Friday, January 26, 2007

Meal 41. Latvian Rosols

Nanda has invited over Digne, a friend who lives in the Hague as well. They met up through a Latvian "Myspace" type website. Digne was checking out the profiles and..."Hey! There are more Latvians here in the Hague!" So now she is here, the official inspector of Rosols, the special potato salad served on birthdays, holidays and all other special occasions. It's a festive dish, but "even boys know how to make it!" Nanda's father often makes it for her when she's back in Riga for a visit. The last couple of years she's lived in France (to study sound engineering) and here in Holland (to study ArtScience).

While we're chopping and dicing the sausage, carrots, gherkins, eggs and potatoes, Nanda tells me lots about Latvia. Russia plays a big part in its recent history, they occupied Latvia till 1990. Till then, all "official" things, like shop fronts or tram tickets, were in Russian. After independence, everything was written in Latvian, but on some facades, the bleached out shadows of the Russian letters are still visible. There's quite a polemic going on now about the language, as the big Russian minority (almost a third of the population) want Russian to become the offical second language of the nation. Nanda was even affected by this struggle personally...when she worked at the ministry of education there was a bomb scare in the building . All because they wanted to change education so that all lessons would be taught in Latvian.
Nanda tells me sometimes at the mark
et she will be speaking to the vendors in Latvian and they will answer in Russian. A bilingual dialogue... The salad progresses and Digne inspects the proportions of the different ingredients. The pieces have to be chopped very finely, as “only grandma’s make rosols with big chunks!” Then generous amounts of sour cream and mayonnaise are added. The aspect mostly reminds me of potato salads I have had in the past at barbecues or parties. But here in Holland it doesn’t have a special name or significance…and often it’s bought at the supermarket and not made at home. Which does make a big difference, as I notice when I take my first bite. The rosols isn’t really photogenic, but it is delicious comfort food and I can imagine it being seen as a “festive” dish.

After dinner we enjoy a cup of lindenflower tea, with lindenflower honey to sweeten it, also typical for grandmothers according to Nanda and Digne. To accompany it, some rock hard caramels that need an unexpected amount of violence to separate them from their friends. Here at right you see Nanda holding a Latvian souvenir…it’s a bread that’s a couple of months old, but she doesn’t want to throw it away just yet. Amazingly, this “real” bread just turns hard and doesn’t get moldy.

Click here for the original Rosols recipe. It's easy to make!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Meal 40. Costa Rican Gallo Pinto

This meal is special....firstly because it is the 4oth meal and thus is the half-way mark of my trip. Secondly because it is Costa Rican, and the food brings back memories of my exchange year in that Central-American country seven years ago. It's great to laugh and chat again with people who have been to the same places and speak Spanish the Costa Rican way. Saying vos instead of tu will sound ridiculous in almost any other country.

Fresia is a Ph.D. student of Physics here in the Netherlands, and her friend Marcela as well, but in Brazil. They have invited Carlos as well, and even though he is Colombian, he is in charge of the patacones...the twice-fried plantains both countries have in common (see Meal 20. Colombian Bandeja Paisa).
A truly unique part of Costa Rican cuisine, though, is the world famous Salsa Lizano (at right) that Fresia specially brought from back home to give her food that typical flavour. The weird thing is that when I look at the bottle a bit closer, the Lizano company turns out to be owned by Unilever, a British-Dutch food (and cleaning products) conglomerate. That's globalization for you!
Fresia has a whole collection of tico (=Costa Rican) food and condiments, but the locally famous spirit guaro isn't included. "I'm afraid of giving my country a bad name if I let people here drink that!", she admits.
Serving the very popular ceviche is a better tactic. This delicious and refreshing dish made of raw fish, onions, lemon juice and cilantro (coriander leaves) is easy to make and often served for lunch.

But more "typically tico" is the rice and beans called gallo pinto. It's supposedly name after the "painted rooster" whose black and white feathers are similar to the colours of this dish. During my year in Costa Rica I must have had this about 365 can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner! Cilantro, fried onions and garlic and Salsa Lizano give it a typical taste, and the chopped bell peppers are added for a touch of colour.
Marcela remembers how her mother made rice attractive for her kids by adding peas, grated carrots or bell pepper.
As we eat, we listen to traditional songs that were always played at Fresia's dance classes. Though in the discos you will mostly hear salsa, merengue with some pop and reggae thrown in, quite a lot of young Costa Ricans have learnt folk dancing at school or university.
I mention how I was surprised that my host family hadn't learned to spell my name correctly after living with them for half a year (Yeny instead of Jenny). Later I noticed many Costa Ricans don't care about the spelling of their own name. One day it's Mainor, the other day Minor. And you wouldn't believe the quantity of boys named Jhonny!
Fresia laughs:"You wouldn't think so, but my name has been spelled in I don't know how many different ways! Fressia, Frezia, Frecia..."
What is also different, is the fact that many people (mostly younger males) are always referred to by some strange nickname. El Muerto (the Dead Guy) for an unusually pale friend, Watchi for someone who looked like a local watchman, Chile for a guy who was from there originally, etc. On my last trip I was presented to a Repollo (Cabbage)...his backpack bore the slogan: "Say no to violence against vegetables!"

If you'd like to try your hand at ceviche, here's the recipe.