Saturday, December 30, 2006

Meal 39. Thai Thom Yum Kung

When I see all the ingredients Bibi has gathered around her to prepare the Thai meal, I am seriously intimidated. I give up ever recreating this meal before she has even started. When she tells me she's planning to open a Thai restaurant, I feel somewhat better...I'm dealing with a professional here.

Like Mike (from my Chinese meal), Bibi is a "European" name, as her Thai name is too long and complicated to pronounce for most Westerners.
Most Thai have a nickname, and even the
kings are not known by their full name! Bibi says:"We just call them King nr. 5 or King nr. 9."

The official name for Bangkok is so long, there's even a special song to help you remember is. Mostly it's just called Krung Thep, which roughly translates into "City of Angels". Anyway, Bibi isn't even from Bangkok!

While I'm helping her remove the heads of the big shrimp for our soup, she explains how she needs to be in a good mood while cooking: "I have to be in a good mood for the food to taste good! If I'm in a bad mood, the dishes somehow always turn out too salty or too sweet..."

I'd never heard that before!

As she is cooking for non-Thai, Bibi has been so nice as to adapt the level of hotness to our tastes. She says what we are eating is "children's level". She herself always brings a little box of chili powder whenever she's eating out or at a restaurant. This way, she can surreptitiously add a bit of spice to the dishes that taste very bland to her.

But even within Thai adults there is a variation in what people can stand. Bibi's aunt cooks such spicy food that Bibi's father will not accept dinner invitations to her home anymore!

Our meal starts with little snacks; egg rolls, meat patties and frothy omelet. The omelet is so airy because it's poured into the pan from great heights...Bibi jokes:"We will pour it from the second floor, if we want it to be really light!"

The spicy Thom Yum Kung, brings a nice flush to my cheeks and every spoonful springs a new surprise of mushrooms, coriander or shrimp. Somehow I find it impossible to make good pictures of the food this time. Especially of the main dish, white rice with Beef Curry Matsaman. This is a special recipe, originally only eaten in the King's Palace, according to Bibi. "Every dish has a story in Thailand."

I feel blessed to be able to taste it on this cold rainy winter day in Holland.

As a final lesson, Bibi shows me how to make a spring roll with a napkin (photo at right). I still feel as if I'm in a course about Shakespeare before even learning the alphabet! If she does indeed open a restaurant, I will be the first visitor.

Click here for a simplified recipe for Thom Yum Kung.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Meal 38. Burkina Faso Chicken Gizzards

Moussa is my host tonight, from Burkina Faso, "the land of good people". As happens more and more often during this project, I have to admit I've never consciously met anybody from this country before. When Moussa hears me speak in French, he exclaims "Ah! It's as if you I'm hearing a Mossi woman speaking! Your accent is exactly the same as the Mossi ethnicity in Burkina!" Somehow the mix of French learnt at school and while travelling in Africa, mixed with Dutch and American accents, led to a similar way of speaking...
I was warned that Moussa is a very good cook, but that he has a penchant for using "organ meat", a first for this project, I must say. So it is no surprise to see what (as a veterinarian, not as a consumer) I recognize as chicken stomachs, also known as gizzards in proper English. They are being marinated in oil, vinegar, onions, garlic and salt.
While I get a complete workshop in how to prepare Burkinese food, Moussa tells me more about his childhood. While he is the oldest son of a large family, he was raised by his great-grandmother, "the woman who has loved me most in life".
"She always gave me everything, we were so attached, that when I slept, she slept. When I awoke, she got up as well!"
But all good things come to an his case, when his great-grandmother died, at the ripe old age of 106. He found it hard to cope without her.
By this time I have not only learnt how to marinate gizzards, but lamb as well. And how to fry plantain, aloko.
I have to say, the gizzards are pretty tasty, and I appreciate their chewiness. The plantains are also good, but not new to me, as the gizzards are and the Lamb with Peanut Sauce. I knew there were countries in Africa where peanutsauce was popular (from a favorite "graphic novel", Aya de Youpogon, which plays in Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso's relatively rich neighbour).
After a surprisingly delicious meal, it's time for tea. This involves a gunpowder tea, mint leaves, a tiny tea kettle and the pouring of tea from great heights, dozens of times! The end result is a very strong "men's tea". It's like a stiff drink, and keeps some people up all night. Moussa tells me, in Burkina Faso the men get excited and call out: "Ataya, ataya!" when the tea is brought out. I can imagine the scene, somehow.

