The next stop on my journey Guangzhou, China’s third largest city, is known as the food haven of the Republic of China. Eating is a big part of Chinese culture, but for this particular area, that doesn’t really adequately describe their way of life. These people are known not just for eating, but for eating everything! In fact, it is often said that Cantonese people “eat everything that swims except a submarine, everything that flies except an airplane, and everything with four legs except a table”. Almost five days in the area not only allowed for some free time to explore, but also meant plenty of food adventures, so settle in and prepare yourself for a long post….

The first night we arrived, two of the local guys from the Guangzhou sourcing office picked us up at the airport and became our unofficial tour guides for the rest of the stay. Sensing that I might be in need of a break from the heavy, multi-course Chinese meals we’d been having, Samuel had them arrange something a little different for our dinner. With approximately 1000 tables, Japan Fusion is touted as being the largest Japanese restaurant in Asia. You can’t imagine the size of this place! I was scared to go to the bathroom by myself for fear of getting lost. Seriously.

Dinner was definitely lighter than the fare we’d been consuming, and a nice break before the multi-course Cantonese meals that lie ahead. Our Japanese menu: assorted sushi and sashimi, two mushroom dishes, cheese smothered tofu, snapper sashimi and fried snapper (the fish was brought to the table live on a skewer for presentation before taking back to the kitchen to fry. I thought I would spare you that sight), and spicy mussels.

The next day we had lunch with a local factory contact at Jumbo Pearl restaurant. As a whole, this was definitely one of the better meals of the trip. The menu:

Spicy Beef with Peppers


Freshwater Fish with Yellow Bean Sauce
(shown below- delectable!)


Pork with Peppers, Ginkgo, Mushrooms and Onion
(or “Spicy Pig Twice Cooked Pork” as the menu stated)


Fish cooked in Cabbage


Alligator with Garlic, Mushrooms and Broccoli
(shown below)

This was delicious, so I inquired about the ingredients used in the preparation- the alligator was fried then added to a mixture of oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, salt, ginger, and garlic



Fried Mushrooms with Walnuts and Ginkgo (shown below)

Wow! I couldn’t quit eating this. The mushrooms were not fried like what we think of when we say fried mushrooms. There was no batter on them, the ‘fried’ just referred to the style of cooking, pan-frying.



Pork Broth Soup (All the guys loved this and even had second helpings. Gray and almost tasteless, I personally thought it was the worst soup of the whole trip. )

Snails“- at least that’s what they were calling them, but I don’t really think that’s their proper name. They’re pictured below in the red sauce. Anyone have any idea what they are?


Served piping hot with toothpicks to dig out the wormy creature inside, they were -believe it or not- quite good!

That was lunch! So, so, so much food, but of course we had another big dinner ahead that night at Bing Sheng Restaurant. On the menu there:


Pork 3 ways- Crispy Barbecued Roast Pork, Fried Pork Belly (thick layer of fat, but quite tasty), and Thinly Sliced Barbecue Pork Belly (paper thin & very good!)

BBQ Duck

Water Spinach with Beans in Vinegar (this vegetable they just refer to as “hollow” vegetable was served at many meals)

Whole Fish served various ways:
1) Fried Fish Head and Tailway too bony for me to deal with

2) Sashimi with bowls of various toppings including shredded ginger, spring onions, herbs, and crunchies to create your own tasting spoon (pictured above) so wonderful that I lost count of how many I ate!

3) Fish Skin – very strange rubbery texture (shown in pic below)

4) Egg with Fish “insides”they don’t let anything go to waste!

The next day we lunched at Mao Jing restaurant, (named for Chairman Mao) a restaurant known for their spicy food. You know I love some spiciness!

Greeters at Mao Jing restaurant (note the statue of Mao to the far left)

On the menu:

Fava Beans again (I love these things!)
These beans were listed on the menu as Sha Guo Can Dou, which Eric said translates to Frosted Pan No Sauce- so basically just describing the cooking method.

Duck, Yellow Eel, and Cow insides (???) – yeah, not my favorite
Frog – listed on the menu as Gan Guao Tian Ji (translates to Dry Pan Frog)
Glass Noodles with Spicy Sauce
Whole Chicken in a Pot -great flavors, tender & juicy
Pork with Peppers
Steamed Cabbage with Garlic Sauce
(pictured below) - Scrumptious!


