Fight

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As I mentioned in my first “Ethnic Side of Lincoln” blog post, Lincoln has quite a large Vietnamese population.  The population is so sizable that in applying for a public library position, one of the application questions is if you speak Spanish, Russian, or Vietnamese.  

The prevalence of Vietnamese food in Lincoln makes me super happy.  The bulk of my Vietnamese food experiences have come from my friend Kathy's mother.  Kathy's mom loves to feed me and I love to eat her cooking.  When she found out I was moving to Lincoln, she was worried about where I was going to get Vietnamese food.  So, I am pleased to report to her that there is lots of tasty Vietnamese food to be had here, and I am slowly but surely trying it all out.   

The bulk of the Vietnamese restaurants are on North 27th Street.  Within 1/2 a mile, there are about three Vietnamese restaurants, and that is not counting the Vietnamese/Chinese duos.  Traveling north on 27th, you hit Pho Nyugen, Vung-Tau Deli, and Green Papaya.  There is a fourth restaurant, Pho Factory, which is coming soon, making North 27th fairly pho centric. 

Over the next week or so, I'll give you a three post series giving the pros and cons of each.  This way, you’ll know where to go for the best Vietnamese and Pho in Lincoln.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Ethnic Side of Lincoln: Czech Festival

On May 6th, I went to the 43rd Annual Czech Festival sponsored by the Nebraska Czechs of Lincoln.  Upon entering the Pla Mor Ballroom, my eyes had to adjust to the dim lights of the large room.  Even if I couldn't take in the visual right away, the sound of umpas and accordions and horns let me know, I was in the right place.  After making it past the orientation table and receiving flyers for the days events and other upcoming Czech activities, I finally took in the sight.  Traditional czech garbs dotted the room.  People dancing the polka and clapping along.  Little children tired from the "Chicken Dance" running back to find their parents.

But, I wasn't there for umpa bands and arts and crafts--those were a bonus.  I was there for the food.  The flyer for the festival had read, "ethnic foods • baked goods and kolace • hot food served from 11:00-till gone."  I'd heard rumors of Kolace ever since getting to Lincoln, but had yet to encounter one.  As for main dishes, I had Czech food when I went to Prague three years ago.  However, what specifically lay in store was a mystery; all I knew was that I was excited.

At first, there was dismay.  Food options where as follows: 1.) pork plate with rye bread, sauerkraut,and green beans, or 2.) hot dog with pickles, sauerkraut, and green beans.  I don't know what I was exactly expecting; I had thoughts of goulash and dumplings and exotic Eastern European cuisine.  Neither of these two options fit the bill.  Since I was there, I got the pork plate--coming all this way for a hot dog seemed silly. 

Then, there was elation.  The pork was moist, rich, and juicy, the sauerkraut appropriately sour.  All combined on a slice of mustard and butter smeared break, quite fantastic.  The beans where ho-hum, but everything else was really fantastic.  Plus, while eating, I got to watch more of the people and I noted all the laughing and joy and enthusiasm.  Also, over dinner I got to hear the "Queen Talent Performances," one of which was a little comedy skit about cooking Czech food. 

Although too full to have dessert there, I did wander over to the baked good table to get a treat for later.  There were the usual options of cakes and things, but when in a Czech Festival, eat what the Festival champions--the Kolache.  A kolache looks  a lot like a pastry.  According to, you take sweet leavened dough and top it with a fruit or nut topping.  I tried three: peach, cherry, and poppy seed.  The overall effect, whichever fruit topping, is a dough that is a little sweet, but not heavily so.  It isn't rich and buttery like pastry.  It's not airy like donut dough.   It is more like dense rolls.  

Of the three fruits, the first two were okay--they tasted like pie filling.  The poppy seed one was great.  It was gritty and grainy and had fun textures and flavors.  It reminded me a lot of fig preserves.  Overall, as dessert, a kolache wouldn't quite live up to a post meal challenge; however, as a breakfast treat or mid-day sweet snack, it would really hit the spot. 

I left the festival with a feeling of contentment.  The exploration into a new niche of Lincoln, NE, culture was rewarded by a savory meal, a tasty snack, and a Jiternice for the grilling season.