For those who are adventurous and can find gizzards at their local butcher: here is the very simple recipe.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Meal 37. French-Canadian Poutine

The way I met David is quite exemplary for the so-called global village. On holiday in Costa Rica, I met a nice Canadian girl and we kept in touch through email. When her high scool friend David came to study in Holland, she let me know. So now I'm here to taste real poutine, a fast food dish I already heard about on the Caribbean coast...
According to David, it's a real blue collar dish and is supposed to be "disgusting, soggy and cholesterol laden", though in a good way. The potatoes should ideally be fried in old oil, so the fries get a brownish colour. I'm not allowed to call it "Quebecois", as the love for poutine is more related to the French-Canadian culture than to the geographic boundaries...I have to admit I used to think the two were the same.
This famous dish is not eaten at fancy restaurants, but at the roadside, at home or at hockey rinks all over Canada. But David wouldn't know about that, he isn't fan of this quintessentially Canadian sport. To quote him literally: "I associate hockey with players on skill seems to be involved most of the time! I actually prefer long track skating." Hope he doesn't have any hockey loving friends reading this...

To recreate the orginal poutine, it was impossible to find the right ingredients here: the cheese curds on top are best bought in one specific village, and the gravy used is sold specially as "sauce for poutine". But he has improvised before, while studying in Sweden. This time the cheese is Dutch Gouda, and the gravy is "brown sauce" from Knorr.
You fry the potatoes in (preferably old) oil, shake them with salt in a paper bag to distribute the salt and absorb excess oil. Then pour over gravy and

shredded cheese (curds).
Sounds easy, right?
But I think I'll wait till I'm in Canada to try the real thing, instead of

trying to make it myself here in Holland. It actually reminds me a bit of the Dutch "friet speciaal" or a "patatje oorlog"; the first is fries with mayonaise, ketchup and chopped onions, the

second consists of fries with mayonaise and peanut sauce. In these "dishes", the fries on the bottom always end up a bit soggy too. And I never prepare it at home, I always buy it at the snackbar.

After dinner, we head out to the oldest bar in the Hague with some fellow Canadians and I hear for the first time that Canadians are supposed to say "eh?" at the end of every sentence (and "fuckin'eh" when drunk...not the same as "fucking A", by the way). Somehow I've managed to get to know quite a few Canadians without ever noticing them using "eh"!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Meal 36. Slovenian Jota and Štrudel

In many cases, "love" is the reason my hosts end up in the Netherlands. For Breda, from Slovenia, it took the shape of Bert. A real Groninger, he came to Slovenia as a surveyor 30 years ago (a project involving gas pipelines) and brought Breda back home with him. They now have two grown daughters who speak both Dutch and Slovenian. The long trip by car to Slovenia has been made dozens of times, and they now divide their time between a small village in Groningen and Breda's birthplace back home. I am proudly shown photos of their new "summer home" and of the house Breda grew up in.......a centuries old fort with walls almost 2 meters thick! With walls that thick, they just built the toilet in the wall.

Even so, it could be quite cold in the winter. It was Breda's father's job to get the fire started in the morning. To get warm enough for this task, a stiff drink was needed first! This practice was shared by many businessmen, who would start the day with a nice coffee and cognac at the local café.