Pork Soup- and this is where things got really interesting……


Can you tell what I am holding in my hand? Perhaps not. That would be a pig hoof. The pork flavored soup arrived with a piece of leg bone protruding from the bowl, a set of plastic gloves and a straw. Anyone want to guess what you do with the straw? Why, you insert it into the leg bone and suck out the marrow! Not exactly my cup of tea, but at least I can say I did it.

That night we dined at Shui He Tian Restaurant in the Panyu district of Guangzhou. It was explained to me that this was a “locals only” place. Tucked back behind several buildings, it was difficult even for the local with us to find after a couple of phone calls, so I’m pretty sure no tourists ever stumble upon it!

Appetizers of pickled green papaya and boiled peanuts started us off and were followed by:

Scallops with Black Bean Sauce -a bite of perfection (pictured above)

Fish head and 1,000 year old egg with ginger- the egg isn’t really 1,000 years old, but the dark color made it a little scary. As I had discovered with other dishes, it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Not great, but not bad.

Sweet Potato Leaf cooked with Pork and Garlic

Assorted Mushrooms with Carrots and Green Onion

Spicy Fried Shrimp with Peanuts (yes, yes, yes!)

Crispy Skin Barbecue Pork

Steamed Fish with Ginger, Spring Onion, and Mushrooms (very clean, fresh flavors)

Crispy Noodles with Mushrooms and Onions in Oyster Sauce (like Ramen)

Warm Almond Milk- served in a bowl like soup, this was very soothing

After dinner we decided to burn off some calories with a hike to the local mall. Okay, so we weren’t really looking to burn calories, that was just an added bonus. We were actually in search of dessert, specifically Ginger Milk. Samuel knew this place served the best ginger milk around, and in his opinion, my trip would not be complete without trying it.

Ginger Milk Curd, or simply Ginger Milk as they called it, is a warm Chinese dessert that originated in this very district of Guangdong- Panyu. Ingredients include sugar, ginger, and milk, with the key to this particular recipe being water buffalo milk. The preparation takes some skill to make sure it gets hot but not too hot. The photo below show the two girls preparing our bowls (note the action shot of the milk in the air as she stirs it just so).

Once the mixture is poured into a bowl and allowed to cool for two to three minutes, it solidifies into a custard. Perfectly yummy, warm, and comforting, this was definitely one of the high points of the entire trip.

Ginger Milk in Panyu

At this point of my journey, I’d had 6 very full work days. I’ve only been sharing the fun food stuff with you, not the hours I’ve spent touring factories and traveling between cities. Every day I’d been averaging 12-14 hours of almost non-stop work or travel with little time for anything else other than eating. After 2 days of walking the floor of the Canton Import and Export fair, I was a little burnt out. Fortunately, we made it through the show in less time than we thought it would take, leaving us about 5 extra hours to explore and shop before hitting the road again! On this particular day, we were also joined by Fanny, one of my contacts in the Guangzhou area. As much as I enjoyed traveling with the guys, it was nice to have another female around for a little while.

Fanny, Me, and Eric at The Chen Family Temple

After sightseeing, we had lunch at a beautiful restaurant on a lake with lush landscaping. The food here was just adequate, but that’s okay, because the surroundings made up for it. The table was filled with BBQ Goose; Mushrooms, Scallops, Peppers, Garlic & Greens; Fish Soup; Traditional Bok Choy; Pork with Ginkgo and Peppers; Steamed Fish with Green Onions; and Pork Bun with Mushrooms & Spring Onions.

At this meal, the guys also ordered Apple Cider Vinegar to drink. When they informed me of this, I was a little bewildered considering the only apple cider vinegar I knew of was to cook with, not to drink. When it arrived in a wine bucket, on ice, in a bottle just like you’d be served white wine, I was a little less fearful. Turns out it was quite refreshing. Oh, the many delightful discoveries you can make when you’re willing to try new things!

The desserts here were better than the lunch dishes: Egg Cups (pictured below)- little tarts that reminded me of mini chess pies; Coconut Gelatin- even though I was fairly stuffed I ate more than one serving; Ginger Milk- this was not nearly as good as what we had the night before at the mall. Samuel explained that it was because the milk was not as pure. Instead they used 2 kinds of milk blended together, not just the water buffalo milk.