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Monday, April 30, 2012

PepperJax Grill

 I work a retail job as well as teach, and one day at my retail job a customer started telling me about PepperJax Grill off of Pine Lake Rd.  She had the night kid free and wanted to do something to treat herself.  We were all giving her ideas and PepperJax came up with enthusiasm.  When I asked what it was, the customer said that it was a Phillycheese steak place that had opened in Omaha, NE.  It was so popular they opened a branch in Lincoln.  Supposedly, the owner has a patent on the way he prepares the sandwich.  The enthusiasm, statement of patented recipes, and ooh's and aah's all put PepperJax in my head as a must check-out food destination.

I finally got around to trying the place out last week.  The place has a pretty stripped down menu.  You have the option of steak, chicken, or vegetarian, in a prep of Phillies sandwich, rice bowls, wraps, and salads.  Once you pick the base, you get a list of Signature Sauce options and Complimentary Toppings.  Dennis and I both got a Philly with steak, green peppers, cheese (slices--not authentic Philly style of cheese from a can), mushrooms, jalapenos, and added jalapeno juice to make it extra spicy.  The sandwiches are served hot in large, squishy 10in sub rolls.   We also got a order of fries to split.

Once you get your sandwich, you can trot over to the saucing station.   There is Herb Roasted Au Jus, Sweet Asian, Creole, Mushroom, Original Hearty Steak Sauce, Classic Bold Steak Sauce, and Sweet Homestyle BBQ Sauce.  Near the dressings, there is also a Spicy Ranch.  I tried the Creole, Bold Steak Sauce, and the Spicy Ranch.  The steak sauce was sufficiently bold and hearty, the creole was a little too tomatoie.  The favorite was the Spicy Ranch.  It worked for the fries and worked really well on the sandwich to balance and compliment the spicy jalapenos.

As for the sandwich itself, I thought it was supper tasty, but not without its flaws.  The meat was so tender and rich, the cheese gooey, and the bread the perfect vessel.  With some sauce on top, it feels like a polished event.  My only complaint is that it is just too salty.  When cooking the meat, PepperJax adds extra seasoning, which is the same seasoning on the fries.  It has a good taste, but adds a lot of salt to the equation.  If you are sensitive to salt, it would be worth asking for half the amount or having them leave it off completely. 

Dennis called PepperJax Grill the 5 Guys of the Philly cheesesteak, and that is a really apt description.  They have a commitment to getting your food fast, but they also took the time to make sure the product is the best possible product: fresh bread, tender steak, and tasty, seasoned fries.  Like 5 Guys, each sandwich is made fresh to order and created for your personality.  By the end, you feel you did just eat a monster meal of steak and potatoes and bread, but don't quite feel like you've done anything wrong.

PepperJax Grill on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Coca-Cola Identity Crisis

As my last Coca-Cola post, I thought I'd look at slogans.  On Coca-Cola's website, they have a full list of all their slogans and how the company breaks down their major campaigns.  Coca-Cola describes the mentality behind their slogans as "a simple, direct way to communicate about Coca-Cola."  On one hand, this is completely accurate.  On average, the slogans only last about four words.  One of the longer ones, "Whoever You Are, Whatever You Do, Wherever You May Be, When You Think of Refreshment Think of Ice-Cold Coca-Cola," is a length anomaly.  Instead, Coca-Cola rather goes for short observations: "What you Want is Coke;" "Sign of Good Taste," "It's the Real Thing." Often, the few words involve an imperative, making a command about Coke: "Enjoy thirst;" "Be really refreshed;" "Have a Coke and Smile;" "Drink Coca-Cola;" "Refresh yourself."

On the other hand, there is nothing simple about Coca-Cola's many approaches to marketing that is simple.  Coca-Cola has been "Around the Corner from Everywhere" and "Along the Highway to Anywhere."  Coca-cola is "Always Coca-Cola" that is "Pure as Sunlight" and the antithetical "Ice Cold Sunshine."  Coke has been the "Sign of Good Taste" because it is "Delicious and Refreshing," "Revives and Sustains" and "Ads Life." Combined, these slogans make Coke an all-pervading, all replenishing offering to not just thirst, but your very existence. 