The hearty meal Breda is serving tonight is also meant for cold winter nights. We start off with roasted chestnuts from a tree they've planted themselves in the garden. The main dish, Jota, is traditionally served in mountain huts after a long day's work. It consists of some kind of pickled turnip -Kisla Repa-, sausage (both specially brought over from Slovenia), potatoes, brown beans and lard with bacon. Breda's oldest daughter was vegetarian for a long time, but would make an exception for the bacon bits!
Breda's son-in-law, Erik, tells a story about less delicious food. When he helped out at a farm a couple of years back, the vegetables they got for lunch were from jars of preserves from the cellar. They seemed quite old, and the farmer's widow they worked for would scrape off the layer of mold on top before serving the contents. After she died, it turned out there were preserves in the cellar from before World War II!
The positive side is that you can eat 60 year old food without even becoming sick. But Erik says he never really enjoyed those lunches...
The high point of this meal is the apple strudel for dessert. I enjoy watching the preparations almost as much as eating the hot delicacy, sprinkled with powdered sugar. Nowadays, Breda only makes this apple pastry about twice a year, so it is really a special occasion. Although it isn't difficult to make, it does require several steps and a big table, so I don't see myself doing it anytime soon in my cramped student quarters.
After strudel with cappuccino (Slovenia is close to Italy, after all), I receive a Slovenian going away present made by Breda's sister. It's a jar of plum preserves smelling very strongly of rum. I've tried it already and it's great with custard.
Although Breda loves good food, miraculously she still fits in her 30 year old wedding dress and the stylish velvet jacket she is wearing to a party after dinner. Breda and Bert drop me off at the train station on the way to the party and I am left in the cold with a warm feeling inside, contemplating how generous and hospitable people can be to previously unknown guests like me...

If you have the time, a big table and an old table cloth, you can try Breda's Štrudel recipe at home.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Meal 35. Lithuanian Barščiai and Potatoes with Dill

It's the first time I eat barščiai for this project, but not the first time I eat "borsht", an easier way to spell it in English. As you can see in meal 11, where it al revolves around my father's beetsoup.
Gintare (which means "amber" in Lithuanian) is preparing the soup as her grandmother always did it. This recently graduated sociologist does agree the barščiai she is making is similar to many other beetsoups around the world, though for example in Belarus they would add cabbage.
Secretly I am glad we are not eating another local specialty, smoked pig's ear, which is served as a snack with beer. While Gintare is preparing the potatoes, we sip on tea and gobble up some yummy chocolates she brought from home. She's only really lived in the Netherlands for a short time, but sometimes feels frustrated by the language and the bureaucratic procedures. Recently she was called by a girl, who had found Gintare's name through some list of expat Lithuanians. She called and explained her situation, and Gintare commiserated :"Oh yes, I know how you feel...", but then found out while she had only lived here for 2 months, this girl had lived here for over 3 years!

There aren't that many compatriots in Groningen, though she will also feel immediate bonding with Latvians, who speak almost the same (Baltic) language and have a similar culture.
I ask:"What about Estonians?", also a Baltic state, after all.
"Oh no! They are much more similar to the Finnish...a bit more reserved as well."
Well, that's good to know. I wouldn't be surprised if the Dutch were compared to the Flemish, but I would if they were deemed similar to the Germans.
I will ask the Latvian girl who will be cooking for me in December what her opinion is on the matter...
Vilnius (Lithuania) and Riga (Latvia) are now part of Europe and sadly, both are becoming popular destinations for Brittish "stag parties", involving drunk young lads looking for a cheap alcohol and pretty girls. They don't show too much appreciation for its beautiful baroque city centre.
I hope an advantage of joining the EU is an improvement in dental care. Gintare tells me a story about barbaric practices during her childhood including drilling in teeth without painkillers. She was so scared of the dentist she didn't go for seven whole years. At the end of this period, two weeks of dental work were needed to repair the damage!
The soup is delicious, by the way...Gintare's grandmother would be proud.

The potatoes fried in butter with dill are served on the side and are such an easy and effective side dish, I promise myself to make it one day soon. I have to admit, for the borsht/barščiai I will use my own grandmother's recipe!