Egg Cups – the Chinese version of Chess Pie

After lunch it was time to hit the road again, traveling to Pattra Resort, high in the mountains of Zengcheng, another city in Guangzhou. This stop of the trip is a story in itself, so it will have to wait until next week. I hope that you guys are still enjoying following the details of my trek through China. I promise only a couple more posts and we’ll be at the end of the trip. Some of the best parts are still to come!!

West Lake, Hangzhou
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I’m torn between sharing with you a detailed report of every single thing I ate while in China or only sharing the high (or at least very interesting ) points. A full listing would be a nice reference for me to look back upon one day, but the volume is so great that I think I’ll probably bore you to tears. For instance, there are some meals where I tasted at least 15 dishes, but maybe only 2 really stood out. My meals in Ningbo are an example. Although many items were good, the only things that stood out were the fava beans that I ate with abandon and an Australian Lobster.
Have you ever eaten a fava bean? They are somewhat similar to a lima bean, but bigger and creamier. I hope I can find them back in Nashville because they are incredible!! The lobster was probably the best I’ve ever had– sweet, buttery and melt-in-your mouth good. A quick listing of other foods I encountered during my 2 meals in Ningbo: Grouper, Shrimp, Bamboo, local greens, seaweed salad, beef & peppers (spicy!), thinly sliced beef in vinegar, fish soup, shrimp fried rice, boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, white vegetable (? this is the only way they could explain it*- see pic below), egg whites with asparagus & red pepper, abalone, white fish, crab, dried fish, peanuts, and fresh dates.


“White Vegetable”

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After Ningbo we moved on to Hangzhou, which was one of the nicest places I visited. Patrick, our local factory contact, treated us to an afternoon boat ride on the beautiful West Lake (see pic below of Eric, Patrick and me).


After some relaxing time on the calm waters, Patrick took us to dinner at a fantastic restaurant nearby. The guys pored over the menu for several minutes, carefully choosing each dish. I was fascinated by the time they took in ordering. This wasn’t just for this meal, but almost every meal! I love that they care so much.

All of their concentration paid off. Here’s a look at dinner:
Mushrooms with onions and peppers- so, so good
Bamboo shoot with sweet sauce- we had these in Ningbo too, but I wasn’t crazy about the tart vinegar used in the dish there. This, on the other hand, was delicious!
Lotus root
Hot & Spicy soup with bean curds
Mushrooms with Goose Liver Sauce -interesting flavors. From the sound of it, I didn’t think I would like it, but I did. Enough to have a third helping!
Hangzhou-style Shrimp
Slow Braised Pork
Carrots with Sweet Sauce (pic below)-gorgeous, crisp, and definitely one of the top 10 dishes of the trip


After dinner we checked into our beautiful hotel in Haining where the following day, after a tour of the factory, had lunch with the owner and Patrick. This is a good time to mention one item that became a recurring favorite dish of mine throughout the trip: Mushrooms! The mushrooms at both my Hangzhou and Haining meals were incredible. I was in heaven with the many exotic varieties to try in China. I probably could have subsisted on mushroom dishes alone for the entire stay and been satisfied!

Case in point below:
beautiful black mushrooms with the most amazing texture



Lunch in Haining:
Black Mushrooms (pictured above)-LOVE!
Fried Yellow Eel with Sweet Sauce
Shrimp with Gingko
Cooked Local Lettuce
Boiled Sea Cucumber (jelly-like in texture, I could only do a couple bites. And to think I loved it raw!)
Lobster in broth
Chopped Hot peppers with Pine Nuts-spicy, spicy!
Chopped Salad
Chicken (the whole thing — head and all)
Sweet Potatoes



And then there was dessert. If you know much about Chinese food, you might know that they typically finish their meals with fresh fruit, not baked goods like we normally do. Most of the non-fruit dessert offerings they do have are a litte strange to my Western taste buds (see this recap from Hong Kong). However, we capped off this meal with a doozie of a dessert. Can you guess what these circles might be?




Fried Ice Cream!!!

A slightly crunchy outer shell gave way to a cool, extremely creamy ice cream.


And I mean extremely creamy. Fabulous. I’m getting fatter just thinking about it.