By the time the 70's and 80's come about, I'd argue that Coke suffers a bit of an identity crisis.  In the Coke documentary I watched, the interviews talk about how in the conflicts of the 70's, Coca-Cola wanted to remind people of easier times through the jingle, "Look up America, and see what you've got . . . Coca-Cola.  It's the real thing."  Also as part of the "It's the Real Thing," campaign, Coke launched the famous, "I'd Love to Teach the World to Sing" commercial.   Already, you get the sense of Coca-Cola wanting to be the traditional symbol of America (as during WWII), while also embracing their global identity.  In the 80's, slogans like "America's Real Choice" and "Red, White, and You" support Coca-Cola as American and a sign of choosing Patriotism.  Even the 1980, "Mean Joe Green" ad champions an American pastime--the Super Bowl--with an American icon--Joe Green. Yet, the formula of this commercial was designed to be filmed in a any number of countries, with Joe Green replaced by that countries famous icon. 

Finally, in the 80's, you also get the legendary New Coke vs. Classic Coke identity crisis.  The positive spin on the decision is that it reminded consumers how loyal they were to Coca-Cola.  The slogan also tried to turn the identity crisis into a statement of identify choice, telling Coke drinkers that "We've Got the Taste for You" and "America's Real Choice."   But, American didn't want choice, and the 8000 calls a day the company received showed they wanted Coca-Cola, the real thing.    

Eventually, the New Coke went away, and Coca-Cola went back to simple: "You Can't Beat the Feeling" (1990); "Always Coco-Cola" (1993); "Life Tastes Good" (2001); and "Make it Real" (2005). Though the slogans change, the commercial formula varies, and Coca-Cola wrestles with cultural identity, at least the one guarantee is the formula will stay the same. Coke ads maintain the feeling that Coca-Cola is going to be a central component of life, the real thing, and always by your side.  Over 100 years of advertising and through different approaches, the association is the same.  Coca-Cola is the drink you can trust and will be there to pick you up, no matter where and no matter when.  

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Coke: The Gift You Give Yourself

Both the Coke documentary as well as Coca-Cola's website takes credit for the birth of the image of Santa we know today.  Coca-Cola launched its image of Santa Clause in 1931 and his likeness was developed by artist Haddon Sundblom.  With that Coca-Cola ad, Santa moved from a small elfish character to a full-grown, distinguished man with round belly, rosy cheeks, and a wholesome twinkle in his eye ("Coke Lore").

The ad campaign was meant to help boost Coke's winter sales.  Because it was so strongly associated with a cold, refreshing drink, it was tied to warm weather refreshment.  By using Santa as a spokesman, Coca-Cola hoped to persuade loyal summer fans to enjoy Coke all year round ("Coke Lore").

In looking at Santa Clause Coca-Cola ads, the meaning of the ads centers on Coca-Cola as the gift one gives themselves.  This is a really clever tactic.  Coca-Cola could keep that connection of "refreshing," their summer weather selling point, and tack-on "pausing for refreshment."   In the ad on the right, Santa dominates most of the image.  While the kids at the bottom open presents and look up at Santa with thankful glee, Santa looks at the viewer, with a look of knowing and recognition on his face.  Santa, tired from a night of gift-giving, raises a toast to us and rewards himself with a bottle of Coca-Cola.  .

There's also a series of Santa ads that are laid out like the ones above.  In these, there is always a tagline at the top that sounds like Santa's words of wisdom: "Thirst asks nothing more;" "'Give and take,' say I;" and "And the same to you."  All three ads also include a narrative about Santa taking time out for a Coca-Cola.  The first ad attaches drinking a coke to "the friendliest moment a busy man ever met."  The second take an intriguing altruistic turn that reminds the viewer, that Santa "gives so much and asks so little," just like Coca-Cola.  That ad then has a "real-life" demonstration of that motto by showing a little girl giving her mom the present of Coke in response to her mom bringing home several gifts.  The insinuation being the mom, who gives so much, can, like Santa, be rewarded with a bottle of Coke.   The last shows both Santa and a mother tired from shopping or wrapping packages.  After reminding the reader that even Santa takes a moment to refresh and relax with a bottle of Coke, it adds, "So this Christmas, in refreshing others, don't forget to remember yourself now and then . . . with an ice-cold Coca-Cola for the pause that refreshes."   

