Monday, May 22, 2006

Meal 23. Turkish feast, Syrian style

When my hosts make too many different dishes, it's hard to choose which ones I should put in the title. So, to make it easier for myself, I just call it a "feast". And when I walk into Julia's kitchen, I am certainly struck by what a feast she has prepared for me. The menu tonight is "Syrian-Turkish", because Julia's grandparents are originally from Syria. They lived in a purely Syrian neighbourhood in Mersin and mostly spoke Arabic. Julia (officially spelled Hülya) can understand Arabic, but hardly speaks it. Turkish is no problem, she even worked as an interpreter for a while, jetting back and forth to Istanbul close to a hundred times.
Still, she sees herself more as "Arab-Turkish" than as "Turkish". Her parents also stimulated her to find a husband within the Arab community. Not that much has changed...Julia's niece in Istanbul is marrying a "real" Turk, and that was the most important thing that could be said about him. "Ah well, there aren't that many Arab Turks in Istanbul...", explained the father of the bride-to-be. Before meeting Julia, I had never heard of the Syrian community in Turkey, but I'm learning fast. First of all, there's a difference between the Christian (Orthodox) Syrians and the "Arab" Islamic Syrians, who live in the South-East. She tells me how in the sixties/seventies, her uncle was an engineer for a big mining company, but to maintain this position, his Arab roots were kept secret. His parents could not even visit him, because their Arabic accent would give them away.
So is this meal truly non-Turkish? I recognize the stuffed grape leaves! But no, this is the pretty similar Sarma, which means "rolled". The stuffing is a bit different, as it also includes meat. Also familiar is the Börek (bread with feta cheese) and the Lahmacun ("Turkish pizza"); the word comes from the Arabic Lahm al acun,which means "meat on bread".
The Humus (chickpea dip) and Baba gannuç (aubergine dish) do seem less Turkish, though not exclusively Syrian.
Julia has made all these dishes herself, with one exception; the İçli Köfte. These snacks made of bulghur and filled with meat were so complicated to prepare that Julia's mother was summoned to help out. As a child, Julia once asked her mom why the other kids at school went home and had sandwiches for lunch. They themselves had a warm meal every afternoon (as well as in the evenings).
"Well," her mother answered, "probably those families don't have that much money..."
That was the only explanation she could give for such behaviour (in retrospect just typical Dutch food culture).
After about ten different dishes I have to unbutton my jeans again...and there is still dessert! The Şam Tatlısı, made with cream-of-wheat and yoghurt, officially means "Sweets from Damascus". The capital of Syria is also called "ash-Sham", meaning "the Northern". Julia tells me she took Arabic as a minor at university, but especially the Arabic script was very difficult to learn.
It would actually be interesting to ask a "real Syrians" what they make of this meal. Is it similar to what they make, or has it been "Turkified"?
With the Damascan dessert and a cup of tea, Julia and I sit down to enjoy the Eurovision Song Festival. Quite amusing, especially the Finnish monster hard-rockers! We both make a top ten of who we think will win. This makes the results even more exciting, especially since the non-typical Finnish entry wins by a landslide.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Meal 22. Curaçaoan Kabritu Stobá and Funchi

Guiselle was a bit hesitant to be "the chosen one" to make a Curaçaoan meal for this project, because she usually doesn't cook any traditional meals. Partly because her boyfriend is a strict vegetarian. However, somehow she managed to convince him to go to the butcher for tonight's Kabritu Stobá, stewed goat's meat (but he won't be joining us!). Guiselle has had this dish often enough at home, but never made it on her own. She got a little help with the recipe from her mom (by phone) and her friend Rayla's grandmother (by email). She invited her friends Rayla and Diana to come by to help with the preparations...but when I arrive Guiselle jokes: "As true Curaçaoans, of course they will be at least an hour late!"

