Monday, April 14, 2008

On Food Likes and Dislikes

Above is a photo of a wonderful lunch I had on Saturday: smocked mackerel and boiled new potatoes with sour cream. Does that sound good to you? It tasted wonderful to me. But it saddens me to admit that few Americans my age would go for this repast.

This lunch got me thinking about how we develop food preferences. I love all things brined, pickled, smoked and fermented: fish, pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, and so on. I was weaned—almost literally!—on this stuff. In Russia, infants were given kefir instead of formula. I gave up pickles for potato chips after coming to the U.S. You don’t want to be the kid who eats weird crap when you’re nine, you know. In my late teens and early 20s, however, I rediscovered Russian food. It’s cool to be all diverse and multiculti when you’re in college! One taste of fatty, luscious smoked mackerel and I never looked back. On the other hand, I also love food that no one had ever heard of when I was growing up, and that my parents still won’t consider eating: sashimi, curries, tofu, etc.

Now, my boyfriend, who immigrated to the U.S. in his teens, has far more Soviet tastes that I do. Last week, he asked me to cook some buckwheat. “We could have it with kotleti,” he said. “Or hot dogs.”

Okay.

Kotleti are pan-fried meat patties, kind of like burgers but served without the bun. They’re the weekday staple of Russian households, the Soviet equivalent of sloppy joes. Hot dogs, always boiled, never grilled, are another go-to Soviet protein.

When I sing praises to the foods of my childhood, I don't mean boiled potatoes, hot dogs and kotleti. This is the kind of food I never, ever crave. And if I were to make this stuff, I would cook a “gourmet,” Epicurious-ized version. Buckwheat with chicken stock, dried mushrooms and caramelized shallots. Kotleti with panko breadcrumbs and Indian spices or something. And hot dogs—well... I just don’t have much to say about hot dogs.

So when I heard the boyfriend’s request, I put on what I call my PR face—the look spokespeople have during news conferences. Open, fake-friendly and willing to answer questions—to a limit. “Sure,” I said. “I could do that.” Shallots, dried mushrooms and panko are on my shopping list.

9 comments:

sara said...

amazing! i had this dish for dinner last night. nice coincidence. it's funny for me that you're sort of going back to your russian roots while i enjoy this kind of dishes on the totally opposed side : i'm spanish and i'm in a mood of eating other culture's dishes. i enjoy eastern european food especially.
nice blog this of yours!

adele said...

Smoked mackerel and boiled new potatoes with sour cream sounds like a great lunch to me. :)

I was definitely the "kid who eats weird crap" for my entire childhood. I brought sushi and pig's ears and other random stuff for lunch, along with the usual sandwiches and potato chips and juice boxes. I admit, I got a certain kick out of freaking out my classmates.

- AbsolutStoli said...

heh, that does sound good, actually. except ive always liked boiled potatoes with just butter and dill, especially new potatoes.

i used to bring salat olevye for lunch, until one hot day when it spoiled and i got sick...that was the end of that. but i had a friend in HS who brought in a can of smoked riga sprats for lunch. it was the oddest thing ever. and i LOVE sprats, i just would never think to bring that as lunch to school.

buckwheat and kotleti is totally a comfort food for me. buckwheat is one of those grains that is simple enough to prepare while having one of those flavors that can really stand on its own...with some butter (mmmm). panco crumbs would add a nice texture to the kotleti, but italian spices? thats sacrilege! :P and if your b/f is craving hot dogs, kick it up a notch with knockwurst (sardelki...that fat ones), with some hot mustard. ok, now im hungry. lol

Yulinka said...

Sara--Glad to hear I'm not the only one who likes smoked fish with potatoes! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Adele--You're braver than I. I didn't dare bring "weird" food to school when I was a kid. I wanted to be just like everyone else and eat sandwiches on Wonderbread and Little Debbie goodies (remember those?)

Stoli--Your friend is a brave (wo)man. I wouldn't bring sprats for lunch to work, even though I've brought things like svekolnik, seledka pod shuboi and beet salads. I'm just not crazy about kotleti and buckwheat, although sardelki with mustard sound pretty good. I don't mind a good brat.

Anonymous said...

I was a horrible child...I wouldnt eat this, I wouldnt eat that. But as an adult, I love smoked Riga sprats and smoked mackerel. Only I prefer them with dark rye bread, if I can get it.

My father fled Russia in 1921 but the food must have really imprinted on him. Mom told me that all she needed to do to make him happy was to cook plain buckwheat kasha and hamburger kotleti.

Breaks my heard that Dad died in 1974. He would have totally gone to heaven if he could have visited the Russian delis available in American big cities today.

In fact, I know exactly how he and Mom would have behaved.

Mom would have been snooping into all the cabinets trying to figure out how to cook with the stuff, while Dad would have been saunting around, charming the living daylights out of people with his classic Russian---and he gave just as good a performance in Polish.

If you ever want a great place to visit go to the New World Market on Geary Street in SF between 21st and 24th Avenue. Its huge, they have a whopping dairy section (several kinds of tvorog, baked yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, butters, cheeses, another case full of sausages and bacons and hams, yet another case with more kinds of smoked fish than you can imagine (turbot, halibut, whitefish, goldfish, smelts, herring, salmon, etc), candies, fancy cakes, bins full of foil wrapped candies, liquors, kvass, and prepared entrees you can purchase to go.

And on top of that, (at least if you're a girl) the counterman will give you samples and often has plates of samples from the sausage counter, too.

I sometimes think they should charge admission, its that much fun.

Only problem is, its very difficult to get out of there with just the things on your list...you are tempted to buy so very much more.

And you cant just go in there and get out. You're part of a community. You wait in line, you connect with your friends, you ask questions.

Yulinka said...

Hi Anon-I loved your comment. It's fascinating how food preferences change with age, and how food brings up all sorts of memories.

kittyhotpants said...

although i don't know how old you are, i *feel* like we are the same age, and i adore simple dishes like this.
i also am beginning to *adore* Yulinka Cooks! i stumbled upon it while googling квас and have been sneaking peeks at it ever since. my boyfriend is russian, and he is teaching me all about the delights of sprats, силодка, salat olivyeh, and my personal favorite, чебурек. i love to read about something here and see the look of wonder on his face when i mention it to him later!
do you happen to have any tips for good blini? mine are always too thick... не хорошо!
keep up the good work! you have a new fan ;-)

kittyhotpants said...

although i don't know how old you are, i *feel* like we are the same age, and i adore simple dishes like this.
i also am beginning to *adore* Yulinka Cooks! i stumbled upon it while googling квас and have been sneaking peeks at it ever since. my boyfriend is russian, and he is teaching me all about the delights of sprats, силодка, salat olivyeh, and my personal favorite, чебурек. i love to read about something here and see the look of wonder on his face when i mention it to him later!
do you happen to have any tips for good blini? mine are always too thick... не хорошо!
keep up the good work! you have a new fan ;-)

Yulinka said...

kitty-Thanks for dropping by and commenting! Glad you like the blog. I'm 25, by the way, and I didn't even like a lot of the food I write about until I was 17-18! As for blini, use a small ladle to pour the batter and use a non stick pan.

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