The connection between drinking Coke and giving yourself a gift shows up again and again in the Santa Coke ads.  Through either modeling or directly reminding the reader, Coca-Cola encourages busy moms to reward themselves with a bottle of Coke.  The same Coke that provides a cold, refreshing break in the summer, now gives that bright little pep to your Christmas shopping step. 

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Wartime Coke

From the Coca-Cola documentary I watched, one of the details about their history that struck me was what happened to Coca-Cola during WWII.  Letters from troops stationed overseas started mentioning fighting for the right to have Coca-Cola and how they missed being at home, on the front porch, drinking Coca-Cola.  So, on insistence from Eisenhower, Coke decided to make sure that all soldiers could have a Coca-Cola for 5¢, regardless of where they were stationed.  Since shipping Coca-Cola to Africa and Europe was tricky because of the priority of military shipments, Coke decided to ship small bottling plants instead.  This meant that Coke become an omnipresent icon in trenches.  In doing so, Coco-Cola became a morale booster for troops because it reminded them of better, happier times at home.

In one Coke ad I found, the connection between Coca-Cola being on the front becomes part of Coke's visual and verbal rhetoric. 

The image features several different type of soldiers, drinking Coca-Cola to escape the war around them.  The verbal rhetoric of the piece starts by saying, "The location . . . an airfield somewhere in the Pacific area," which reminds the viewer how Coke is wherever there are soldiers as "a global high-sign."  The ad continues to talk about how the soldier are served Coke "from its red dispenser just as at familiar fountains at home." This canteen ritual allows sharing Coke with fellow soldiers to be a "familiar pause that refreshes, a flashback to their own way of living . . . in one happy, home-like moment."  The patterns of the word choice--"happy," "home," "home-like," "own way of living," and "familiar"--make Coke a glass of refuge and comfort.   

Another ad makes the same connection between Coke as the "global high-sign" and being a soldier's connection to home.   In this ad, the sales text starts with "No matter where you go, somewhere near you is a big, friendly red sign with the trade-marked, 'Coca-Cola.'"  In this page, the ad places Coke in a position where it is literally looking out for soldiers, reminding them of home and the familiar. 

What is so fantastic about how Coke markets itself through these war time images is the two-fold meaning.  The first meaning is marketing to those at home who want to think about the little pleasures that their sons, husbands, and brothers are experiencing.  Although not in a way that demands thanks, Coca-Cola initiates that sense of gratitude from the family by showing how Coke gives soldiers a taste of home.  For the soldier, where they are at may not look like home and the situation is far from home-like, but the same, familiar taste and logo is what will take them back to the familiar. 

The second meaning goes beyond gratitude to Coke.  The ads circle the idea of Coke with home, friendliness, and thus peace.  In that way, drinking a Coke is more than refreshing from a hydration standpoint, it is refreshing for the soul.  To the soldiers, every Coke becomes a reminder of what they are fighting for, making Coke synonymous with America and home, better times and familiarity. 

Coke eventually profited greatly from stationing bottling factories around the world.  It gave Coke a foot-in-the-door to start selling globally.  As GI's shared Coke with people in other countries, they, too, developed a taste for it, thus creating demand.  So, the Coca-Cola campaign that worked so hard at making Coke synonymous with America resulted in making Coca-Cola a literal "global high-sign" across the world.   
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Monday, April 9, 2012

The Meaning of Coca-Cola

In my freshman composition class, I've been teaching Visual Rhetoric over the last couple of weeks.  Last Friday, my students had to pick an image (an ad, movie poster, famous photo, political campaign, etc.) and write an essay that looks at the meaning of the image.

I'm about halfway through grading them and, overwhelmingly, the most repeated image chosen is Coca-Cola ads.  Although a slight coincidence, it speaks volumes.  When you look at the span of Coca-Cola's advertising history, they have been somewhat remarkable in their continual evolution of their product and how those ads become cultural icons.  Coca-Cola is such an omnipresent drink for us, that when Tom Standage wrote the book, The History of the World in Six Glasses, he listed Coca-Cola as the one that defined the 20th Century. 

So, this week, I'm going to do a series of post on the meaning of Coca-Cola as seen through its advertising.  Filling in with a documentary on Coca-Cola that I watched a couple of months ago, I wanted to get a sense of how Coca-Cola has become not just a something we drink, it is an icon that reflects us.

I'll start my first ad on Tuesday.  Hope you enjoy it!

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