And indeed, they are...when they arrive they're very impressed by all the dishes Guiselle has already prepared: the Kabritu Stobá, which has been marinated in lemon juice since the night before, Banana Hasa (fried plantains) and Funchi (cooked cornmeal). Plus some rice with vegetables and a fresh salad (home-grown lettuce) with feta.
For those who have never heard of Curaçao; it's an island off the coast of Venezuela that is part of the "Dutch Antilles" which is a self-governing part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They have their own coin, stamps, etc., but all inhabitants have the Dutch nationality and travel on a Dutch passport. Though Curaçao does have it's own university, many high school graduates come to the Netherlands to study. Guiselle tells me that before coming, she received a little course to prepare her for Dutch society. Here we have a little hallway before arriving in the living room, in Curaçao the front door often opens right into it. Movies were shown so that students would know what to expect. But it didn't prepare them for Dutch weather! Rayla tells about her first winter day she was walking down the street with a friend and all of a sudden little white balls came falling from the sky. "What is this?!", she asked. The answer was:"Hailstones!"
She was so excited to actually see them in real life, she stayed outside in wonder while everybody else fled inside. Afterwards she called her mother to tell her about this novel experience. Guiselle laughs:"I also called my mom, after seeing snow for the first time!"
Over dinner, while enjoying Izaline Calister's songs, the three friends all agree the Kabritu tastes just like it's supposed to. We're all a bit disappointed in dessert, though...the Kesiyo tastes like a sweet omelet instead of like caramel custard! Guiselle is the first to say it, so we don't feel too bad for not finishing it. But she has tea and home-baked raisin cake to appease us.
While we're washing the dishes (at left), they recall the "bubbling" parties at high school. Lights would be dimmed and girls would be standing against the walls with boys dancing closely behind them. When the parents would come and have a look, everybody would be innocently dancing about a meter apart. Mom and dad gone? Up against the wall! Sadly, the parents did find out after a while and bubbling parties were no longer allowed...
Some guys they knew from high school are now in a popular reggaeton group called Immorales.
The girls laugh at their lewd lyrics and "street image", as they recall:"They used to be such nice, well-mannered boys!"

Meal 21. English Shepherd's Pie and Trifle

My friend Marianna is renowned for her trifle, so I more or less forced her to make it as a dessert for this "English meal". The main course I left up to her, and she found it a bit more difficult to decide on. Shepherd's Pie? A good "classic" dish that Marianna's mum made often, even though she was originally from Poland.
Just to be sure she would be serving up the "real" Shepherd's Pie, Marianna googled recipes on internet and it turns out the official Shepherd' Pie contains ground lamb meat. If it's just ground beef, the dish is supposed to be called "Cottage Pie".
Anyway, both are traditional Sunday dinners in England, and a great way to use any leftover vegetables you might have lying around.
You basically fry up the vegetables, some onions and the ground beef, put it in a dish, top it with mashed potatoes and pop it in the oven. (Actually, people all over the world make it, I think, but don't give it a nice name...)
While Marianna is preparing dinner, we discuss food linguistics again. (See the Scottish meal)
What she calls dinner, other English people call tea. According to Marianna, in New Zealand, they also call it tea. To call the evening meal tea seems very strange to us both, as you don't really drink tea with it!
Not that tea isn't important for her. She recently went back to the UK and surprised herself by taking back home a whole box of Twining's "Everyday" tea. Just because it tasted so much better than most tea you can buy in the Netherlands. It seems a very English thing to do.
In general, Marianna is quite assimilated and even fears adaptation problems when she goes back to the UK after graduation. In the end, all of her adult life was spent here, she knows "how things work". Heading back will mostly be motivated by the job opportunities there, else she would have stayed in the Netherlands for at least a few more years.
Another English standard is the Sunday roast, but generally, Marianna's parents favoured a more international cuisine.
For eating out, fish 'n chips is a classic, but seems to have been surpassed in popularity by "going for a curry". Marianna:"That's actually one of the things I miss: a good curry! There are hardly any good Indian restaurants here, while back home you can find a curry shop on every corner, more or less." I ask her why she doesn't buy some ready made curry sauce at the supermarket, but she professes to being too lazy to make her own Indian meal.
The Shepherd's Pie is fine, it feels healthy as well because Marianna added lots of vegetables. But of course I'm really waiting for the trifle! Yummy!
It consists of several layers: sponge cake, custard, red gelatin pudding and fruit. I'm not sure in which order, but the layers may be repeated. If you put it in a glass bowl you can admire all the different colours. The last layer is custard with some chocolate shavings to make it look tastes fantastic. And of course, it's also very healthy because it contains a lot of fruit.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Meal 20. Colombian Bandeja Paisa

