Posted by: seasin | July 8, 2009

Food and the Balkans

I was reading today this rather entertaining article on balkantravellers.com, about common roots but angry dissent about meatballs in the Balkans (“Ours are the original and the best. All of you folks just coppied-shame on you-give us back our meatballs, you thieves!”). Basically, all Balkans countries have their own version of the thing-be it as proper round meat BALLS, flattened patties or longish mini-logs. In Turkey, they’re prominently featuring in the cuisine, in countless yummy regional variations (a Meatballs tour of Turkey, anyone? I’d be in, in a wink-as I love Turkey, and I love food!). The article says they’re about 80 different sorts in Turkey (theye’re quoting hearsay too, so dont’ blame me if I got that wrong)-and that small detail, together with the fact that in mostly all languages in the area, the word for them has a very clear common root (cevapcici, kebapce-or kufteta, chiftele, keftedes-just put that against kofte, the Turkish word-should be obvious even for the untrained eye) makes me infer that the  yummy bits of mince with various condiments are yet another wonderful addition to our lifes, by the Turks. (in short, I think they brought the meatballs to the Balkans, like many other wonderful influences in cuisine, and language, and traditions and instead of being grateful and appreciating the richness and diversity of our traditions, and building on the things we share and appreciating the details that make us different, we fight and dwell on bloody past and hold grudges. I mean, what’s wrong with us, Balkans people?).

Anyway, after reading the article http://www.balkantravellers.com/read/article/513, I felt compelled to send them a comment. Here it is:  

I felt I had to put my 2 cents into the war of the Balkans’ meatballs.

I’m just curious to find out where did you have Romanian chiftele (obviously we follow the tradition of giving the humble meat ball its turkish-origin name in Romanian as well) with…feta?

I’ve lived in Romania for more than 30 years (with good reason too, being born there) and a. Technically, we don’t make feta. We might import it but that hardly would be part of a traditional dish; b. I’ve had my share of chiftele (it’s a good frugal recipe for a mum, it stretches meat to feed a family and it’s quite tasty, too) but never ever, nowhere in Romania, did I see them associated with feta.

Romanian traditional recipe involves 50-50 pork and beef mince, stale bread, finely chopped and gently sweated onions, and fresh chopped parsley (which more people than not abhore hence the strong family lobby to convince mother to remove it-with little success, may I add). These are fried crisp after being rolled in flour (for the crust, you know) and served hot –sometimes with a tomato sauce and mashed potatoes, or cold as part of a ‘meze’ style meal.

And, oh, you forgot about the mititei-or mici (literally the “small ones”)-special recipe, made traditionally from minced mutton and beef (more mutton than beef), with a healthy part of mutton suet (they’re not called mititei if you skip that ingredient), kneaded together for a long time with salt, pepper, some garlic and thyme or savory (and sometimes with hot paprika), and with baking soda (to make them plump up on the grill) until they turn into a sticky paste-you have to dip your hands in water to form them into their long (10-12 cms) shape. They are, obviously, char-grilled, and always served with mustard (the stronger the better) and yes, bread. No summer barbecue feast would be complete without them (and no road-side munch during a long drive, either). These are heaven in a hungry person’s mouth and quite addictive.

As for the Bulgarian ones-never had a home-made version, but I can only agree about the ones sold in shops, fast-food shacks and restaurants-all the ones I’ve had are quite frankly foul-something they put in them, I’m not quite sure what, make them taste of…how should I describe it? Sweat. Not a very appetising taste for me, I’m afraid. I wonder if someone could tell me what it is…”

I should write a bit about the likeness-differences between the two black sheep of the EU, not from a political or economical point of view, of course, but from a normal person’s point of view. After one year in Bulgaria, I feel I have at least some (now founded) personal views to share. I shall do that soon 🙂

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