That’s it for the Zhejiang Province. Next up I’m off to Guangzhou for a few days. Stay tuned for even more interesting eats!
*I really wish that I could offer you the English translations of many of the foods I ate, but can’t, because in most cases, everything was listed in Chinese characters! The guys were as helpful as they could be, but some things just didn’t translate.

Another World

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It goes without saying that Hong Kong is quite different than Nashville. They drive on the opposite side of the road, there are 7 million people within a fairly small space (& 95% of those people are Chinese) and there are lots of foods I’ve never seen before. But for the most part, I didn’t feel completely out of place. Mainly because there are plenty of other people wondering around that don’t look so different than me, signage is in English, and most of the hotel staff speak at least some English.
You could say I had a fairly smooth transition in my first 24 hours. Then I boarded a plane to Wenzhou, China. For the next 8 days I was in another world –sights, sounds, experiences and flavors that I won’t soon forget.

I don’t have time right now to explain all of it, so I’ll just focus on the food-related experiences because that’s what most of you are here for anyway!

Words cannot adequately describe what I felt upon entering my first restaurant in Wenzhou. I had never seen anything like it. Anything. The long room was filled with rows and rows of plated food on display, fish tanks with live fish, squid, snails and eels, and a dozen restaurant staff members that were watching my every move. Not knowing where to begin or what to do, with no less than 15 sets of eyes upon me, it was all a bit disconcerting to say the least.


Our hosts for the evening were two of our factory contacts, one of whom spoke no English (a sign of my week ahead) and the other that spoke very little. Samuel and Eric did their best to explain the foods to me, but since they didn’t know the English word for many items and most foods were so completely foreign to me, I eventually just gave up and let them choose everything.


And this is how it works: a member of the staff follows you around with a notepad, marking down your choices as you peruse all of the items on display. That includes your own, very fresh, very live, seafood. Then you are led to a private dining room where your will be fed between 10-15 (!) dishes. I really don’t know how these people stay so thin. Every day I’ve been here this has been our lunch and dinner routine and I am now pleasantly plump.

Factory contact, me, and Samuel at our dining table, complete with “lazy susan” (as is standard)

Our menu at Cagnan Hotel in Wenzhou:
Beans
Boiled Peanuts
Lychee
Sweet Potatoes (pictured below. yes, purple!)
BBQ Eel
Rice Patty with brown sugar (I really have no idea what this was or even how to describe it. See yellow discs on the table above)
Soft Shell Crab in Rice Wine
Bok Choy
Spicy Beef with Bean Sprouts

And last, but certainly not least, Raw Sea Cucumber (suprisingly one of the highlights of the entire trip). Served chilled, it had a chewy texture that I found delightful. The flavors of rice wine, wasabi and ginger in the soupy mixture were delicious.


Have you seen a sea cucumber before? Not exactly what I would call appetizing:

Actually it’s downright gross looking and if I had been asked if it’s something I wanted to try, I would have politely declined. This goes to show that looks can truly be deceiving!

Some other highlights of Wenzhou were my breakfast discovery of warm soybean milk, unlike any soy milk I’ve tried before, and “Dragon Eyes“, the Longan fruit. So very sweet and juicy, I wish I could transport some back to Nashville with me.

Oh, and I also tried pig ear and pig tail for lunch, but I can’t say those were really highlights!

Po Lin Monastery, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

I’m back! Well, not exactly…I’m still on another continent, but I’m back in Hong Kong which means I’m reconnected to the world! Little did I know when I left Hong Kong last Monday to travel into mainland China it would be my last chance for mass communication with all of you.

The reason? The Chinese government completely blocks Facebook, Twitter, and my own blog! Can you imagine?

I’ve taken over 700 photos and 9 notebook pages of notes so far, so prepare for an outpouring of information and photos from me this week. Right now it’s late here (after midnight) and I’m exhausted, so for now I’m just going to touch on some highlights of my arrival day in Hong Kong last Sunday.

After 23 hours of travel (Nashville to Toronto, Toronto to Vancouver, and finally the 13 hour flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong) I arrived at my hotel around 8 a.m. HK time. Amazingly, I was feeling pretty well rested from the sleep I got on my flight, so I hit the ground running with my unofficial tour guides, Samuel and Eric.