Hector and Beatriz live in an international student flat in Amsterdam... sometimes kitchen utensils disappear and appear mysteriously. They rotate between the floors. When something essential is missing, they know now they should just scout around for it in the other kitchens.
Yesterday, Hector and Beatriz were exploring "exotic shops" to find the ingredients for this meal, the first Bandeja Paisa they've made since arriving in the Netherlands more than half a year ago.This protein and carb loaded platter is traditional fare for farmworkers who need the energy. Though Hector and his friend Ernesto are biologists and Beatriz a journalist, they obviously all have a nostalgic connection with this dish. It hails from the Antioquia province and they all, more or less, have roots from that area. Paisa is just another word meaning "from the region around Antioquia".
While Ernesto is pressing limes (with a fork!) for the Agua de Panela con Limón, Beatriz is preparing the eight different elements of the Bandeja Paisa. Frijoles antioqueñas (beans with plantain), chorizo (sausage), costillas de cerdo (ribs), patacones (deep fried plantain), rice, avocado, a fried egg and hoga'o (a tomato-onion sauce).
The preparations give us time to chat. Beatriz recalls how she was the only woman working in the newsroom at the time; her male colleagues would always try to make her do the "beauty queen" type items. I thought this wouldn't be a big deal, just once a year, but it appears that in Colombia there can be different Miss elections every month. But by now there are more women working in the newsroom. Beatriz herself moved on to a position as PR officer for the Colombian Red Cross, where she got to know a lot about Colombian society and where she met her husband, Hector.
He came to the Netherlands to do an ecology master's programme and recounts how one Dutch girl was genuinely surprised to hear universities existed in Colombia. Ernesto quips: "Actually we are used to walking around in grass skirts and hunting with a bow and arrow! These jeans and t-shirts take getting used to!"
One thing that does shock me (though I did know a bit about Colombia's situation) are the references to violence. Casually, Ernesto jokes about his mom running over the "bomb detection mirror" at the entrance of a mall. I didn't even know this procedure existed! The underside of every car that entered the parking lot at this mall was checked for bombs. Well...until Ernesto's mother destroyed the mirror!
He also mentions moving from his childhood home when he was 18, because of an armed robbery during which the gardener was shot to death.
On to a lighter topic: we discover that we were all born from mothers over 35 years old, though Beatriz and Hector are from big families (14 and 7 siblings respectively!) and Ernesto is an only child. They tell me the traditional way to spend weekends with the extended family is to gather at a finca (there is always an uncle in the family that has a farm) and eat and eat. Depending on the family, drinking can also be a way to pass the time together.
Time to dig in...the crisp patacones are great with the hoga'o sauce. Though I wouldn't recommend this meal to people who are watching their weight, it is great comfort food!
Dessert is the refreshing agua de panela made with unrefined cane sugar and lime juice.
A cup of tea and a walk around the block give our bodies time to digest this impressive meal.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Meal 19. German Schnecken- and Dampfnudelen

As I enter the kitchen, Nils (a 26-year-old Philosophy student) has already filled the air with aromas of sizzling meat. He is busy making pastry rolls and explains to me how the left pan contains his paternal grandmother and the right pan his maternal one. Excuse me? Have I encountered a younger, more charming version of the famous German cannibal? But no, the truth is more banal. The left pan contains Schneckennudeln (in the shape of a snail) and the right one Dampfnudeln (round balls). The different versions were favoured by his two different grandmothers.
But he taught himself how to make them while in University. You have to feed yourself somehow, and spaghetti with tomato sauce can get a bit boring after a while...
The "snail rolls" can be eaten as a sweet pastry or with a savoury sauce. Tonight's sauce consists of beef cubes, onions and rich cream. You are actually supposed to add mushrooms to the mix, as I discovered when I mentioned the lack of vegetables to Nils ("Oops! And it says 'Mushrooms are healthy' on the box!"). But it still tastes fine, so they are obviously not an essential ingredient. Who needs vegetables?
Over dinner we discuss the German quote by Feuerbach "Man ist was man isst" (You are what you eat), but Nils doesn't find it a very interesting quote as far as philosophy goes. I think it is all I remember from my overenthusiastic German teacher who was also a philosophy buff. (Although I have a vague recollection of Nietzche and the Ubermensch as well...)
Nils shows me his orange t-shirt he bought in honour of the World Cup and I tell him about the less tastefull orange nazihelmets that are being marketed as football gadgets.
Over coffee I ask if he misses German pastry and he tells me just the other day he had been desperately wandering through Amsterdam looking for something like a Konditorei (for coffee and cakes like the famous Sachertorte).
What about differences between Ossies and Wessies? Is there anything he still notices after being re-united for more than 15 years? Nils tells me that first of all there are some language difficulties, because in the more than 40 years the two parts were separated, some different meanings developed for the same words.
Also, Ossies (he is a Wessie) appear to him to be more group-minded, less individualistic than the West-Germans. Hmmm...should I get an Ossie to cook for me to get their opinion?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Meal 18. Scottish Stovies, Neeps and Black Pudding