For those without these loyalty issues, try the Lithuanian version.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Meal 34. Trinidadian Pelau

The Trinidadian Pelau Louise is making for me tonight is not 100% typical; the protein component is not the traditional chicken, but vegetarian "Quorn", made from some kind of fungal protein. Sounds a bit weird, but actually tastes good. The pelau is of Indian origin (like half of the inhabitants of Trinidad, including writer V.S.Naipaul), though similar dishes exist - pilau, pilaf, etc. - from many Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries. The Caribbean character of pelau consists of the coconut cream, hot peppers and gungo peas (a bean with a nutty flavour). And the use of caramelized brown sugar.
It reminds me somewhat of the rice 'n peas from my (11th) Jamaican meal.
I ask Louise what differences there are between Jamaica (my only reference in the Caribbean) and Trinidad. She mentions the fact that the Jamaican men that came to study at her university were always bowled over by the beauty of the (straight-haired Indo-) Trinidadian girls on campus. Louise herself is "easy on the eyes" with her wide smile and stylish dreadlocks, as her husband Douwe (with even longer dreads) must acknowledge. I would never have guessed she was a petrochemical engineer, a profession I associate with ambitious young men in suits. But then, what do I know? I've never knowingly met one, Louise is the first. For her job, she has to be away for two-week periods every month, now in a small town in Germany, working on pipelines buried beneath the ocean floor. Too much time separated from Douwe! I'm guessing her parents in Trinidad must miss their three children a lot, as they are all living in Europe at the moment.
We relive Trini culture by leafing through an illustrated dictionary that includes such phrases as Fresh Water Yankee. The definition is: "A Trini who goes to America and comes back acting and talking Yankee. Originally someone acting Yankee without even going overseas, or crossing salt water." Thus the fresh water reference.
In an online version I also find: Sucuyant, "A Trini vampire that sheds its human skin and flies at night as a ball of fire, sucking the blood of its victims while they sleep." I wish Louise was here to explain that one for me now!
Less menacing is the word maco, meaning a nosy person or a gossip. It's also the name of one of Louise's favorite glossy magazines, filled with peeks into rich Caribbean people's lives. We admire the photos of a leafy garden of a stylish house in Curaçao and fantasize about what it would be like sitting on the porch at night. Quickly reality sets in when Douwe realizes: "We would be scratching ourselves like crazy because of all the mosquitoes!"
Oh well, maybe in our ideal Caribbean home, we would need to build a screened porch. In chilly Amsterdam, Douwe and Louise do have some impressive tropical plants, among them a Monstera deliciosa with incredibly glossy leaves. Their trick is dusting them with some kind of silicone gloves...

Feel like more domestic tips?

Click here for Louise's instructions for making Trini Pelau. Chicken or Quorn, you decide.

Meal 33. Iranian Khoresht Fesenjan

When I meet Vida in person, I am struck by how beautiful and vivacious she our emails beforehand I had just noticed her Dutch was faultless. For this last trait, her husband Eric deserves some of the credit, as he got to know Vida as her tutor of the Dutch language. That he was so eager to teach her voluntarily, might have to do with the first two qualities mentioned!
Together, they have created a very cosy home and two gorgeous and sweet kids, Atousa and Kian. These guys are very happy Vida is making Khoresht Fesenjan tonight, as they love Iranian food, and don't get to eat it all that often. Vida tells me how some of her childhood memories come back when she sees them eat.

They fight over the crisp little potato slices served with the rice, just as Vida and her siblings did way back when.
In general, she finds Iranian food a bit unhealthy, devoid of vegetables, save one exception: the ever-present sabzi (herbs or green vegetables). She has made a beautiful dish of sabzi, with elegantly curled spring onions, and radishes made to look like little flowers. We eat this with feta cheese and thin bread, together this is called Naan-0-Paneer-0-Sabzi. Sounds pretty exotic (and similar to Indian meals with naan and paneer), but it just means "Bread-with-Cheese-with-Herbs".

I am quite amazed by the combination of walnut and pomegranate sauce for the chicken, the Khoresht Fesenjan. The only other nutty sauce I know, is the famous Indonesian peanut sauce (see Meal 31 as well). And I have to admit, I've never made anything with pomegranate. It mostly reminds me of the less innocent grenades, the weapon which is named after this fruit. Vida had a special bottle of Iranian syrup for this recipe, but you can also use pomegranate juice, which is available in most big supermarkets (and which we drink to accompany our meal).
After enjoying our really Iranian food, we are treated to a less typical Toblerone chocolate fondue. Yummy! If you understand Farsi, you can read about it on Vida's own blog.
And to top it all off, our after dinner entertainment is provided by Kian playing the keyboard and Atousa giving us a little concert with her recorder. So sweet...