I guess I should explain that Samuel and Eric are Hong Kong natives and work for the sourcing company we use to do business in China. They have been my travel buddies all week and there is absolutely no way I could have made it through this trip without them. What better way to explore a new city/country than with the locals?!

Our first stop of the day was the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island. Before climbing the 260+ steps to the big Buddha, we dropped into one of the vegetarian canteens on site for my first local meal.


Our meal: Soup made of mushrooms, bean curds and clear bean noodles; spring rolls; Chinese lettuce with mushrooms; fried tofu with citrus sauce; and my favorite, the mixed vegetable plate shown above. Asparagus, snap peas, mushrooms, peppers and cashews–yum!

Then we climbed.

Tian Tan Buddha (and me)

Next we visited Tai O fishing village. With houses built on stilts over the river and narrow lanes filled with vendors selling fresh and dried fish and many other foods, I got to see traditional Chinese living first hand.


As we wound through the streets, I sampled some bbq pork that was outstanding and shared a little snack of egg balls with the guys. Yes, I know, they don’t sound tasty, but as you can see from this sign, they ARE tasty.


Not at all what you would probably envision when you hear “egg balls”, they are actually similar to pancakes or waffles. They have a hint of coconut flavor- not too sweet, and very pillowy.

Egg Balls

After our excursion to Lantau Island, we made our way back into the Kowloon area of Hong Kong for dinner. I am not exaggerating when I say that it could not have been a more authentic, local experience. We followed a girl who didn’t speak English across a street, down an alley, through a dark hallway and storage area into a dining room that was bare bones in decor, but packed with locals of all ages.

Samuel and Eric washed our bowls, chopsticks, and spoon with hot tea explaining that although it should be clean, it is traditional to do this. Since they hadn’t done it at lunch when we were in a real restaurant, I was a tab bit apprehensive. Turns out I’m still alive and no strange stomach illnesses, so I guess there really was nothing to fear after all.

As to be expected given the environment, the menu was only in Chinese, so Samuel did all the choosing. The rundown of our meal:

Green vegetable in shrimp sauce (looked like green onion but didn’t taste like it)- this one was a bit too fishy tasting for me

Fried Octopus- Very Good!!

Oysters with ginger and green onion. My love for ginger continues with this dish, the best thing I’d eaten since arriving.

Sweet and Sour Pork with red and green peppers and pineapple. This one had alot of bone in it, and was pretty hard to eat. (More to come in later posts about the bone situation….)

After our dinner in what I’ll refer to as the “back alley restaurant”, we stopped into a tiny little shop where again there were no English translations anywhere to be found on the menu. The guys were really making sure I got the full local experience and I loved it!

Even after my protestations of being completely stuffed, Samuel ordered 4 desserts: Chesnut Paste, a thick, soup-like substance that was okay, but too thick for me to eat much of; a mango soup that was quite refreshing; what I think was a tofu pudding that I liked quite alot (congealed dish that looked like it had been made with a jello mold) , and then the one that I certainly hope I never try again, the Durian Pancake.

Durian pancakes have fresh cream and durian fruit wrapped in a glutinous rice “skin.” If you aren’t familiar with durian, don’t feel bad. I wasn’t either. Apparently it’s a fruit that smells something like sweaty socks. Some love it, many hate it. Hate is a strong word, but I have to say, I definitely don’t fall into the love category.

Durian Fruit

They didn’t tell me what I was tasting before I took a bite, instead making me guess. It tasted sweet and creamy, but something about it was a bit off. The only thing that came to mind was onions…but what dessert has onions in it? Well of course I was wrong. That strange taste was durian. As you can see from the photo below, I’m still smiling after experiencing it for the first time, so it couldn’t have been too terrible, just nothing I care to try again.


Now that I think about it, perhaps my smile was because I was silly tired at that point! No matter what, I wasn’t going to let one yucky dessert slow me down from tasting all that Hong Kong and China had to offer….

Don’t let this post fool you. I’m in China and when you are reading this, I’m most likely not blogging. I actually wrote it before I left and scheduled it to post today because I’ve been dying to share this Meatless Monday recipe with you for a long, long time.