When I told people I would be having a Scottish meal soon, most of them grimaced and exclaimed:"Haggis!"
This dish of sheep's stomach filled with assorted offal (the internal organs e.g. lungs, heart, liver) and oatmeal is the most (in)famous representative of Scottish Cuisine. Though if drinks count as well, whisky is of course even more famous, and seen in a more positive light.
Anna (an old high school friend) and her 100% Scottish father Hugh, actually do have haggis about once a month. They buy it at a specialty store called Jungle Jim's, but sadly, none was available in time for this "80 meals" dinner.
So now I can discover what the Scots have to offer besides haggis, which I have to admit is all I knew about their kitchen.
When I arrive, the table is all set and a beautiful stuffed fox presides over the table. Normally its place is on the tv. Seeing it makes me wonder aloud if the purpose of foxhunting is to catch the fox and eat it or only to "control the population", because they are seen as chicken robbers. Hugh doesn't really answer the questions by replying: "Foxhunting is actually a typically English occupation and us Scots prefer Englishmen over foxmeat!"
The tone is set for the evening. And I don't have to worry about the justification of a separate Scottish entry...
I hardly believe him when he tells me the starter is called cockaleekie soup. This name seems so strange to my ears, I start thinking Hugh has just made some food, invented Scottish sounding names for it, and hopes to get a good laugh out of me believing all this hogwash.
But both Anna and her sister Lucy adamantly assure me this chicken and leek soup is a real Scottish recipe.
Hardly have we finished the cockaleekie or Hugh heads out to the kitchen and returns with Neeps (turnips), Stovies (peppered potatoes and onions) and Black and White Pudding.
The "pudding" consists of fried slices of sausage made with oatmeal and pigs' blood (the black pudding) or pigs' fat (the white pudding). Surprisingly good, I must say. Anna tells me haggis tastes more or less the next time I am offered some, I won't fear it as much as I did before.
We talk about why Hugh left the UK. It turns out the main reason was Maggie Thatcher and her conservative MP Kenneth Clarke, who more or less personally "killed" the project he was working on about government expenditures. So he moved out to the Netherlands, working as a mathematical statistician - as far as I could understand - improving logistics for transportation companies.
After the filling main meal comes more "pudding", confusingly a word used for sausage as well as for all desserts. I ask: "Isn't calling dessert pudding seen as somewhat lower class?" A friend of mine told me this and wanted to see if it was a generalized concept.
"No...I believe that is a middle class hang up," quips Hugh. According to him, extreme class consciousness is also more English than Scottish.
In this case, "pudding" is an absolutely delicious Crowdie (see Anna with crowdie at right) made with oatmeal, fresh raspberries, blueberries and a glass of 15 year old rum. The rum is from the WW, a bar about 6 meters down the street and a surrogate living room for Hugh and Anna. They sometimes even take their glasses home with them and bring them back the next day.
We end the meal with a short photosession (it's difficult to catch Hugh with both eyes open and not looking excessively dour) and he lends me his treasured "European cookbook", a well-worn tome from about 40 years back.
I leave with Anna (a student of fiscal law) and her duvet to drop her off at her boyfriend's well organized squat, where she can study in peace.