If you'd like to try the walnut&pomegranate sauce or the bread-with-cheese-with-herbs, click here to view the recipes:

Khoresht Fesenjan

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Meal 32. Japanese Teriyaki Swordfish and Ginger Mackerel

Yusuke is our cook tonight, together with his good friend and fellow biologist, Nobuto. It seems much preliminary effort has gone into the meal, with Yusuke having bought ingredients on a recent trip to Japan and in a specialized store in Amsterdam.
Everything is served in pretty little dishes, very pleasing to the eye. Which confirms my stereotype of the Japanese as "lovers of beauty".
We start out with some eda-mame...these green soy beans, simply boiled in salt water, are great as a snack with a beer! They have a slightly nutty flavour and it is fun to pop them open in my mouth.
Then Yusuke makes me try an innocent looking pickled is a taste explosion! They are incredibly salty - so much so that Yusuke claims one ume-boshi is enough to flavour a whole bowl of boiled rice. This meal is called the "Japanese flag", as the round plum in the middle of the rice resembles the red circle on a white backround.
Afterwards, we are served spinach, prepared with soy sauce and sesame seeds, and eaten with chopsticks of course. As well as matchsticks of yama-imo, "mountain potato", a white sticky root flavoured with fish flakes and (again!) soy sauce.
This evening makes me realize how important soy is for Japanese cuisine, and how versatile it is. At left, you see Yusuke happily showing off a pot of miso, the salty fermented soy paste used to add taste to our mackerel.

As we enjoy the swordfish and mackerel skillfully prepared by the two friends, we chat about Yusuke's first impressions of Holland. It turns out he first came here on holiday, to participate in "orienteering camps". He shows a map with little numbers on it and explains that the object is to find all the posts as quickly as possible with just the map and the compass. Quite popular in Holland and Sweden, but I'd never heard of it! He is teaching me stuff about my own country...
When he really came to live here he started noticing curiosities as girl lying in the city parks in their bikinis and wearing such tight pants their waists bulge out on top. Hmmm.
Also, he changes my impression of Japanese as little worker bees, by mentioning they often go out for drinks after work as well as going on many organized trips, e.g. to view the cherry blossoms in spring. Sounds a lot more relaxed than I had imagined.
I am also becoming quite relaxed, maybe because I am drinking the sake like water....somehow it doesn't taste that alcoholic! Yusuke tells me it is good sake he brought from Japan, called something that roughly translates into "White Dragon Like Water". The fact that I don't taste the alcohol is a sign of its pureness.
We finish the delicious meal with a special treat: green tea with floating in the murky water...little gold flakes! It doesn't affect the taste, but it sure looks cool.

Click here if you'd like to make Teriyaki Swordfish or Ginger Mackerel yourself, but be sure to stock up on soy sauce and sake!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Meal 31. Surinamese Pitjel, Telo and Chicken

Tonight a Surinamese meal with reknowned cook Martin and his girlfriend Liza, in their sunny garden terrace. Martin tells me he could have made many different dishes: Surinam has as many cuisines as it has ethnic groups. His own roots seem to cover the whole spectrum...he's part Chinese, Indian, Creole and Javanese. His great-aunt ("Oma Tjoekop") provided the "Indonesian" part of this meal: the peanut sauce. Though she still lives in Surinam, she is Martin's source of the dried concentrate he needs to make the spicy sauce. "I wouldn't dare prepare this dish without it!" he confesses.
At right, you can see how happy he is with the famous "garterbelt" beans (kouseband), a Surinamese staple ingredient.
Other favorites included in tonight's meal are fried cassava (telo, at left) and fried plantain.
To accompany the food we drink Heineken and Fernandes soft drinks. This local brand started out with "Fernandes Red" and "Fernandes Green", and when those proved immensely popular, expanded its "exotic drinks" imperium with "Blue" and "Yellow". I find it amusing that nobody ever refers to what fruit the drinks are supposed to taste like. (I think the inspiration for Green is apples).
The pitjel is an assembled dish of loose elements that work well together. If we're being poetic, we could say the same about Surinam, a country where people of distinct cultures live together harmoniously.
While enjoying the pitjel with two of Martin's colleagues (from the Netherlands Basketball Federation), we discuss the Surinamese habit of making tjoeries (CHOO-rees). This sign of disapproval consists of pursing the lips and sucking in air as loudly as possible. The lips should be sucked against the teeth, else it doesn't work...
The tjoerie has even been mentioned as early as 1933 in the correspondence of a Dutch missionary to Surinam! Martin and Liza mention that when Surinamese men make flattering remarks to women on the street, the object of their affection will never respond. Only if the remark is highly amusing, will she deign to making a tjoerie. (Warning: Never do this to your parents! It is highly disrespectful! )

