Friday, July 4, 2008

Sie essen das Essen in Essen.

Poland has a city called "Boat" (Lodz) and Germany has a city called "Food" (Essen.)
Since coming here, I've eaten more brined and cured food items than I have in my entire life and I expect to develop an ulcer soon, if not stomach cancer. Largely, it is of my own accord.  Sauerkraut (Kapusta Kiszona), pickles and sour pickles (the sour pickles are fermented much like sauerkraut) (Ogorki Conserwowe and Ogorki Kiszone) as well as cured meats like kindziuk and dried kielbasa.
As in America, there is a difference between what people eat at home and what they eat at a restaurant. While they do have pierogi, barszcz and (ugh) flaki, mostly it is eaten for special occasions.  Barszcz, a classic, is usually served at Christmas, and it's quite different from what most people think.  While it is a beet soup, it's not thick like the Russian kind.  Instead, it is (guess!) semi-fermented.  It's clear, acidic and made by doing some small fermenting with rye bread.  Flaki is supposed to be eaten in the winter and/or when you are very drunk.  It's a hearty soup made from tripe and looks like some dog just threw it up.  I don't know how it smells, but I assure you that I'm not eager to find out.
American food is commonly thought of just hot dogs and hamburgers (both of which are German.  Hamburger (Hamburg) and Frankfurter (Frankfurt)) but there is actually a lot of originality.  Take a Thanksgiving feast:  Turkey, Pumpkin pie (these types (apple, pumpkin, cherry) are not common outside North America) pecan rolls, mashed potatoes (served all around the world.)  This is good food, and you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who will object.  It has a good balance of protein, starch and veggies (usually there are brussels sprouts, salad, maybe asparagus.)  One complaint of German cooking is that it is often only protein and starch (mainly potatoes.)  Also, there are more "Asian" restaurants in the US than McDonalds', Wendys' and Burger Kings combined (upwards of 40,000 (I think.))  General Tsao's Chicken is a purely American creation.  The Chinese don't eat that shit.  Most Japanese would be appalled at our sushi and most Thai would find Pad Thai (in the words of Jon Stewart (or one of his writers)) "Bland and unfamiliar"  (Jon Stewart's America the Book:  Democracy Inaction. (rest of citation to follow.))
So, just as one has misguided thoughts of American food, so one has of Polish food.  Almost.  True, they eat a lot of pierogi and have a lot of restaurants that serve it, they aren't eating it as often as we think.  They each generic meals of potatoes, salads and meat, not prepared in any sort of way.  They eat spaghetti.  They eat pizza and drink cheap beer.  They eat cereal and granola and yogurt for breakfast.

Home made pierogi

Poland, I think, is overlooked for its food and cuisine in general.  They utilize a lot of pork, potatoes and beets (beets is often understated when listing main ingredients for Polish cuisine.)  Just like the French stick liver in everything (oh, that horrid offal), the Polish stick beets in everything (it's mostly just a side-dish.)  French fries are just as common as they are in the US.  Kielbasy (all types) are cornerstones. Dumplings and soups, soups, soups!!!  Chlodnik is a delightful yogurt, beet, cucumber and radish soup served with a sliced hard-boiled egg atop.  Perfect for a hot afternoon, as it is more refreshing than any soft drink.  Barszcz Bialy is served with a dollop of sour cream and eggs.  Zurek is warming, and all the soups are filling.  One soup I had, I don't know the name, was made with ogorki kiszone (sour pickles) and it was fucking awesome.

A mushroom soup in a bread bowl.  The bread was delicious.

I remember once, when I was in Krakow, I went to a nice restaurant.  It was my last night in Krakow and I was alone, so I thought "Why not?"  I think I had duck.  At the end, I ordered a "Swiss Coffee" thinking it would be something like a mocha; all hot and chocolately.  I was wrong.  It was black coffee and rum, and was probably the most bitter beverage I've ever had.  I found a few years later that the place was one of, if not the, nicest places in Krakow.  That explains my bill.

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