June 27, 2017

Fazil Iskander and Food

Georgian feast

Photo by DDohler

If you like good food writing I have a treat for you. I was up late last night re-reading Sandro from Chegem by Fazil Iskander, one of my all-time favorite writers, when I came across this delightful description of an Abkhazian feast:

Gibbous turkeys lay in rich brown nut sauce, roast chickens presented their bare rumps with a certain appetizing indecency. Vases bloomed with fruit, candy, cookies, pastries. Split pomegranates, as if cracked by inner fire,opened a glimpse of their sinful caverns crammed with precious stones.

Beds of salad greens glistened as if they had just been rained on. Young lambs, cooked in milk in the ancient Abkhazian manner, mildly evoked a lost innocence, while the roast suckling pigs, by contrast, clenched the crimson radishes in their bared teeth with a sort of devilish glee.

-From Belshazzar’s Feasts in Sandro of Chegem

Check out the original in Russian (hit Control+F and search for индюшки to get to the paragraphs I quoted).

Getting myself invited to a dinner in Abkhazia is definitely on my bucket list!

 

Wild Strawberries (Zemlyanika)

zemlyanika
My sister-in-law is a forestry major here where we live in Russia. When it’s the season for земляника (zem-lya-NEE-ka, tiny wild strawberries) she spends several hours a day picking in the woods. Sometimes she takes people with her, but not often. The berries are microscopic and hide under the leaves of larger, taller plants, so you basically have to crawl around on hands and knees until you find a bunch of them in one spot. To get a sense of how small they are, the spoon in the picture is a small teaspoon. Masha mediates while she picks and chain-smokes to keep the mosquitoes away. After about an hour I’ve had enough. We’re lucky she shares with us.
Земляника season is short. I love the anticipation. Friends come back from walks in the woods saying “Almost. The flowers are out.” “Just another week. We saw green berries.” Now they’re here.
Apparently земляника and plain old strawberries are different species of the same genus. I know for a fact that земляника has a much more pronounced aroma and flavor.
One winter several years ago when my son was an infant, I found myself translating letters written by Soviet soldiers during WWII. The work was hard – hard to read and hard to translate. One man called his baby “my little dandelion,” and I could see the baby’s halo of fuzzy, blond hair.
Another writer said “The земляника is ripe, and I’ve been treated to ‘Victoria’ in some of the Lithuanian villages. If it weren’t for the war, life would be terrific.”
I thought that maybe Victoria was a kind of wine or dessert made fromземляника, but some other Russian translators told me it is a cultivar of strawberry. A couple of Russian gardening and botany sites claim that Victoria was the first cultivated strawberry to be introduced in Russia and that it was named after Queen Victoria.

Lahmajoun

lamajoon 2 lamajoon 1

Lahmajoun is a paper-thin Armenian pizza sold in pairs, the sides with the toppings facing each other and a square of paper in between. You roll each one up and eat it with hot tea. Lahmajoun is supposed to be mildly spicy – most places make it too mild for me. We found a decent lahmajoun at Goodies Mediterranean Market in North Seattle. They have a real wood-fired oven and make a nice dough, but the lamb mix could have been spicier.

Russian Language Sample Post

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