Click here if you'd like to recreate this meal (without Oma Tjoekop....)
Peanut sauce
Telo, deep fried cassava
Pitjel, assembled dish

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Meal 30. Vietnamese Bò Bóp Thâú (Beef Salad)

An has lived in the Netherlands for three years now, and has already developed a taste for zuurkool, otherwise known as sauerkraut. She likes to add sugar, thus creating a nice sweet and sour taste. An:"My parents are from the North of Vietnam, and that is where I grew up. In the North, we prefer our food to be quite simple. The predominant taste is salty. I have lived in the South too, where they like sweet dishes. And my husband is from the centre, where the food is spicy!"
Today, the dish is both spicy and a bit sweet. The beef salad, Bò Bóp Thâú, is perfect summer food. The marinated and fried strips of beef are added to a colourful mix of thinly sliced bell peppers.
It's funny to see how An crushes the garlic with the butt of a big knife, instead of with a garlic press. The technique reminds me of the mortar and pestle they use in Indonesia (and elsewhere) to make sambal. The salad itself is eaten by heaping a bit of it on a pieace of krupuk (shrimp cracker) and popping that in your mouth.
In Vietnam An teaches at the university, and now she is doing her Ph.D. here, to gain practical experience for the lab that has just been built back home. The Ph.D. is being paid for by Vietnam and hopefully will guarantee more job stability in the future. I am impressed by the big sacrifice she is making by leaving her husband and young daughter behind...she only gets to see them once a year.
Yes, An says, Vietnam is still a poor country, but things are changing. The last 15 years or so, the country has modernized a bit, becoming more democratic and more open to foreign investments. Why do foreign companies like Vietnam? An: "Well, my guess is it's because the Vietnamese work very hard, are friendly and don't complain!"
"A good thing is that the Vietnamese do not only do the low level work. There is a construction that involves companies employing locals in management positions as well. After five to ten years, only the chief manager is foreign, and after twenty years, the company should be completely Vietnamese!"
If this really works out that way, it does seem like a good development. An's daughter will probably grow up in a very different Vietnam.

Click here for the "French inspired" recipe for beef salad: Vietnamese Bò Bóp Thâú

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Meal 29. Chinese Stir fried Chicken with Red Pepper

Mike has been studying Economics in Maastricht for a few years now. His real name is Jin, but to make is easier for us Europeans, he lets us call him Mike. He tells me that at elementary school, all the pupils get to choose an English name.
Though he is a bit shy about having his photo taken, Mike is very open about everything else and answers all my questions about China...even when I want to know about the little kids with a big hole in their pants instead of diapers!
As I help him take the skin off the chicken legs, we talk about his first weeks in the Netherlands. He still was the typical Chinese guy, and even when he arrived at a friend's place dying of thirst, he didn't dare accept the first offer of a drink. In China, you should politely decline the first two times the host offers you something and then accept the third time. But here his friend just accepted the first no and didn't ask again. Leaving poor Mike with a parched mouth...
Also, when he would give people a light, he would expect them to touch his hands in thanks, which is polite in China. But in Holland this is deemed to be slightly too intimate when your cigarette is being lit by a stranger.
During the preparations I am blown away by the 25 kg bag of rice Mike has in the kitchen. This size would be enough to feed a small family for two months...
The rice is cooked in an electric rice cooker he brought over from Shen Yang, his home town. His cool pan (with Chinese symbols on the bottom) and many of the spices were purchased in a Chinese shop here in Holland.
Mike learnt to cook from his grandmother, but only really started practicing after he came here. He tells me less and less young people know how to cook nowadays, partly because they eat out a lot. The meal he is making for me tonight is a "famous meal", and he has downloaded a recipe from internet to be sure he does everything in the right order. The recipe looks very exotic to me!
The stir frying is a real show, the hot oil sizzling, especially when the omelet mix is thrown enormous puffy omelet appears in just a few seconds. The omelet with tomato is a big success amongst Mike's European friends, probably because of the secret ingredient...sugar! And maybe because of the mysterious "chicken broth mix" from Knorr that Mike adds to the omelet and the chicken dish. The ingredients list corn starch, salt and monosodium glutamate (the famous flavour enhancer ve-tsin).
After everything is done I do my best with the chop sticks and enjoy the spicy chicken, chinese cabbage with glutinous vinegar sauce and sweet omelet with tomato. Mike tells me that if we had been in China, as a host he should have been sitting with his back to the door. This unspoken rule of communication also entails that in restaurants the person sitting in that position is the person that pays! Good to know if I ever make it to China...