These cute little hors d’oeuvres were something I made way back in December. Yes, December. I served them at my annual girlfriends after-Christmas party, but thought they would be more appropriately suited for a spring/summer blog post, so today you have it!

Once the bounty of fresh summer tomatoes hits, I’ll be whipping up batches of these for every cookout and party I go to! Enjoy~

Print

Avocado Pesto Stuffed Tomatoes

Makes 30 appetizers. From Better Homes and Gardens.

Ingredients:

30 cherry tomatoes (about 1-1/4 pints)
1/2 medium avocado, pitted, peeled and cut up
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. homemade or purchased basil pesto
1 tsp. lemon juice
Snipped fresh basil

Directions:

Cut a thin slice from the top of each tomato and a thin slice from the bottoms of the tomatoes so they stand upright. With a small spoon or small lemon baller carefully hollow out the tomatoes. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Invert tomatoes on the towels. Let stand 30 minutes to drain.

Meanwhile, for filling, in a food processor bowl combine avocado, cream cheese, pesto, and lemon juice. Cover; process until smooth. Spoon filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round or open star tip. (if you don't have this, you can also just use a ziploc bag with a snip out of one corner)

Place tomatoes, open sides up, on a serving platter. Pipe filling into the tomato cups. Serve immediately or cover loosely and refrigerate up to 4 hours before serving. Sprinkle with snipped basil before serving.


Avocado on FoodistaAvocado

Today is the day. I’m lifting off to the other side of the world! For the next 2 weeks I’ll be eating my way across China. Here’s a little glimpse of the authentic Chinese food I’m excited to feast on:


Stay tuned……

Photo Credit: China Food Montage by the jerk

Food Ramblings


My brain is really fried this week so putting together words that form coherent sentences is difficult. I’ve got a million things on my mind, so at times like these, I make lists. Lists of things to do mostly, but today I made a list of all the places and things I’ve been eating the past couple of weeks. For some reason that sort of thing relaxes me.

Sake in Cool Springs
salmon sashimi is like buttah!

Cha Chah -
the smoked vinegar brussels sprouts are to die for

Las Paletas
couldn’t choose just one, so I got two!
Strawberries & Cream and Mint Chocolate

Rumba
lots and lots of Pacific Pearls…

PM
serious burger craving satisfied

Bread and Company
favorite salad, the Montrachet

The Dog of Nashville
one of my husband’s favorite warm weather spots

The Patterson House – twice ;-)
Spring menu has launched- go check it out!

Nashville Farmers’ Market -
I’ve been eating yummy cheese all week from The Bloomy Rind
(my friend Kathleen‘s new endeavor)

Suzy Wong’s House of Yum
the Asian Wonton Nachos and Peanut Sauce Chicken Salad just rock.

55 South in Franklin –
I don’t think I’ve mentioned their Bananas Foster Bread Pudding before have I?? Freaking AMAZING!

So that’s where I’ve been the last few days. How about you? Anything really awesome you want to share with me? C’mon, don’t be shy. Your food ramblings will be a nice break from the chaos that is my life at the moment!

Photo Credit: Yum Yum Food Ahead by arimoore

As you know, I’m leaving for China in a few days, and while I’m excited for my adventure, I’m also sad for what I’ll be missing out on here in Nashville. Next week one of my very favorite food events takes place– Nashville Scene’s Iron Fork!

Last year I had loads of fun hanging with some of my girlfriends and chowing down on a ridiculous amount of food. Click here to take a look back at my gluttony.

Chefs at last year’s competition
An impressive lineup of chefs will be competing for the Iron Fork this year, including Jeremy Barlow, who’ll be defending his championship title. Here’s a look at the competitors:

Chris Cunningham of Sunset Grill
Hal M. Holden-Bache of Eastland Cafe
Andy Hunter of Acorn
Jason McConnell of Red Pony, Sol, and 55 South
Jeremy Barlow of tayst

What: Iron Fork
When: Wednesday, April 21st
6 – 10 p.m.
Where: Country Music Hall of Fame
222 5th Ave South
Nashville, TN 37203

Tickets are $30 if you purchase by April 14th, and then increase to $40, so don’t delay- buy your tickets today by clicking here! For your money you’ll get 3 drink tickets and all the samples you can eat. Don’t miss out on what is perhaps THE culinary event of the year in Nashville!