Click here for the recipes:
Chinese Stir fried Chicken with Red Pepper
Chinese Sweet Omelet with Tomato

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Meal 28. Romanian Mămăligă cu Brânză

Antoanella and her Dutch boyfriend Herman met while he was on holiday in Romania. Though in the beginning she hardly spoke any English or Dutch nor did he speak any Romanian, by now they've been a couple for many years and live together in Rotterdam. He has learned some Romanian, and Anto's Dutch is good enough to have completed her Master in Physical Geography here. For fun, she's even started on the novels in Herman's alphabetically arranged bookcase. She's already at the end of the B's!
Before dinner, we have wine and some appetizers, including Salată de vinete, aubergine dip with a smoky flavour. Romanian wine is very Romania. Anto tells about a local wine winning an important medal in Brussels. But when she googled it, the only sites that reported about this prize were Romanian ones.
Besides wine, (home-brewed) strong liquor is a big favourite in Romania. When travelling by bus or train, it's common that people will go round with plastic cups and 2 L coke bottles with some kind of moonshine. Even if it's 10 o'clock in the morning...this makes travelling by public transport quite fun!
Though a Romanian host will unvaryingly offer ample amounts of food and drink to visitors, it wasn't always that easy to come by ingredients. Anto recalls how during the Communist era, Christmas would mean waiting in line for meat for days. Families would queue in shifts so as not to lose their place in line. The best job during those days was in a shop, even a shoestore. That way, you could trade shoes for food.
Anto's grandfather worked at a farm collective, and with six kids it was sometimes hard to feed them all. He was allowed to take home hay, so would sometimes smuggle along little bags with milk hidden amongst the hay.
Nowadays, Romania is actually doing pretty well according to Anto, and she doesn't really understand why Dutch people still send trucks full of food, clothing and toys to her country. Many other countries are a lot poorer...but she and Herman think the Dutch that started sending over help after the fall of Communism just enjoy their time in Romania. Nice food and drink, locals happy with the gifts...why change the routine? If the food served there is similar to what Antoanella is serving, I certainly wouldn't! After the appetizers, we start with Mămăligă cu Brânză, a kind of polenta with a choice of butter, yoghurt, sour cream and feta like cheese that can be added to taste. The next course is a delicious stuffed pepper, which should be served with bread. Actually, everything should be served with bread in Romania, even if it's a carb laden dish like lasagna or rice. Bread is also used as a kind of utensil, you eat with a fork in one hand and a piece of bread in your other one, to fold around meat or to soak up the sauce. Spoons and knives are hardly ever used.
Our last course is pumpkin pastry made with filo dough. In the Netherlands we aren't familiar with pumpkin in sweet dishes, but I love it! Antoanella assures me all these dishes are easy to make, although the aubergine dip does take some time. If you'd like to try, click on these links for the recipes:

Salată de vinete (aubergine dip)
Mămăligă cu Brânză (polenta with cheese)
Ardei umpluţi (stuffed green pepper)

Plăcintă cu dovleac (pumpkin pastry)